Nutritionist Steph Geddes talks about good gut and mental health through this period of isolation.
During this time of uncertainty, it is extremely important that we put measures in place to look after our overall health and wellbeing.
As we are all facing a number of challenges out of our control, it’s important that we prioritise taking care of the things that are in our control, such as eating well and being proactive about maintaining positive mental health.
We’re all experiencing changes to our routine as we balance family life and adapt to new work situations, or in some cases deal with loss of work and income. All these factors, along with increased feelings of isolation can make us feel stressed, which can have a profound impact on our internal health if we don’t actively take steps to manage and reduce our stress levels.
Many people don’t realise that our gut health has a direct link to our mental health via the gut-brain axis, a communication pathway between the gut and the brain. This connection goes both ways, the gut microbiome can affect our stress response and stress also disrupts the gut microbiome.
When the gut microbiome is disrupted it can lead to unpleasant physical symptoms such as bloating, stomach pains, irregular bowel movements, and gas and can also have negative implications for your mood, immune system, hormone production and even weight management.
Studies show that anxiety and stress are linked to reduced diversity and an altered microbiome composition. Interestingly, studies are also indicating that people with larger social networks tend to have a more diverse microbiome (the more diversity the better) which highlights the importance of social connection.
There are a number of things we can do to ensure we’re fostering positive mental wellbeing such as meditating, spending time outdoors, exercising daily and regularly checking in with friends and family. However, ensuring our gut health is in shape isn’t typically the first thing we think of when we want to take care of our mental wellbeing.
So, how do we keep our gut and mind healthy?
Diet is key. We need incorporate a variety of wholefoods into our diets daily. This includes veggies, fruit, wholegrains, legumes, nuts, seeds, oily fish as well as probiotic rich foods and fermented foods.
I like to ensure that at every meal I am filling my plate at least half with vegetables and aiming for variety every day as a variety of healthy food equals diversity in the microbiome. I also always ensure my pantry is full of nuts and seeds that I can easily snack on, as well as pre-cooked grains and legumes to add to meals as much as I can.
Another important element to consider when planning our meals is incorporating probiotic-rich foods, as they can improve microbiome diversity and composition.
Including probiotic-rich foods can also help to support gut health I like to get my daily dose of probiotics through a daily serve of The Culture Co.’s kefir yoghurt which contains probiotics as well as naturally occurring vitamin B12 which helps to support our immune system as part of a balanced diet.
This is now available in single serve tubs – one pot contains 11 strains of live cultures, including the probiotic B.Lactis – which makes it much easier to get my daily dose! I enjoy them either on their own, or with some nuts, muesli or fruit on top – I like to ensure my fridge is stocked up so I can easily support my gut every day.
It’s also vital that we exercise daily, get enough sleep and put measures in place to manage our stress and anxiety, such as meditation and ensuring we keep in contact with our loved ones. All these factors work together to create both positive mental wellbeing and good gut health.
Remember, there’s no short-term solution to generating good gut health. However, spending more time at home provides a great opportunity for us to introduce daily habits that will benefit us now and post COVID-19.
These daily habits are what will put us in good stead with our gut health and overall mental wellbeing.