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Emma Ruben

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Recent studies have shown eating foods that are considered healthy for your gut can be effective in solving a range of other medical issues.  

When my mum was 48, she began to eat a consistent gut-healthy diet. For as long as my mum could remember she always had problems with her skin. What started as childhood eczema, turned into rashes and sores she could no longer maintain.

Doctors could never provide a reason or cause for her skin disease, instead only offered a short-term cute in the form of steroid cream. And eventually even this began to fail and she was asked to take steroids in tablet form. That was when her immune system broke down and she developed shingles.

Finally, a doctor diagnosed her with leaky gut – a term my mum and the rest of our family had never heard before.

In an attempt to heal her gut, she cut out sugar and saturated fats out of her diet. Slowly, her skin began to heal and her immune system started to improve. We never realised the foods she was eating played such a large part on her health.

Gut health can be a huge factor in the health and wellbeing of our bodies, but this concept is still unknown and undiscussed to the wider population.

What does it mean to have a healthy gut?

A gut healthy diet means eating foods that help the good bacteria to remain in the gut. The ‘gut’ that’s being referred to here is the gastrointestinal tract which includes the mouth, oesophagus, stomach, pancreas, liver, gallbladder, small intestine, colon and rectum. Of most important are the micro-organisms that live in the large intestine.

Our bodies contain millions of microbes that are beneficial to our health. Our large intestines or gut contains the most microbes and therefore plays a huge role in our digestion and immune function. But we can damage these good microbes when we maintain a low-fibre, fat-filled diet.

healthy foods for your gut

Signs you should be eating healthier for your gut

Naturopathic Doctor, Rosia Parrish, says that there are a number of symptoms that our body produces to let us know we have an unhealthy gut. These can range from:

  • Stomach discomfort, like consistent gas, bloating, diarrhoea, constipation and abdominal pain
  • Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
  • Fatigue or chronic fatigue syndrome
  • Food cravings (especially sugar)
  • Weight change
  • Skin irritation like acne, psoriasis and eczema
  • Food and skin allergies
  • Autoimmune conditions like rheumatoid arthritis, ulcerative colitis and multiple sclerosis
  • Mood issues such as anxiety and depression
  • Migraines

Following a gut healthy diet

A gut healthy diet is one that is fibre-rich and fibre-diverse filled with wholegrains, fruits, vegetables and other plant-based foods. Fibre is beneficial as it prevents and manages many common gut related disorders. Ideal fibre-rich foods:

  • Yoghurt (sugar-free and full-fat)
  • Vegetables such as artichokes, green peas, sweet potatoes and broccoli
  • Fruits such as bananas, raspberries and oranges
  • Legumes such as chickpeas, lentils and beans

Fermented foods are also considered ideal in order to maintain a gut-healthy diet. The process of fermenting converts the sugars in food to organic acids that are good for your body. Some fermented foods for gut health include:

  • Kimchi
  • Sauerkraut
  • Kefir
  • Kombucha

Many of the foods listed are rich in a type of bacteria called lactobacilli, a bacteria that benefits health. Eating a gut-healthy diet will increase the lactobacilli in our intestines and reduce the Enterobacteriaceae, a bacteria associated with inflammation and chronic diseases.

Foods to avoid

Just like how fibre-rich and fermented foods contribute to good gut bacteria, other foods can create bad gut bacteria. These are foods that are packed with sugar, are highly processed and artificially sweet.

These can all lead to inflammation in your gut. Medical News Today list some of the worst ones as:

  • Foods with fructose corn syrup or sorbitol
  • Fruit juice
  • Condiments such as jam, relish and hummus
  • Foods with antibiotics in them (including meat)
  • Fried foods

 Other aspects that affect gut health

Whilst the food we eat is the primary factor that affects our gut, there are also other factors that can damage it.

One of the most common is adequate sleep. Getting enough sleep is essential for the upkeep of gut health. It is recommended that those trying to maintain a healthy gut sleep before 12am and get at least seven and a half hours to eight hours.

In conjunction with getting enough sleep is maintaining regular exercise. Maintaining regular exercise can reduce stress levels and maintain a healthy weight. Both of which can have a positive effect on gut health.

people exercising

 The benefits of gut health

According to UC Davis Health, the gut is the centre of our bodies and by nurturing its healthy bacteria, our bodies’ immune cells can ward off infectious agents like bacteria, viruses and fungi. A healthy gut also communicates with the brain through our nerves and hormones which helps maintain our well-being.

New research conducted by the, Journal of Trends in Food Science and Technology, has shown that a healthy gut microflora can provide protection against gastrointestinal disorders, inflammatory bowel diseases and even cancer. In some cases, it can also prevent atopic diseases such as asthma and dermatitis or eczema.

