The gut is a foreign country. No really, there’s a whole microbe population living in there, known now as the gut microbiota, formerly called gut flora. These gut microbiota contains tens of trillions of microorganisms, including at least 1000 different species of known bacteria with more than three million genes, which are, fascinatingly enough, totally different to your human genes (more on this later).
This bacteria forms part of the intricate system that helps your body with just about every process, including helping you to digest your food, think clearly, maintain a healthy weight and fight off bad bacteria to keep you fit and healthy. When your gut is balanced you stay healthy and happy, and when it is not, you open yourself up to a host of health issues such as weight gain, mood swings, fatigue and disease.
We all know that we should drink lots of water, eat lots of fiber, avoid processed and fatty foods, and eat as natural as possible, but there are still a few lapses when it comes to understanding exactly how the gut gets things going. We really need to be treating it like the powerhouse it is, which entails some extra tender loving care.
The good news is, because your microbiota’s genes are vastly different to your human genes, you can tweak the makeup of them. Basically, the average lifespan of a bacterium in your microbiome is 20 minutes! So you have the opportunity every time you eat to begin to change the population of your gut microbiome. One meal at a time, it’s as easy as that.
A huge misconception that plagues mealtime is that it’s healthy to have all the foods from the food pyramid on your plate. This is wrong because meat, carbs fruit and veg all digest at different rates and need different enzymes to digest well.
For example, meats (proteins) need an acid environment to fully digest, whereas carbohydrate-rich foods need an alkaline environment to digest. When these foods are eaten in one sitting, like a steak and potato kind of meal, the protein and carbohydrates will create a neutral environment where both the protein and carbohydrate will not digest fully or correctly. This is particularly unfavorable because improper digestion can lead to digestive distress, food allergies, autoimmune disease, inflammatory diseases, toxicity, and more. So if banting is getting anything right, it’s making sure you eat meat without carbs, and visa versa.
Here are some other gut-friendly tips:
#1 Leafy greens will make your gut an Eden. Loaded with amino acids (the building blocks of protein), essential minerals and nutrients (B vitamins, magnesium and iron) and fiber (great for digestion), they combine well with all foods, and should therefore make a regular appearance on your plate. Hint: don’t mix fruits with your meal. They should be digested independently.
#2 We are told to stay constantly hydrated, which is true, except for when you are eating. Drinking water (any liquid really) with a meal dilutes enzymes and dampens the digestive fire.
#3 Beans, lentils and nuts are great substitutes for meats and/or starches, but they are known to make you gassy. Soaking them overnight, or at least for a few hours, will break down some of the cellulose, deteriorate those gas-causing sugars, and inactivate the enzyme inhibitors, thus improving their digestibility.
#4 Give your gut some warmth. Foods digest faster in a warm environment. Drinking hot lemon water before a meal is a great way to open up the digestive channels and optimise absorption.