It's no secret that looking and feeling your best is a key part of staying young, but many people overlook the importance of gut health in the ageing process. From glowing skin to strong nails and hair to improved digestion and energy levels, having a healthy gut can be the foundation of good physical health.
In this blog post, we'll explore why gut health matters so much when it comes to staying young and looking good at any age. I will also share tips on how you can improve your own gut health for better overall wellness. So read on if you're ready to make some changes that will help keep you feeling youthful for years to come!
Gut health - balance and saying no to inflammation
In the world of longevity research, gut health has been put on the map as one of the 10 "Hallmarks of Ageing". The hallmarks of ageing are "the types of biochemical changes that occur in all organisms that experience biological ageing and lead to a progressive loss of physiological integrity, impaired function and, eventually, death." (1)
Increasingly the microbiome is being linked to all chronic diseases, like heart disease, auto-immune diseases, neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer's or Parkinson's, diabetes.
On the short term, poor gut health can lead to a variety of physical ailments such as bloating, indigestion, constipation, fatigue, weight gain and more. It can also impair your immune system’s ability to fight off infections and diseases. It can lead to brain fog, concentration issues, and even depression or mood disorders. This is when your body is giving you signals that something is out of balance.
Because that's what's this microbiome topic is about. Bringing balance to the ecosystem of microbes that live inside your gut. It's about nourishing and nurturing the "good bugs" so they can do what they are meant to do and they are not dominated by the "bad bugs" in your gut.
It's also about protecting what's called the "gut lining". In healthy people, the gut lining functions like a tight barrier that controls what gets absorbed into the blood stream. But when this barrier is damaged and no longer functioning properly, this leads to inflammation and a long list of potential symptoms.
So gut health is also reacting to and extinguishing inflammation whenever signs show up somewhere in your body or mind. Any form of pain or struggle your body is signalling to you, is a form of inflammation, a fire that you need to address before it expands.
Gut microbes are integral to the absorption and digestion of food, and any imbalance in this microbial population will lead to adverse health symptoms. And avoiding imbalance requires constant care, constant monitoring and support when needed. Or if you have reached a more serious level of imbalance, this could be a longer journey. A journey of healing your gut and restoring a state of balance. It may take some time and targeted effort but recovering gut health is one of the best things you can focus on to get back in an overall place of health.
Gut Health and Ageing
As people age, the gut microbiome changes, leading to a decline in the diversity and abundance of beneficial bacteria. So if you want to Live Younger Longer, supporting gut health and making conscious lifestyle decisions becomes even more important as you age.
Obviously the earlier or younger you start with gut health, the less damage you make, and the less energy and time you will need to restore a balance.
The basics to support or promote gut health
There's no revolution on what's key to promote gut health. Diet remains one of the most essential pillars of gut health and your overall health. Despite so many of us being aware of the importance of food, many of us get it wrong and don't have a healthy microbiome promoting diet.
The overarching guideline I repeat to my client - and many other health professionals specialising in gut health - is to eat a diverse, nutrient-rich diet, that includes lots of fiber, probiotic foods and phytonutrients from a variety of plants. Because that's what's going to support and promote gut health. Add to that healthy fats and healthy proteins from plant and animal sources and you're good to go.And so
Sounds easy right?
Or maybe not?
Major mistakes when it comes to gut friendly diet
As I said, many of us get it wrong and don't know how to put this general guidance into practice. What does this guidance really mean? Are you
Mistake #1: A wide range of foods is the only way to diversity in your gut
One of the biggest mistakes you can make when trying to implement a diverse, nutrient-rich diet is not incorporating a wide variety of foods. People tend to focus on adding a few nutrient-dense foods to their diet, foods they are comfortable preparing and eating, meals they don't need to put to much thought into to prepare. And so they end up eating the same foods and meals week after weeks.
Mistake #2: Consuming lots of processed foods (and too many inflammatory foods)
I recently read that ultra-processed foods in the Standard American Diet account for over 60 percent. While this number may be lower on the other end of the ocean, it stuck with me.
One of the challenges with processed foods is that you ingest food-like substances that are nutrient depleted and low quality, or worse harmful to your gut and overall health: And I am not even talking about the sugar, I am referring to preservatives, flavour enhancers, artificial colours, all sorts of preservatives, unhealthy fats that are miles away from nature and that bear little resemblance with the wholesome and nourishing foods our ancestors used to eat.
The additional challenge is that you're ingesting calories that bring you nothing in terms of energy or nourishment, calories that now you can't cover anymore with proper natural foods, unless you start overeating.
Despite the clear negative impact that these foods have on both our gut, weight and overall health, they continue to dominate our food landscape. In fact, their addictive properties drive us to consume more and more of these highly-processed and nutrient-poor products, often at the expense of real, whole foods.
Mistake #3: Not getting enough fibre
When it comes to maintaining a healthy gut, fibres are an essential part of the game. Dietary fibres have been identified as a critical determinant of gut microbiota composition and function.
Unfortunately, many people don't get enough fibre in their diets. In fact, studies have shown that the average American only consumes 10-15 grams of dietary fiber per day. In Europe the intake seems to be slightly higher but still far below the recommended daily amount of 25-30 grams that most countries recommend in adults. And know that are ancestors might have consumed as much as 100 g of fibre per day! (4)
Mistake #4: Missing out on probiotic foods
In former times, fermentation used to be one of the ways to preserve foods. With the arrival of refrigerating solutions, fermented food have left many households and with that the microbiome related benefit of it. Slowly they are making their comeback in supermarkets but it's not a well established food type yet.
