Over the past year, since most of our time has been spent indoors, there has been a massive change in lifestyle, including our diets. We know the importance of maintaining a balanced diet, especially amidst a pandemic when the focus on immunity building is more than ever. Did you know your immunity comes from your gut? ELLE spoke to three nutritionists about the importance of gut health and what you should/shouldn’t eat to maintain a healthy gut.
But first, let’s understand why it’s important to keep your gut healthy.
“For your body to function normally, you have to have a very well interspersed diet between macro and micronutrients and both get absorbed through the gut (through the inner lining of your intestine and stomach). E.g., proteins, carbs and fats are absorbed through the gut. If your lining is damaged, the absorption will not take place and inherently, it will affect your immunity and daily functioning. If you don’t absorb carbohydrates, your energy levels are lower, and if you don’t absorb proteins well, you’re basically undergoing a large amount of degeneration. If you’re not absorbing fats well, it’s not leading to cholesterol synthesis, which is very important. So respect your gut for a happy functioning life,” explains Dr Siddhant Bhargava.
The Role Of Gut Microbiome In Maintaining Immunity
The gut bacteria or microbiome is good bacteria that actually determine your immunity and exists to take care of you. Nutritionist Pooja Ajwani explains, “Immunity is the capacity of the body to understand that a foreign body has entered, attack it and kill it, so it doesn’t cause diseases. And the ability to undertake a foreign body or your genome is identified by your gut microbiome. 70-80% of immunity sits in your gut. It determines whether you can fight off these infections or not. So that is why your gut microbiome (which is 10 times more in number than yourself) plays a major role in maintaining gut health. They aid in the production of important vitamins (vitamin K and vitamin B).”
Illustration by James Steinberg (via Pinterest)
“If your gut bacteria is compromised, it can lead to autoimmune conditions like thyroid disorders, Hashimoto’s disease or ulcerative colitis. This means that the body starts attacking itself because it fails to identify what is and what isn’t foreign. If your gut isn’t happy, even your mental health gets affected in the long run because serotonin, dopamine, melatonin are sleep, feel-good and motivational hormones that are produced by the gut,” she adds.
Food For A Healthy Gut And Immune System
“The quality of your gut depends on what you eat. Immunity isn’t built in a day by popping certain pills or herbal blends, but it’s what you eat over a certain period of time that determines it. If you’re someone who’s on a sugar diet or refined food, then you’ll be populating your gut with a lot of pathogens,” tells Pooja. According to Dr Bhargava, including anti-inflammatories like garlic, ginger, flax seeds, walnuts, cod liver oil, fish and food rich in Omega 3 help improve gut health.
Preety Tyagi, Lead Health Coach, Nutritionist, and Founder of MY22BMI, additionally gives a lowdown on the food intake for a healthy gut.
1. Natural Probiotics
Probiotics are live microorganisms that aid in the growth of beneficial bacteria in the intestine. Fermented foods such as curd, buttermilk, idli, and dosa, among others, are natural sources of probiotics. Having them as a regular part of your diet will help you stay healthy.
2. Ghee Instead Of Vegetable Oils
Ghee helps to reduce inflammation. A teaspoon of ghee added to your lunch or dinner aids digestion. Vegetable oils, which are high in inflammatory omega 6 fats, should be avoided. Substitute healthier oils like extra-virgin olive oil and coconut oil.
3. Focus On Veggies
Ensure that the vegetables make up a majority of your plate as it’s high in fibre, vitamins, and minerals and promotes the growth of beneficial bacteria in the gut.
4. Include A Variety Of Grains
Food allergy may develop simply by sticking to wheat flour or rice. Consuming just one form of grain will cause your gut to become inflamed, resulting in various diseases. Include 2-3 different grains (preferably whole grains) in your diet, such as quinoa, ragi, jowar, bajra, and so on. It’s also possible to use a mixture of these grains. Limiting gluten-containing grains can lower inflammation and enhance overall gut health.
5. Limit Processed Foods
Processed foods are rich in processed carbohydrates and fats and low in nutrients. They’re also commonly high in chemicals and artificial additives, which wreak havoc on digestion. This nutrient-deficient diet encourages the growth of the wrong bacteria and yeast in the intestine, resulting in a harmed environment, poor gut health, and lowered immunity.
6. Limit Medication Overuse:
Antibiotics, acid, and steroids damage the bacteria in the stomach. Antibiotic usage for just one week may cause significant harm to gut bacteria, lowering overall immunity. As a result, antibiotics should only be administered after consulting a doctor; self-medication should be avoided at all costs.
7. Take A Probiotic Supplement:
Many of us need more probiotic support than simple dietary modifications can offer. Supplementing probiotics without a change in diet and lifestyle, on the other hand, is a waste of money. Try supplementing probiotics, at least for a while, if you are not consuming real foods, including fermented foods/drinks, and using other methods to replenish the microbiota.