Ask the experts: How do I know if my gut is healthy?

Did you know that around 70-80% of your immune system is in your gut? It’s no wonder that the importance of good gut health is so widely talked about. It plays a vital role in your overall health and well-being, so when your gut is a little out of kilter, it’s really noticeable.

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So, how do we know when our gut is performing at optimum levels? Here, mental health nutritional therapist Dana Chapman answers your questions on gut health, including how we can reset it and what the ‘gut microbiota’ is all about.

How do I know if my gut is healthy?

What does the gut do for our overall health?

The topic of gut health is hot on everyone’s lips right now. If you are a nutrition or functional medicine practitioner and faced with a complex client, the gut is always the first place that you start. The reason being that, if the gut is not functioning effectively, we’re simply not able to absorb nutrients from the food that we are eating, which prevents the body from healing or performing at its best.

If the gut isn’t working effectively, this can also activate the stress response – and with the amount of external stress people are under today, we don’t need the added internal stress! On the other hand, a well-functioning gut can help keep stress levels in check; research is now showing how we can actually increase our stress resilience by taking certain strains of probiotics, such as Lactobacillus.

I often hear the term ‘gut microbiota’. What exactly is this?

The gut microbiota refers to the trillions of bacterial, fungi, viral and protozoan that live within the large intestine. Within the gut microbiota, there are many different families and species of bacteria, fungi, and other microorganisms.

Some people like to explain this by using the analogy of a forest. In a forest, there are lots of different plants that live in harmony with each other – they all keep each other ‘in check’. If, however, something happens such as disease or someone chops down a part of the forest, then this harmony is disturbed, and some plants can start to overgrow because they have the space to do so.

The same can happen in our gut. Given the wrong foods (e.g. sugar), potentially non-beneficial bacteria can start to overgrow, and that may lead to symptoms such as bloating, gas, and loose stools just to name a few.

What are the signs of good gut health?

Either a lack of gut-related symptoms or optimal health may be signs of good gut health. But, we are often unaware of the wide variety of symptoms that can be attributed to poor gut health. These can be broken down into two categories: 

  1. Wider symptoms, such as skin conditions including eczema, spots or acne, brain fog, depression or anxiety, joint pain, poor stress response and autoimmunity. 
  2. Specific gut-related symptoms, such as acid reflux, indigestion, bloating, gas, undigested food in stool, constipation, and loose stools. 

So, good gut health would mean an absence of any of these symptoms. You would have vibrant health, including vibrant mental health. 

Dana’s top tips for resetting your gut health:

  • Have good eating hygiene. Eat in a state of rest, digest and repair, which is the opposite of our stress mode. So don’t eat on the run, take time to sit down, breathe and smell your food, giving your body the best chance of digesting that food effectively so that you can absorb all the gorgeous nutrients from it. 
  • Eat a wide variety of colourful foods. The standard recommendation is 30 different plant foods per week. This can be achieved by throwing lots of different vegetables into a salad or soup, adding different nuts and seeds to meals, and eating seasonally. 
  • Load up on fibre, but go slow to start off with. The gut microbiome loves fibre, so by feeding the gut with fibre-rich foods like fruit and vegetables, beans and lentils, nuts and seeds, you’ll be well on your way to feeding your gut microbiome in a good way. 
  • Introduce fermented foods into your diet. If you don’t eat these regularly then go low and slow to start off with, as they may cause gas and bloating. Think kefir, kimchi, kombucha – 30ml a day is all you need – sauerkraut, yoghurt, natto, tempeh, miso and sourdough. 

This article was originally published in Happiful Magazine (Issue 72, 2024). You can order print copies online, or read the e-magazine for free on the Happiful app

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Written by Emily Whitton
Emily is a Content Creator & Marketing Coordinator at Happiful and a writer for Nutritionist Resource.
Written by Emily Whitton
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