When someone suggests you should “go with your gut” they are more right than you probably realise.
Having a healthy gut is vital and is linked to a number of different medical conditions. When your gut is not healthy it can have an impact on mental health, weight, mood and a number of other digestive disorders. Keeping your gut healthy can help keep the rest of your body healthy.
Every year at least 50% of Australian adults experience gut health issues and symptoms of poor gut health can include bloated stomach, heartburn, abdominal pain and nausea.
Your gut serves many crucial functions in your body. Apart from digesting food and extracting essential nutrients from what you eat, the gut also tells you when to start and stop eating and releases the hormone Ghrelin, which stimulates your appetite. It also prevents potentially harmful substances from entering the body.
A healthy gut has several other important jobs, including helping to fight off infection, as well as performing all of its usual digestive and regulatory functions, like absorbing and creating nutrients that are essential to keeping your body running at its best. A well-functioning gut may also help to lose or maintain weight. So eating more fibre-containing foods like whole grains, fruits, vegetables, dried beans and lentils will have many health benefits.
Can you feel that change in the air?
The change in the weather can signal a change in mood and energy that may leave us feeling sad, lethargic and fatigued. Along with spending more time indoors, the shorter days of autumn and winter can trigger changes in the brain that can affect our mood and may cause a drop in serotonin.
Serotonin is known as the “don’t worry, be happy” soothing neurotransmitter. It plays multiple roles in the brain’s biochemistry and is a critical for sustained and deep sleep, self-confidence, social engagement and a healthy appetite.
Around 70-90% of the serotonin in your body is produced in your gut. So having a healthy gut along with proper hydration (even on the cold days) will go a long way toward optimising your mental health. Some mood boosting foods include Brazil nuts, oily fish, oats, lentils, spinach and dark chocolate, along with plenty of fruit and vegetables.
Exercise is also a great way to boost serotonin in your brain. So even when it is cold, wet and windy and we would rather be snuggled up at home, it is important to keep that body moving.
So let’s kick start those feel good hormones and embrace a brand new day with some ideas to improve gut health, boost your mood and increase serotonin:
Replace white bread, pasta and rice with wholemeal pasta and brown rice.
Although we can’t always make it at home, fresh yoghurt is great for your gut. Adding some bircher muesli adds a good source of fibre or even adding some fresh fruit.
Choose a mixture of both raw and cooked vegetables
Vegetable sticks with hummus make a great mid-morning or mid-afternoon snack instead of open a bag of chips or biscuits.
Sipping peppermint tea after eating will aid in digestion.
Legumes are rich in protein and fibre and linked to improved heart and gut health. Substitute mayonnaise for hummus in your sandwich for something a little different.
Steam, microwave or stir-fry vegetables rather than boiling in water will help minimise the loss of vitamins such as B and C.
Shop, cook and have meals with friends and family. Relaxing and spending time with others can also be great for improving your mood.
Sunshine may also trigger the production of serotonin. Try and get out and about during the day, even in the winter months
Diet, exercise, sleep and a positive outlook are all key elements to improving mood.