I hate to say it, but before we know it, the clocks will have changed – days will be shorter, nights will be darker, and it will be cold and damp. So how can you keep your spirits up as we enter this more challenging time of year?
In case you haven’t heard me say this before, let me remind you – the key to overall health and wellness lies in your stomach. Having a healthy population of bacteria in your gut doesn’t just help digestion, it also boosts immunity and improves mental health.
Gut health is paramount during the colder months when our immune systems are more vulnerable. And it’s especially important after a pandemic where many people struggled with seasonal affective disorder (SAD) and feelings of isolation brought on by social distancing. While life may have returned to ‘normal’, for many people the after-effects are still very much here.
The good news is that your diet can make a big impact on your gut health, and quickly. That means that eating the right foods can not only help your body, but your mood, too!
While an unhealthy gut sounds scary, it’s important to remember that you can always improve your health and heal your gut with simple self-care practices that support overall wellness. Adopting a regular workout routine, drinking plenty of water, and reducing stress are all attainable lifestyle shifts that support your gut and general health.
One of the most powerful tools we have for maintaining a healthy microbiome is a simple one – the food we eat. Choosing whole foods that feed friendly bacteria and avoiding ingredients that harm them can go a long way towards improving both your physical and mental health.
Tips to boost gut health, digestion, immunity, and mental wellness
- Start your day with a nourishing breakfast that is blood sugar friendly, including 20g of protein, healthy fats, and complex carbs. Imbalanced blood sugar levels can lead to spikes in cortisol, our stress hormone, which can trigger anxiety and mood swings. Try eating porridge with 2 scoops of collagen powder (which is also great for supporting gut health), and stewed apples and almond butter. I use Planet Paleo collagen powder.
- Support your microbiome with probiotics like our Live Bacteria capsules and For Women capsules, and prebiotics. Probiotics are known to support gut health. However, emerging research also shows their benefits against SAD too. Don’t forget the prebiotics, which are the ‘fertiliser’ for the probiotics to grow and colonise. Prebiotics can be found in fibres that we eat, particularly good sources include oats, green bananas, garlic, leeks, artichokes, potatoes that have been cooled (forming resistant starch), chicory, asparagus. As well as taking a probiotic supplement, you may also wish to include some probiotic-rich foods in your diet, such as sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir, pickles, yoghurt, kombucha. If you don’t think you’re getting enough prebiotics in your diet, take two of our Fibre tablets half hour before lunch and dinner.
- Increase your consumption of healthy fats. Our brains are made up of 60% fat and a lack of raw material from the diet can result in low mood, anxiety, brain fog, forgetfulness etc. Healthy fats include nuts, seeds, fatty fish, avocado, dark chocolate, coconut products (oil and yoghurt), olives, olive oil. You may also benefit from a daily Omega 3 supplement.
- Get outside for at least 30 minutes of daylight per day. This helps to regulate the circadian rhythm and prevent low mood.
- Consider a media detox, avoiding the news or unfollowing accounts on social media who increase feelings of depression or anxiety, following feel-good accounts only. I did this a few weeks ago and boy, do I feel better!
- Consider other ways to reduce stress in your life, such as increasing self-care practices like journaling, painting, meditation, yoga, affirmations, visualisations, daily walks, reading, baths etc. If you have any spare cash, book a massage, a reflexology treatment, or an aromatherapy treatment. Go to night school and learn a new skill, language, confidence building, overcoming anxiety or something that will help your community like volunteering. Night school classes are very reasonable, starting from around £3.50 per hour.
- Develop good sleep habits. Your sleep routine should encompass your preferred way of unwinding at the end of the day, be it a bubble bath, listening to music, meditating, or reading a book, as well as your preferred times for going to bed and waking up. Sleep is your way of signalling to your body and mind that it is now time for rest and recovery so make it a great one, personal to you, and keep at it.
- Challenge your thoughts. Challenging our thoughts allows us to reflect and find our own answers to the problems we face. Just as much as we challenge ourselves to present proof to what we think, e.g. ‘What evidence is there for that belief?’ In situations of stress, it’s easy to become overwhelmed with worry and outcomes. As a result, ask yourself, ‘What’s the worst that could happen?’ or ‘What would be a more helpful and realistic way of looking at this situation?’ This can help release tension and bring in a calmer perspective on things. This practice can also help us problem-solve our stress-inducing issues in a helpful manner.
- Get your vitamin D levels tested at the end of summer, around October, and supplement if low. Remember we don’t get any vitamin D from the sun from around October – March.
You may also wish to take some additional supplements to support your microbiome and mental health such as:
- Turmeric – this has been shown in research to increase levels of Brain Derived Neurotropic Factor (BDNF) in the brain, which is a natural anti-depressant. It is also highly anti-inflammatory and many conditions like anxiety/ depression have an inflammatory element to them.
- Collagen powder – this is supportive of the gut lining and can help to prevent leaky gut. Leaky gut is also associated with leaky brain, which can cause anxiety and depression.
- Magnesium – this wonder mineral is not only supportive of gut health and gut motility, but research also shows that low levels of magnesium may contribute to depression.
- Vitamin C – not only is vitamin C great to include over the winter months to support your immune system, but low levels of vitamin C have also been shown to cause depression in people. Vitamin C is essential for the production of neurotransmitters in the brain.
Please always check with your practitioner if starting any new supplements, especially important if you have any existing health conditions or are on any medications.
Lastly, but by no means the least, try and find some joy in each day. Go and buy yourself a bunch of flowers or buy some for a friend, neighbour or a stranger; find a good, welcoming café and have a coffee or tea or, like me, join a gym and do some regular exercise.