Go with YOUR GUT
We all know gut health is important. But how is it tied to happiness – and what can you eat to boost it?
Recipes Sarah Tuck. Photography Josh Griggs. Styling Sarah Tuck
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Referred to as the body’s “second brain”, the gut is a booming research area right now. But why is it so important? “A healthy, well-functioning gut gives a good indication of how things are ticking over in the body,” says Nickie Hursthouse, a registered dietitian specialising in gut and digestive issues. Scientists have found that the health of your gut – including the diversity and activity of your gut microbes – influences your wellbeing in multiple ways. “Our gut plays a major role in regulating our immune system, so when it’s not working properly, it can definitely impact how well our body can fight infections,” says Hursthouse. The science shows that good gut health can lower the risk of developing bowel cancer – and developing research even suggests a link between the food we eat, inflammation and our blood vessels, which could affect our risk of heart disease. Just as vitally, gut health has been shown to influence mental wellbeing. The gut and brain communicate via the vagus nerve, which oversees a range of bodily functions, including heart rate and mood control. “It’s a two-way street,” explains Hursthouse, “so anxiety can trigger gut symptoms, but the health of our gut can also trigger anxiety.” Your gut also produces hormones, such as serotonin, which can affect mood. In short, keeping your gut happy can help keep you happy, too – and vice versa – so it should be a top priority. Eating for gut health There are plenty of ways to boost your gut health – among them, cutting back on alcohol and getting good sleep and exercise. But the gut-brain connection means you can also boost your mental health through your diet. For example, a Mediterranean-style diet rich in fibre and polyphenols has been shown to significantly improve depressive disorders over three months. In particular, to support your gut microbiome, Hursthouse recommends eating a diet rich in wholegrains, fruit and vegetables. A diversity of fibre – such as wholegrains, legumes, nuts, and leafy green veg – is key, as are polyphenol-rich foods like berries and extra-virgin olive oil. Introducing more fermented foods, like kefir and kimchi (which are rich in probiotics), is a great step too. Overall, a varied, plant-rich diet can make a big difference to gut health and in turn mental health, and it’s relatively easy to switch to. “Good gut health doesn’t need to be complicated or expensive,” says Hursthouse. “And for some, diet quality will make a big difference on its own to their mental wellbeing.” To make it easy to eat better – and boost your mood in the process – we offer the following gut-boosting recipes from the dish magazine team. We hope you’ll find something delicious within. Find Nickie Hursthouse at nickiehursthouse.com and on social media as @nourishwithnickie.