As you may well know, your gut is loaded with bacteria, a diverse ecology that’s known as the microbiome. Researchers estimate that we have 100 trillion bacteria living inside of us. It may be hard to fathom but that means that there’s ten times more bacteria within you than human cells - a clue as to just how important they are!
Supporting your body from the inside out isn’t hard to do. Nourishing with beneficial microbiotics and gut healthy foods can help you achieve better digestion, better immunity and even better shape. And, for mothers to be, you can even start building the health of your baby before he or she is born.
Better birth...and beyond
We are all familiar with the expression “you are what you eat” or “you are what you absorb,” perhaps it is time to update this to “you are what your mother eats during pregnancy and how you are cared for in your early years.”
The microbiota in a mother’s body during birth and during the early months of an infant’s developing system, determine in no small part whether that child will get sick or be healthy, or if they will be slim or overweight in later life.
Unlike the human genome, which is fixed at the moment of conception, the human microbiome is by and large a product of what you eat, your overall lifestyle and the environment in which you are raised —and it’s most malleable in infancy and early childhood. By the time children start at school, the general balance of their microbiome has been well established and will remain with them for years, decades, or even for the rest of their life.
Another reason why healthy eating is very important during pregnancy is some emerging evidence suggesting the foods we eat may have an impact on our child’s future food preferences and fussiness over taste and textures, so called sensory programming.
For mothers-to-be my advice always includes a rigorous approach to optimising the health of the gut, therefore improving the initial inoculation which occurs during the birthing process.
During those all important early months after the baby is born, a mother’s diet will impact significantly on the quality of her breast milk and Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs) are a must-have for a nursing mother. Udo’s Choice is a simple and balanced option to top-up those foundation fats that are often lacking, especially when time is short.
The home environment is important too. A low chemical, natural environment, including a positive impact from family pets, has been shown to benefit the development of the baby’s microbiome.
We all know that getting back in shape after pregnancy can be a challenge, but look beyond the usual pilates programmes or diet plans.
There’s a growing amount of research that suggests your balance of gut bacteria actually influences food cravings, metabolism, and even how many calories your body extracts from the food you eat.
It might sound far fetched but the species of bacteria in people who are slim are different to those who are obese. Various studies have shown that obese individuals have about 20 percent more of a bacteria strain called firmicutes. Firmicutes help the body pull calories from complex sugars and turn those calories into fat.
So, how can you get a so-called skinny gut? As a first step, cut down on sugar.
Sugar is a disrupter of gut health. Reducing your intake of sugar will help overall gut health and will cut out those empty calories, a win win.
Not all sugar is created equal though. You need to monitor what are known as ‘free sugars’ - that is any sugar added to a food or drink or the sugar that is already in honey, syrup or similar natural sweeteners, and fruit juice. Free sugars should account for no more than five percent of your overall dietary intake. These are called free because they're not inside the cells of the food we eat. The sugars found naturally in fruit, milk or vegetables don't have the same negative effect as they come with extra nutrients, such as fibre.
If the issue is more that you yearn for a flatter tummy and you struggle with bloating then you should increase natural, digestion-friendly fibre such as that found in fruit and vegetables.
Good sources include brown rice, carrots, cucumbers and celery. Add some asparagus too as it contains an even more important type of fibre called inulin, known as a prebiotic. Unlike most other carbohydrates, inulin doesn't get broken down in the earlier stages of digestion but instead passes undigested all the way to our large intestine where it becomes an ideal food source for certain types of beneficial bacteria like Bifidobacteria and Lactobacilli.
Saying that, it pays to visit a nutritionist if you are suffering from a digestive issue or health complaint as in many cases a more tailored diet and lifestyle programme is needed with professional advice on which gut health supplements and functional foods will suit you best.