Posted on Leave a comment

How to improve your gut health?

Here we discuss gut health in detail and why it should be taken seriously. There are many factors that affect gut health. Among them, does food help in improving gut health and what should you eat?

What is gut health?

If you aren’t aware, our gut is a complex community of microorganisms called microbiota. Microbial colonisation of around 100 trillion microbes in the body, occurs mainly in the colon, also throughout the length of the gastrointestinal tract. This microbiota is made up of cells including 500 different species of bacteria, viruses and fungi.

Microorganisms in the gut can be good, and bad. They help in getting energy from the food we eat, getting rid of the toxins, also helping in producing mood-boosting brain chemical serotonin. One of the major functions of the microbiota is to protect the intestine against the colonisation of exogenous pathogens and other potentially harmful indigenous microorganisms. This is termed colonisation-resistance (CR). Needless to say, the gut microbiota is important for the overall health of the body. Upon disturbance of the microbiota, CR can be transiently disrupted, and pathogens can gain the opportunity to grow to high levels. One consequence of pathogen expansion is the triggering of inflammatory host responses and pathogen-mediated disease. Hence, they are important for nutrition, immunity, and effects on the brain and behaviour.

What alters gut health?

A shift in the stomach acid, the microbiota and gut immunity influences the gut health. Recent studies on gut health provide important insights about how the microbiota might influence many disease processes both within and distant from the gut. Many studies have reported changes in the gut microbiota during not only obesity, diabetes, and liver diseases but also cancer and even neurodegenerative diseases.

Signs of poor gut health

Our guts control and deal with every aspect of our health. How we digest our food, and even the food sensitivities we have, are linked to our mood, behaviour, energy, weight, food cravings, hormone balance, and immunity. So what are the immediate symptoms of poor gut health? You’ll be surprised to see many common health concerns being associated with the gut.

  1. Stomach disturbances like gas, bloating, heartburn, constipation or diarrhoea.
  2. Unexplained weight gain or weight loss.
  3. Sleep issues.
  4. Skin rashes and allergies.
  5. Unexplained mood disorders like depression.
  6. Unexplained fatigue.

It’s always advisable to check with a medical practitioner instead of coming to your own conclusions when you have these symptoms to check if everything is in order.

Factors that affect the gut health

Many factors of a poor lifestyle are the culprit for poor gut health. This could include your bad habits like smoking, excessive alcohol intake, insufficient exercise, etc. Let us have a look in detail.

  1. DIET: Recent studies show that diet plays a significant role in the functioning of the microbiota in the gut. Dietary alterations can induce substantial, temporary microbial shifts within 24 hours. A diet deficient in the fibre, fruits and vegetables creates an imbalance in the gut. Researchers believe that understanding the association between diet and gut health would help in creating effective alterations in the microbial activity through a diet. In other words, we could eat certain foods to improve the functioning of the gut.
  2. ANTIBIOTICS: We consume antibiotics with a good intention to take care of our infections in the body. Little do we know of the implications of resorting to antibiotics each time we fall sick. Use of antibiotics has been linked to the deprivation of the gut bacteria, due to its general bacteria-killing nature. Antibiotics kill both good and bad bacteria in the gut, this creates a microbial imbalance in the gut. This is a perfect chance for the overgrowth of other organisms like yeast which could lead to many problems in the gut. There’s one more way in which antibiotics could enter your body: through animal foods. Unless certified organic, animals are typically given courses of antibiotics to prevent diseases in their poor living conditions and stimulate growth.
  3. STRESS: The gut-brain connection is something we need to take seriously. Millions of neurons in the gut function in close communication with the brain and stress can be a disruptive factor of this process. It is also associated with a change in the gut microbes which can influence an individual’s mood. Thus, the gut’s neurons and microbes strongly influence the brain and vice versa. For instance, when under stress, individuals tend to overeat or under-eat or eat comfort foods with a lot of sugar and calories. The increase in smoking or consumption of alcohol could also lead to heartburn and acid reflux. This, in turn, affects the overall digestion process, making the person feel sick with symptoms like abdominal cramps and diarrhoea.
  4. EXERCISE: The relation between physical activity and gut health is a topic gaining attention in recent years, and several studies show that regardless of diet, or body composition, exercise changes the gut microbiota of humans. A study in humans published in 2018 found that found lean, sedentary people who exercised for six weeks also developed higher levels of Clostridiales, Lachnospira, Roseburia, and Faecalibacterium in their guts, but those microbes returned to baseline levels when the individuals stopped exercising. Studies also suggest that exercise might alter the gene expression of immune cells in the tissues of the gut, leading to the production of fewer pro-inflammatory cell-signalling proteins and more anti-inflammatory ones, as well as antioxidant enzymes.
  5. SLEEP: The quality of your sleep and the health of your gut are interconnected. The gut microbiome not only affects the digestive, metabolic, and immune functions in the body but also influences the mood and sleep through the brain-gut connection. Studies suggest that circadian rhythms regulate the gut microbiome. Circadian rhythms are 24-h patterns regulating behaviour, organs, and cells in living organisms. These rhythms align biological functions with regular and predictable environmental patterns to optimise function and health. In layman terms, the circadian rhythm is your body’s internal clock. When there is a disruption in this rhythm, the health and functioning of the gut microbiota are affected. Hence, poor sleep can have a negative impact on gut health.

