Sebastian Pole is a practitioner of traditional herbal medicine and Master Herbsmith at Pukka Herbs. He recommends mindful eating and plants to aid digestion.
Our guts play a huge role in everything from mood through to immunity, and from energy levels to digestion, so prioritising your gut health could be the key to giving your body and mind the boost it needs. Guts contain trillions of bacteria – good and bad, which together make our gut microbiome. Feeling bloated or having a bloated stomach can be a sign of an unbalance in this microbiome.
To give your gut microbiome a little help, ensure you eat a colourful, varied diet. Aim to incorporate lots of plant-based foods including wholegrains, legumes, fruit and vegetables. You could also try incorporating fermented foods into your diet such as kefir, kimchi, sauerkraut or yoghurt, as well as a daily probiotic, said to help boost good gut bacteria in the gut naturally.
There are also lifestyle factors that can wreak havoc on your gut health, such as chronic stress, which will leave your digestion feeling less than healthy. Implementing techniques, such as breathing exercises or meditation, to combat everyday stressors could help you.
Sebastian is a Master Herbalist and member of the Ayurvedic Practitioners Association. Fluent in Hindi and a registered yoga therapist, he is on a mission to bring the incredible power of plants into people’s life. Find more at pukkaherbs.com
Three steps to improve family gut health
- Eating in tight and/or high waist trousers can place external pressure on your gut, making symptoms worse. Choose looser bottoms with an elasticated waistband. Eating in comfortable clothes makes mealtimes meal times far more enjoyable.
- If you do experience discomfort after eating, a herbal tea for digestion could help ease symptoms. There are a number of plant-based remedies, which can help including mint, such as peppermint. Hot water is also a wonderful medicine and a great cleanser. Additionally, including spice, such as cayenne pepper helps to boost metabolism, invigorate your digestion and cleanse your digestive system. Cutting down on poor quality fatty foods, such as dairy and refined sugar, is also a great way to give our livers some much-needed TLC.
- Before eating, take five deep breaths. Look at your food, smell it. Whilst eating, chew each mouthful and don’t prepare the next mouthful on your fork until you’ve finished swallowing the current one. Give yourself time to eat a healthy, nutritious meal – after all, food is there to be enjoyed, so aim to devote allocated time to eat peacefully.
Kirsten Chick is a nutritional therapist, teacher and writer, and author of Nutrition Brought to Life
There are so many reasons why it’s important to protect the digestive system, but I think there three main areas. Good gut health will help you digest and absorb all the nutrients from your food. You can have the most amazingly nourishing meal on your plate, but still struggle to get the nutrients you need if your gut lining is inflamed or you’re not producing the enzymes you need, for example. This can lead to low energy, hormone imbalance, joint and bone weakness, problems with memory, concentration and learning, a reduced immune system and so much more. The trillions of microbes in your gut are part of your first line of defence against infections and illness, and can regulate further aspects of your immune system, such as your white blood cells and inflammation. There has never been a more important time to make sure your gut is in good shape. These same microbes also influence your mental health and wellbeing. There is ongoing research into this, but it is now well established that your gut health impacts levels of serotonin, dopamine, GABA and other neurotransmitters that affect how happy, content and calm you feel.
One way to access your gut health is to keep an eye on your bowel movements - is it difficult to poo, or are you emptying your bowels more often than usual? Is it harder and darker, or looser, or paler than normal? Is there any blood or mucus? You can also pay attention to how your abdomen generally feels - do you get regular pain or bloating, heartburn or reflux? Or excessive and/or very smelly wind, perhaps? Sometimes, though, it’s not obvious - everything may seem to be functioning adequately in that department, and yet your gut still isn’t doing its job of digesting and absorbing nutrients properly, or your microbes may not be as balanced and diverse as they need to be to keep your immune system and other aspects of your physical and mental health in an optimal state. Either way, a variety of stool tests and other tests are available that can shed more light on this. Many of these are private tests, so are of course budget-dependent, and those that you can get via the NHS are dependent on their budget and criteria. If you are still confused, you can seek the opinion of a professional, such as an experienced nutritional therapist. Or you can just nourish your gut health anyway - gentle support is always a good idea.
Kirsten offers online and phone consultations for adults and children and a wide range of workshops from sugar to menopause. See connectwithnutrition.co.uk.
Three steps to improve family gut health
- Eat more slowly and consciously. Paying attention to what you’re eating, really tasting it and thinking about it, triggers digestive processes. Chewing your food well helps you break down your food and exposes it to more digestive enzymes, plus triggers a gentle squeezing motions through your whole digestive tract to keep everything moving along. And drink plenty of water because nothing works well in your body if there’s not enough water. So hydration is also key.
- Eat more vegetables, and a greater variety of them. The different kinds of fibre will feed different kinds of gut microbes and help to create the diversity you need.
- Include small amounts of fermented foods and/or a good quality probiotic supplement. Fermented foods include sauerkraut, kim chi, kefir and also well-aged cheeses and unfiltered vinegars - so in summer I make salad dressings with unflitered balsamic vinegar and apple cider vinegar “with mother”. In winter I might add a spoonful or two of well-fermented yoghurt or kefir to porridge and soups just before serving.