Boost your immune system, mood and digestion
Keeping your gastrointestinal system healthy and your gut bacteria balanced is essential for good health. Eating nutritious, gut-healing foods is the best way to support digestive integrity and protect your immune system and body from ill health. Discover five foods to improve gut health and learn how to boost your immune system, mood and digestion through diet.
Why is gut health important?
Your digestive tract houses around 70% of the cells that make up your immune system, so an unhealthy gut can lead to compromised immune health, inflammation and autoimmune conditions. There are around 100 trillion microbes residing in the gut, comprising of hundreds of bacterial species whose main function is to digest food and extract the nutrients from what you eat. These beneficial microorganisms also help protect the body against pathogens and enable the immune system to work efficiently.
A diet that is high in sugar and refined carbohydrates, processed foods and trans fats, and also low in fibre, is very harmful for your gastrointestinal system, especially your beneficial gut bacteria balance. These types of foods, especially high-sugar foods, create an environment in which candida (yeasts), parasites and undesirable bacteria can grow and reproduce rapidly, causing havoc in the body and potentially leading to bloating, constipation, allergies, recurring infections and skin conditions.
Best foods for a healthy gut
The best way to achieve optimal gut health is to keep your diet as clean as possible. Avoid junk foods, processed and packaged foods, pasteurised dairy products (milk, cheese, yoghurt), soft drinks and coffee as they are highly acidic and inflammatory, aggravating the gut and preventing the absorption of nutrients. High-sugar foods, sweeteners and refined carbohydrates (pasta, bread, pastries, cakes) also have a negative effect on the immune system, preventing your immune cells from working efficiently.
Instead, eat a healthy diet full of nutritious, organic vegetables and fruit, good quality proteins (nuts, seeds, beans, lentils, peas, legumes, eggs) and healthy fats (olive oil, avocados, nuts, seeds). Also include plenty of gut healing foods, including:
- Sauerkraut and Kimchi are fermented foods which are excellent for gut health. Sauerkraut is made from finely chopped cabbage and is fermented in a jar using salt. Kimchi is a Korean fermented dish of napa cabbage, radishes, garlic, ginger and chillies. Both sauerkraut and kimchi are great sources of probiotics (microbes beneficial for the gut), nutrients and fibre so they make a healthy addition to your diet.
- Kombucha is a fermented tea which is made using black or green tea, sugar and a yeast (a SCOBY). The fermentation that occurs results in a tangy, vinegar-like tasting drink which is not only refreshing but is also full of beneficial bacteria (probiotics) for your gut. Any flavourings such as herbs, fruits or spices should only be added to the kombucha liquid after it has been decanted from the original fermentation vessel and allowed to go through a second fermentation cycle.
- Brussels sprouts contain lots of fibre and antioxidants which are important for gut health, helping to prevent constipation and improve bowel motions and nutrient absorption. Brussels sprouts also contain sulphur compounds which help reduce inflammation and detoxify harmful toxins from the gut.
- Garlic contains antifungal and antibacterial properties which help keep gut bacteria and yeasts balanced and in check. Garlic also contains inulin, a type of fibre that provides fuel for the good bacteria, allowing them to function efficiently. Throw some raw diced garlic into a salad or add it to your cooking.
- Ginger helps to stimulate your digestive juices and the production of stomach acid which is essential for breaking down food so the body can digest it. Good levels of stomach acid are key for digestive health. Add fresh grated ginger to warm water with lemon and add it to your food wherever possible.
Health starts in the gut
The best way to keep your gut healthy and your gut bacteria balanced is to adopt a healthy, nutritious diet and eat plenty of gut healing foods such as sauerkraut, kimchi and garlic. Avoid high-sugar foods, refined carbohydrates, coffee and pasteurised dairy products as these foods can aggravate the gut and lead to inflammation and acidity.