How to improve gut health with food?

We know that among other factors, diet plays an important role in influencing the proper functioning of the gut. An unhealthy diet with more sugar, salt, saturated fat, along with bad habits and erratic lifestyle can lead to many health concerns. So are there foods which could improve the health of the microbiota? Let us have a look.

  1. Fermented foods and probiotics: The use of fermentation to improve the keeping quality, taste and nutritional value is a well-known ancient practice. Fermented foods and beverages like Tempeh, kefir, kimchi, yoghurt, sauerkraut etc, produced and preserved by the action of microorganisms like Saccharomyces yeasts and lactic acid bacteria cause a significant improvement in the gut health.

People often get confused between the probiotics and fermented foods. While fermented foods can contain probiotics, they are not the same. Probiotics have “living microorganisms that, when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit on the host”. These beneficial live microorganisms will regenerate our microflora, fermenting our food correctly and improving our health. Fermented milk, kombucha etc are excellent sources of probiotics.

  1. Food rich in fibre: Prebiotics are fibres that the human body cannot digest, but act as the food for the bacteria in the gut. A diet rich in fibre or prebiotics ensures proper growth of the gut microbiota and helps them multiply in numbers and thrive. This helps in better protection of the gut against harmful bacteria, which aids in digestion and the health therefore. Fruits, vegetables and legumes are rich in prebiotics.
  2. Whole food plant-based diet: A balanced plant-based diet with whole foods, legumes, fruits and vegetables are rich in fibre, some non-digestible carbs, and nutrients like polyphenols, which make their way to the colon when not digested completely. In the large intestine, they are broken down by the microbiota and promote the growth of certain beneficial bacteria. Additionally, this diet helps in keeping down the inflammation in the gut and helps you feel fuller for a longer time.
  3. Avoid artificial sweeteners: Artificial sweeteners are branded and marketed as a healthy replacement for refined sugar. However, several studies show these create an imbalance in the gut microbiota and negative effects on the blood sugar levels.

A healthy, balanced lifestyle with a proper diet could be the solution to a good deal of health related problems in your life. As they say, “you are what you eat”.

Posted on Leave a comment

Here are 5 benefits of omega-3 fatty acids

If you are health conscious or aim for a healthier lifestyle, omega-3 fatty acids should be a part of your diet. Also, what are the best vegan sources?

