We’ve always been told to go with our gut feelings but now there’s a medically recognised reason for doing so; recent research shows that gut health is the key factor in our overall health. “Considering that 40% of us suffer from a digestive health issue at any given time, looking after our gut has never been more important,” explains nutritionist, Jane Clarke.
And as Dr Elke Benedetto-Reisch, medical director of medical wellness clinic Lanserhof explains, “when we have inflammation in our guy, we are not able to absord or produce vital nutrients, hormones chemicals and enzymes that are pivotal in keeping our minds and bodies healthy.” We asked the experts for the top gut-loving foods…
Move over, K-Beauty, it’s all about K-food now, too. Kimchi, the traditional Korean dish of fermented vegetable, is hugely beneficial for gut health. Made from cucumber, cabbage, chilli, pepper, ginger and garlic, it’s packed with digestion-boosting enzymes and live ‘good’ bacteria to help balance the gut and diminish the bloat.
The big cheese
Creamy ricotta has a high glutamine content which, according to leading nutritionist, Patrick Holford, is a no-brainer when it comes to gut health. He said: “Alcohol, gluten and some antibiotics can weaken the intestine wall, but glutamine helps prevent toxic fluids that can lead to eczema or arthritis from leaking into the bloodstream.” Assuming you’re not Gwyneth Paltrow, who is a fan of making her own ricotta and spreading it on toast before topping with pesto, supermarket versions (try Galbani from Waitrose) should do the trick.
Forgo the FODMAPs
The what-maps? FODMAPS (Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides, and Polyols) are short chain carbohydrates and alcohols that are poorly absorbed by the gut resulting in bloating and research has shown that avoiding them can be a huge relief to those suffering with IBS (irritable bowel syndrome).
While the list of FODMAPs is rather lengthy, there are certain foods that contain particularly high levels, making them important to avoid. The main culprits include onions, garlic, beans, pulses, artichokes, peaches, prunes, bread, pasta and milk. While that may sound unreasonably restrictive, you can still eat all the carrots, tomato, oranges, banana, kiwi, rice, quinoa and oats you like (among many other low FODMAP foods!).
Pop your berry
Cooked (uncooked berries can be poisonous) elderberry is packed with body-boosting polyphenol antioxidants. “Studies have found polyphenols increase healthy bacteria in the intestine, which helps to calm inflammation throughout the entire body, including the skin,” says nutritionist Kim Pearson. In other words, say hello to a smoother-looking complexion. Buy them fresh at farmers’ markets or dried from realfoods.co.uk and pop them in fruit puddings and crumbles or make compote to serve with plain yoghurt. Can’t get hold of elderberries? Cherries, also high in polyphenols, are the next best thing.
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Supermodel Miranda Kerr adds sauerkraut to her eggs and avocado at breakfast, and she’s not alone. “The trend for fermenting veggies by pickling them in salty water has suddenly taken off, but the process is actually an ancient one,” explains Clarke. “Eating fermented food at the start of a meal helps to stimulate digestive enzymes and create healthy gut bacteria.” Start by overhauling coleslaw and salads with unpasteurised (the pasteurising process kills off the benefits) pickled cabbage and carrots.
Gut-friendly herbs don’t come much better than sage. “It contains rosmarinic acid, which is easily absorbed by the gastrointestinal tract and creates anti-inflammatory responses in the bloodstream,” says Edgson. She suggests adding a handful to soups and casseroles or crush the leaves with sugar and add to boiling water, then chill, for a healthy summer tonic.
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The healthy-eating Hemsley sisters swear homemade bone broth (made by boiling beef or chicken bones in water) is the absolute foundation of good gut health. Why? It turns out that gelatin, which dissolves into the water from the bone marrow, reduces gut inflammation by forming a protective lining along the membrane. Broth has already replaced coffee as the cup du jour in NYC, where new restaurant Brodo serves the drink through a take-out window.
Plenty more fish
Research shows that levels of digestive bacteria become out of whack if there isn’t enough vitamin D. The big D has also been proven to boost the safeguarding function of the skin, increasing production of a peptide called cathelicidin, which helps ward off breakouts. Very few foods contain vitamin D, but natural fatty fish is one of them, so stock up on tuna, salmon and mackerel.