10 things ruining your gut health and waistline
IF you're suffering from mood swings, constantly getting ill or you can't lose weight it may be down to the state of your gut health.
There a big buzz around gut health right now and with good reason.
Micro-organisms in our gut secrete all sort of chemicals needed for a healthy mind and body.
Scientists estimate that we have approximately 100 trillion different bacteria - collectively known as the microbiome or microbiota - in our guts and maintaining a healthy balance is essential.
"When we do the wrong things it can end up depleting the good sources and that lets the bad bacteria thrive," said nutritional therapist Jeanette Hyde.
This is important since experts believe there is a strong link between the health of bacteria in our gut and a huge range of health issues from irritable bowel syndrome, to anxiety and depression and even migraine and dementia.
Studies show that certain prebiotic foods like fruits and vegetables, fermented foods like sauerkraut, full-fat yogurt and prebiotic supplements like Bimuno can also create a healthier biome and help off-set damaging habits.
But it's also a good idea to dial down bad gut habits to protect our health - so what are the bad habits and what should we do instead?
1. Ditch G&T's
Sorry all you gin and tonic fans, but research suggests spirits aren't good for you.
Recent research by the British Gut Project shows that spirits are bad for gut health, but it's not all bad news as it also found that red wine can be beneficial.
"It's a mixed pattern," said Dr Tim Spector, professor of genetic epidemiology at King's College London, who is leading the project.
"Spirits are definitely bad, red wine is good and the jury is out on beer."
Wine's benefits are down to polyphenols, an anti-oxidants which you can also find in artisanal ciders, which feed the microbiome, increasing the diversity of microbes, Professor Spector explained.
In fact red wine is better for the microbiome than grape juice, which also contains polyphenols, so alcohol plus fruit is good.
Just stick to glass rather than a bottle.
2. Midnight snacks
You need a break from eating overnight to look after your gut.
Professor Spector, who also suggests skipping breakfast one or two days a week to give your digestive tract a chance to regenerate, said: "Longer breaks between meals help your microbes.
"Different microbes come out at night and tidy up the gut lining."
If you only sleep a few hours then get up to raid the fridge it will throw out the natural balance.
3. Non-dairy milk
If you're cutting out dairy to help tackle bloating and abdominal pain, you might want to check the label on that 'healthy' nut milk before you slosh it into your porridge.
As with alcohol, when it comes to gut health, not all nut milks are created equal with many brands of non-dairy milks adding emulsifiers to stop the milks separating.
"Emulsifiers are like adding soap to our gut bacteria," Jeanette said.
Some studies have shown that emulsifiers are really bad news for the gut microbiome, so it's worth checking the label.
What? How can something that we don't swallow affect our gut?
We're encouraged to use anti-bacterial mouth wash to tackle bad breath and improve dental health but commercial mouthwashes hurt our natural oral bacteria and the jury is still out on whether they are good for teeth.
When your oral microbiome is off balance there's a good chance your gut microbiome will be off balance too because they directly influence one another, explaied Dr Steve Linn, author of The Dental Diet.
If you're worried about bad breath try cutting out smoking and alcohol, which both deplete our healthy oral flora, and rinse your mouth with salt water to prevent the build-up of infectious bacteria.
Drinking green tea is another great way to temporarily reduce bad breath, according to research.
5. Desk jobs
It's no surprise that sitting hunched over your desk all day in front of a screen is bad for stress levels and posture, but did you know it could also be a risk for irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and other gut problems?
"Some people are sitting at a desk for up to 12 hours a day but you we need to move for the good bacteria to thrive," Jeanette added.
"The movement triggers the short chain fatty acids which keeps the gut lining healthy."
Hyde recommends 'movement snacking' - getting up from your desk once an hour to spend two or three minutes moving around.
If you work at home keep a skipping rope in your desk drawer or break out the jumping jacks on the hour.
While for those who work in an office the stairs are a great place for a movement snack without your colleagues thinking you've gone bonkers.
6. Chewing gum
You think it's a quick way to freshen breath or even stave of hunger pangs, but your gum habit could be playing havoc with your digestive juices.
This can lead to an over-production of stomach acid, says Healthista's nutritional director Rick Hay.
"When you chew it sends a signal to the stomach to expect food and the digestive juices get going, but then there's nothing to digest," he said.
"It's like turning on a tap but there's nothing to switch it off, which has a negative effect on our gut bacteria."
Chewing gum can also lead to swallowing excess air which can add to bloating and IBS symptoms and too much farting.
It hardly seems like the biggest health crime, but juicing isn't great for gut health.
The problem here is we're removing nearly all the fibre, which is precisely the thing we need for good bacteria to thrive.
"You take all these fruit and veg and drill them all down and you're left with a big bucket of fibrous stuff which you chuck it in the bin," Jeanette said.
For a more gut-friendly option try eating whole fruits and vegetables, or opt for a smoothie instead.
8. Bedtime social media
We are all no stranger to checking our phone in bed.
According to research by Travelodge, 70 per cent of us send a tweet last thing at night, while 20 per cent of us scroll through of our news feeds in bed for up to 16 minutes and this is affecting our sleep patterns.
Most of us are only clocking up six hours 21 minutes a night, one hour 39 minutes short of the recommended eight hours.
Not great for our powers of concentration but possibly not ideal for gut health either as research shows a good night's sleep benefits our gut bacteria.
"We know that people who sleep badly can end up with gut dysbiosis or imbalance in the gut and so it follows that by looking after our sleep we could improve our gut bacteria and vice versa," Rick added.
9. Set menu
Eating the same thing every day means you are not exposed to a wide variety of bacteria.
"We're all creatures of habit but eating the same things every day it's not great for gut health," Jeanette said.
"It's important to have variety in your diet because different families of bacteria thrive and grow on different foods."
She suggests aiming for 30 different foods every week.
A lot when you consider most of us only eat 15 or less. But it's easier than you think.
"When you go to Pret to pick up your oat porridge and take the seed mix to sprinkle on top one day and then take the raspberry puree the next," she added.
10. Ditch diet soda
It's your go to if you're trying to cut out sugar, but it's not your best option.
"Animal studies show they completely disrupt the good gut bacteria, which can lead an imbalance known as dysbiosis," Jeanette said.
"I've seen real improvements in clients' digestive symptoms like IBS and weight issues from cutting out diet drinks."
Too much diet soda could even make you feel anxious and it's all down to the gut brain connection.
A diverse gut biome links to higher blood tryptophan and tryptophan turns into serotonin, the brain chemical we need to be happy.