Omega-3 fatty acids

From many years, omega-3 fatty acids have been linked with heart health and better ageing. Nutritionists say there are good fats and bad fats and people shouldn’t conclude and say fats, in general, are bad. These are one of the excellent examples of good fat. Omega -3 fatty acids are a group of polyunsaturated fatty acids that are important for many functions of the body.

There are 3 types of omega-3 fatty acids. The omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA are found in seafood, including fatty fish (e.g., salmon, tuna, and trout) and shellfish (e.g., crabs, mussels, and oysters). A different type of omega-3, called ALA, is found in other foods like broccoli, spinach, tomatoes etc. Omega-3s are also available as dietary supplements; for example, fish oil supplements contain EPA and DHA, and flaxseed oil supplements contain ALA.

Benefits of omega-3 fatty acids

  1. Help in reducing the inflammation:

While acute inflammation is a part of the protective functions of the body, chronic, excessive or uncontrolled inflammation can lead to many health concerns. Omega-3 fatty acids are incorporated in many parts of the body including cell membranes and play a role in anti-inflammatory processes and in the viscosity of cell membranes. EPA and DHA give rise to anti-inflammatory and inflammation resolving mediators called resolvins, protectins and maresins.

In a clinical trial undertaken among gas station workers, who might be exposed to oxidative stress and changes in the balance of the immune system due to the exposure to commercial gasoline and diesel particulate matter, the impact of omega-3 fatty acid supplements was assessed on inflammatory and anti-inflammatory markers. It was concluded that , the omega-3 fatty acid supplementation can be effective in reducing the inflammatory responses and maintaining immune tolerance in people with high exposure to inflammation-inducing factors.

  1. They help in fetal development:

EPA and DHA are essential for proper fetal development during pregnancy. Maternal nutrition is vital for the fetus and doctors always stress on a diet including sufficient caloric and protein requirements, but recently fatty acids have also been deemed important. The amount of omega-3 fatty acid in the fetus is correlated with the amount ingested by the mother, so it is essential that the mother has adequate nutrition. Studies confirm that omega-3 fatty acids are essential for proper cell membrane functioning and are vital to the development of foetal brain and retina.

There is also evidence that mothers who use EPA and DHA supplementation during pregnancy and breastfeeding may protect their children against allergies. This may be due to the fact that fish-oil supplementation has been associated with decreased levels of body cells associated with inflammation and immune response.

  1. This may reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease:

Omega-3 fatty acids have been shown in various studies to reduce the incidence of cardiovascular diseases.  Coronary heart diseases and strokes are one of the leading causes of death in the world. They also show individuals at risk of chronic inflammation-related heart diseases benefiting from the consumption of plant and marine-derived omega-3 fatty acids. EPA and DHA play a role in reducing the oxidative stress in the body and thereby preventing chronic inflammation. However, various studies on the relation between omega-3 fatty acids and cardiovascular diseases show contrasting results in this opinion. Researchers suggest more physiological and environmental factors need to be considered and more studies are yet to be undertaken to have a better picture on this topic.

  1. Help in fighting autoimmune diseases:

When there is an overactivity of the immune system, the body attacks and damages its own tissues as a response to an unknown trigger. Hence, the body produces antibodies that attack the tissues instead of fighting infections. Rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, type 1 diabetes and lupus are classic examples of an autoimmune disease. There have been many clinical trials assessing the benefits of dietary supplementation with fish oils in several inflammatory and autoimmune diseases in humans, including rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, psoriasis, lupus erythematosus, multiple sclerosis and migraine headaches. Many of the placebo-controlled trials of fish oil in chronic inflammatory diseases reveal significant benefits, including decreased disease activity and a lowered use of anti-inflammatory drugs.

  1. Aid in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease:

Alzheimer’s disease is one of the most common neurodegenerative diseases in the elderly. It is a disorder characterised by progressive impairments of memory, language, reasoning, and other cognitive functions. Evidence suggests that omega-3 fatty acids may act as a possible protective factor in Alzheimer’s disease. Recent studies highlight the beneficial effect of the omega-3 fatty acids in the Alzheimer’s disease which may be attributed to their antioxidant, anti-inflammatory properties. Both DHA and EPA can enhance the nerve growth factor level. They are beneficial to improve the cognitive function in mild Alzheimer’s disease.

