Our gut is an ecosystem populated by more than 2,000 types of microorganisms, some of which perform crucial functions such as the prevention of colon and bowel cancer. Lifestyle greatly influences its balance. But the question is: how do diet and lifestyle help maintain our gut health? Unlike our genetic makeup, which we have no control over, we are able to shape our gut microbiota simply by how we chose to act. In other words, diet, sleep, stress, and physical exercise are all huge factors that are key to the intestinal microbiota.
Digestion of food is the first step in the formation of the body’s tissues (muscles, bones, skin, connective tissues, etc.). These are continually being formed and degrading and so our bodies turn our food into energy. That is why the choice of foods that we eat contributes to the way we feel and the way that our body responds.
To assess our digestive system, we must look at the work of the digestive fluids (hydrochloric acid from the stomach, pancreatic fluids, and bile).
In the ancient form of Ayurvedic medicine, this is referred to as Agni or digestive fire. Also, the mechanism of peristalsis (contraction and relaxation of the intestines) is an indicator of our intestinal health. When the digestive fluids break up food in the stomach and our bowel movements are frequent, we know that our stomachs have digested food well. This way, we also know the food has been absorbed and that we are benefitting from it.
Stress Affects Digestion
There are many factors that affect our intestinal health but one of the main ones is stress. We have all experienced changes in our digestion at some time, depending on our emotional state. Some people, when subjected to stressful situations, experience abdominal bloating, or gas. It may present in the form of softer stools or stomach hyperacidity. It even can affect children. Therefore, it is important to ensure that you are on top of the stresses in your life, if and where it is possible to do so. When our digestion is altered, our mood also changes and we become more irritable, restless, and even more prone to depression. Digestion is not only closely related to our physical but also emotional health, which is why it is so important to take care of both.
How To Begin
Handling stress is a good place to start. Try adding meditation to your daily schedule. You don’t have to jet off to India to live in an Ashram. There are simple guided meditation videos on platforms like YouTube, pitched at all levels. If at first, you find it hard to quieten your mind, stick with it for a few days before drawing a conclusion on whether it’s for you as meditation is a journey and the rewards can be subtle to start with; but the more you do it, the more you’ll get out of it.
Also, eliminate sugar-rich and processed foods from your diet, such as sugary drinks and products with a large amount of refined sugar (cakes, cookies, cereals, etc.). Reduce your consumption of red meat and fatty foods and instead, increase your intake of protein from plants. Do whatever exercise your fitness allows you to do, but get moving any way you can because this is vital to your digestion. Even a short walk would be beneficial.
If you suspect you may have a food intolerance or mild allergy, get tested. The likes of https://www.intolerancelab.co.uk provide easy-to-take tests.
Listen to Your Gut
Coffee is a stimulant that many people enjoy imbibing every day, but too much of it can cause acid reflux and more. If you’re sensitive to this, there is a huge range of herbal teas you could try instead. Another approach is to think about which foods pack the most nutrients and which are nutrient-poor. Try to switch out foods in your diet from the latter group to the former.
Sugars and fat-ladened foods do not help in any way. Some of these foods are known as empty calorie foods because they mainly contribute to calories.
Ignore the digital influencers that advocate wholesale changes to your lifestyle. Such changes typically are hard to implement and are easy to drop. The feeling of failure at not succeeding at a big life change can in itself be detrimental. Instead, think about making small sustainable changes as these will be easier to stick to and over time will have a big impact on your gut health. As these small changes accumulate, your lifestyle will become healthier and healthier, and so will your gut.
As Confucius didn’t say: “A journey of a thousand miles starts with a nice salad.”