Please check-out my former blog post on the Lost Art of Fermentation if you want to find out more on this topic.
Mistake #5: Relying on supplements
While supplements, if selected properly, can be a wonderful way to bridge the gap between your requirements from a nutritional standpoint and the food you have access to, the life you live (sports, stress, family), the supplements can not offset a lousy diet and lifestyle. Supplements alone can not replace a healthy lifestyle that promotes gut health.
Mistake #6: Trivialise sugar
If you're still not sure how bad sugar really is, here's another fact that might convince you of this ingredient's evil.Studies showed that high sugar intake disturbs the balance between pro- and anti-Inflammatory gut bacteria. (2) The bacteria that promote inflammation get more abundant, the bacteria that fight inflammation get knocked out.
Sugar is everywhere and I call it the plague of this century. It's present everywhere, hidden in everywhere, accepted or even required in most social settings. The national statistics on sugar intake per person are far above the World Health Organisation guidelines (6 tsp or 25 grams per day).
As a Mom of two little girls, I know the fight starts early. If parents want to promote or preserve gut health in children, nowadays they need to be even more thoughtful about what ends up on the table or in kitchen cupboard and they'd better get strong at saying no. Sugar seems to be so accepted, and your kids may be getting what used to be called "a treat" all the time. Whether at school, after the dancing class, the soccer game, at the bakery of the pharmacy. This is a topic for an entirely separate blog.
Mistake #7: Sacredly defending gluten containing products
Especially when having signs of gut imbalance and inflammation.
Although this topic is still controversial, several scientific studies have found gluten to negatively impact the lining of the gut, creating leaky gut or intestinal permeability, even in those who do not have celiac disease.(5)
If you're struggling with gut imbalances, chances are that gluten containing foods are not helping you to recover gut health. A good strategy is to cut out gluten for 2-3 weeks and then reintroduce it if you feel like. And if you do, buy quality (organic, home-made like or make your own) and avoid regular consumption.
Mistake #8: Not staying hydrated
While this may sound like obvious, this is such a common mistake I keep on seeing and such an easy one to fix. Staying hydrated is essential for optimal gut health. Water helps to keep your digestive tract functioning properly and aids in the absorption of nutrients from food. It also helps flush out toxins and waste products which can cause inflammation in the intestines, leading to issues such as bloating, constipation, and abdominal pain. Additionally, dehydration can lead to a decrease in beneficial bacteria in the gut microbiome, which can further contribute to digestive problems.
It is essential to drink enough water every day for proper digestion and overall health.
When it comes to determining the appropriate amount of water to consume daily, different formulas have been suggested. However, it's crucial to note that the ideal amount of water intake varies from person to person depending on several factors. Metabolism, consumption of water-rich foods, level of physical activity, and degree of sweating are just a few examples of variables that can influence daily water requirements.
One of the most effective ways to ensure that you are consuming adequate water is by monitoring your urine. Ideally, your urine should be almost colourless and odourless throughout the day. If it's anything but that, it's an indication that you need to increase your water intake.
In case you're uncertain about where to begin, two popular rules of thumb are the consumption of eight glasses of water daily (which might be on the lower side for most people) or drinking half an ounce of water per pound of body weight. By adhering to these fundamental principles and adjusting your routine based on your needs, you can ensure that your body is efficiently hydrated for optimal health and wellbeing.
Maintaining a healthy gut is crucial for both physical and mental health as we age. By eating a nutrient-rich diet, exercising regularly, and managing stress, we can support a healthy microbiome, reverse aches and ailments when they show up instead of waiting until they get worse and eventually slow down the ageing process.
The best way to know where you stand in terms of gut promoting diet is to start consciously assessing what you eat. Write it down and go through the list of mistakes described in this blog. This starting process should give you good prompts to assess what parts of your diet are promoting gut health, what parts may need improvement.
Gut health is where health starts. If you're up for a change in health, this is your best place to start.
And if you want to explore how you can bring your gut health to the next level, book a free consultation with me here.
(1) Source: Wikipedia
(2) Satokari R. High Intake of Sugar and the Balance between Pro- and Anti-Inflammatory Gut Bacteria. Nutrients. 2020 May 8;12(5):1348. doi: 10.3390/nu12051348. PMID: 32397233; PMCID: PMC7284805.
(3) McKeown NM, Fahey GC Jr, Slavin J, van der Kamp JW. Fibre intake for optimal health: how can healthcare professionals support people to reach dietary recommendations? BMJ. 2022 Jul 20;378:e054370. doi: 10.1136/bmj-2020-054370. PMID: 35858693; PMCID: PMC9298262.
(4) Eaton SB. The ancestral human diet: what was it and should it be a paradigm for contemporary nutrition?Proc Nutr Soc 2006;65:-6. doi: 10.1079/PNS2005471 pmid: 16441938
(5) Caio G, Lungaro L, Segata N, Guarino M, Zoli G, Volta U, De Giorgio R. Effect of Gluten-Free Diet on Gut Microbiota Composition in Patients with Celiac Disease and Non-Celiac Gluten/Wheat Sensitivity. Nutrients. 2020 Jun 19;12(6):1832. doi: 10.3390/nu12061832. PMID: 32575561; PMCID: PMC7353361.