Vegan sources of omega-3 fatty acids

So far we know the benefits of consuming omega-3 fatty acids. However, if you are a vegan, how can you ensure adequate intake of this? Plant foods typically only contain alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) and the most popular sources of DHA and EPA are fatty fish. Even though our body can convert a part of ALA into DHA and EPA, this is an insufficient part of the adequate intake required by the body. Hence, it is strongly advised to take supplements for DHA and ALA and have plenty of plant-based foods to supplement ALA in your diet. Flax seeds, chia seeds, walnuts, hemp seeds are excellent sources of ALA.

Posted on Leave a comment

Vegan food – New To Veganism?

Vegan food – Here are 5 steps for an easy transition

Turning vegan isn’t mind-boggling as many expect it to be. These tips can ease the transition while you adapt to the new diet.

The workday has just started, but you are already overthinking about what vegan food to order for lunch. You cannot resort to the usual comfort food, like last night’s Spaghetti Carbonara, and it needs to be pocket-friendly and delicious too. Sounds familiar? As a newbie, turning vegan could be an overwhelming change for most of us- clueless about replacing our food habits with vegan alternatives. Sure, we have googled about anything and everything “vegan”, to educate ourselves, watched countless documentaries on Netflix, and we are more than ready to be a vegan. Not so easy.

For most of us, food is more than fuel to the body. Food is a quintessential part of our culture and society: be it a family meal during festivals, socializing with your friends, or your grandma cooking her signature dishes at home. We are used to a certain food habit that has strong ties with our memories and comforts. Now, to tackle those typical habits, you need to be on top of your game!

1. Understand your food habits

This could be that opportunity to knowing yourself better, so ask important questions. Apart from your main meals in a day, how many times do you binge in between? Do you follow a healthy diet or eat fast-food? Do you stress-eat? What are your comfort foods? Our brains are accustomed to us indulging on certain kinds of food. Overcoming those temptations and creating new food habits should be our end goal.

2. Create a vegan meal plan

For most of us, Millenials and Gen-Zs, who aren’t health-conscious, following a meal plan itself would be a new habit. But as a part of a vegan community, we can vouch for the fact that this is the most effective way to follow the vegan diet until it becomes a part of you. You already know your food habits, so reward yourselves with the vegan alternatives! Having a solid meal plan, with no loopholes, where you don’t have hunger pangs during the day while figuring out the vegan meal, is the most important step in this journey. Try different plant-based ingredients and preparations to make things exciting. You’d be surprised to know how creative vegan food could get!

3. Keep food journal on your vegan food journey

Have a pocket journal with you all the times and make a note of the food you eat in a day. Too much effort, right? Try it for 2 weeks and prove this thought wrong! Writing brief notes of your vegan diet, and revisiting them at the end of the day, not only sheds light on your progress but also makes it easier for you to stick to the diet. Undoubtedly, this ensures you have the discipline to follow a vegan diet, as you must already know, changing your diet completely to vegan requires serious dedication and discipline.

4. Join vegan communities

Even if you are not a social person, join vegan communities and discussion where you can find people with similar interests and value systems as yours. Believe it or not, engaging in conversations about this journey motivates you to grow further. It’s an endearing experience to find inspirational stories that make you more attached to your decision. In short, the more you talk about it positively, the easier the transition

5. Don’t be too hard on yourself

These changes take time, especially if it’s about deep-rooted habits that you find comfort in. You might read stories of influencers and celebrities who have turned vegan in no time. But honestly, our needs are different, so it’s okay to take it slow and overcome one challenge at a time. At the end of the day, you know how important this decision is to you. So enjoy the progress and be proud of becoming a vegan!