 What to remember before beginning a gut healthy diet

When trying new diets for gut-health or even diets such as keto, begin by cutting certain foods out bit by bit. Pay attention to what foods bring negative change to your body and attempt at cutting it out. When trying recommended foods for your gut, also ensure that they are not playing a negative impact on your health. If you find that your body is not adjusting to a certain food, you might be intolerant to it and you should book an appointment with your GP.

Justin and Hailey Bieber credit couples therapy as the foundation of their happy and successful marriage.

Hailey Bieber recently admitted on a podcast with fellow model Ashley Graham that she and Justin Bieber entered pre-marital counselling to air and heal their past grievances before getting married. Couples therapy helped strengthened their bond.

“Things start to just kind of pour out when you’re married,” Hailey shares, “because you’re like well, you’re here so might as well just tell you everything and tell you that that bothered me and that actually hurt my feelings.”

Couples therapy allowed them to unpack any issues that were holding them back and to arrive at a place where their relationship continued to improve.

Does relationship counselling actually work?

As shown in a study conducted by the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapists, relationship counselling has proven to work with more than 97 per cent of the study believing they got the help they needed. Another 93 per cent say they developed better tools to deal with their problems.

Within the mainstream narrative, couple’s counselling appears to be a last ditch effort or a ‘Hail Mary’ to fix a relationship or marriage. Instead, it can be utilised as a way to strengthen relationships and create a safe space for couples to be more vulnerable with each other.

For those in healthy and stable relationships, relationship counselling can benefit by helping tackle issues such as the pressures of digital society or individual growing pains.

a man holding a woman in love

Giving in to 21st century pressures

Couples in long term, comfortable relationships may begin take each other for granted and ignore one another when they are spending time together. One of the biggest challenges for couples in today’s world is ‘phubbing’ which refers to the act of ignoring your significant other in favour of technology.

A recent survey conducted by the Hankamer School of Business found that 46 per cent of respondents have been phubbed by their partner – with 23 per cent claiming it created conflict in their relationships. According to the Professor of the study, James Roberts, this eventually translated into lower levels of relationship satisfaction with 37 per cent responding they felt depressed.

Concentrating on your device after a long day may seem harmless but according to Stanford and Yale psychologist, Emma Seppala, phubbing severely “disrupts our present-moment, in-person relationships”.

Dr Seppala recommends implementing strict no-technology rules during meal and family times to put an end to phubbing within relationships. Attention-based practices, such as mediation and mindfulness, to retrain and relearn new habits can also be useful.

Keeping smaller issues small

Big issues in relationships often stem from what was once a smaller struggle. Couples tend to only rely on counselling when they realise they are unable to solve their own problems. Psychologists and clinicians, Robert Levenson and John Gottman, find that the sooner a problem is addressed through counselling, there is more of a chance of the relationship working.

Relationship counsellor, Racine Henry, recommends therapy for couples that don’t have big issues but are feeling “stuck” in certain parts of their lives. When people go through big life changes, couples may need therapy to grow together and relearn each other’s perspectives.

Therapist, Alisha Powell, encourages couples to implement these actions on their own. “A good relationship consists of doing small things consistently and checking in with each other,” she says.

Bettering communication

One of the largest challenges couples face is communicating with each other, although many do not realise they are failing in this aspect.

Marriage and family therapist, Michel Horvat, says a counsellor helps “facilitate communication and understanding of each other’s motivation and ongoing resentments and assumptions that might have built up over the development of the relationship.”

In an analysis on relationship education and counselling, researchers on marriage counselling, Alan Hawkins and Theodora Ooms, discovered that couples with little to no problems still managed to better their communication skills in therapy with 50 to 60 per cent of couples acknowledging their communication skills had improved.

A couple holding hands on holiday

Remodelling your relationship template

According to psychologist, Doctor Crystal Lee, the way couples interact with each other can be derived from what they’ve learned during their formative childhood years. Parents are usually children’s first example of a romantic relationship. “Just as we learn how to speak and behave from our parents,” she says, “we implicitly learn relationship habits from our parents.”

This impacts the way adults navigate different aspects of their relationships such as how they deal with commitment, how they communicate and even how they deal with finances. When adults engage in their parents’ bad relationship habits, it can become problematic for their romantic partnerships.

The first step is to become aware of these bad habits. Relationship counsellor Dr Lee says that “once you’re aware that you’re engaging in bad habits, you can intentionally act differently”.

Couples therapy can be a useful tool for couples to rebuild their relationship but it can also be beneficial to keep a relationship on track. Licensed family therapist and Doctor of Psychology, Harel Papikian, says, “ultimately the goal is to change the patterns of relating”. By engaging with couples counselling, if problems and issues do arise, couples can be better equipped to deal with them.

Doctor, Beverly Flaxington, encourages couples to stop waiting to for something to change and to get up and make the necessary changes that will nurture their relationship.

She credits author, Mark Victor Hansen’s words, “Don’t wait until everything is just right. It will never be perfect. There will always be challenges, obstacles, and less than perfect conditions. So what? Get started now.”