Boost your wellness: A healthy gut helps mental health

Boost your wellness: A healthy gut helps mental health
BY Virgin Active South Africa
Posted On 3 July, 2024

A healthy gut is more than just a key to good digestion; it plays a crucial role in our well-being and mental health. Understanding the powerful relationship between our gut and brain can help us make more informed choices about what we eat, ultimately leading to a happier, healthier life.

The gut microbiome plays an integral role in maintaining our overall health and wellness, writes Kim Hofmann, a registered dietitian with an honours degree in psychology. An imbalanced and unhealthy diet may cause dysbiosis of the gut microbiome, meaning that there are a more significant number of harmful rather than beneficial bacteria, which may result in inflammation of the gut. This inflammation may cause stomach pain, bloating and indigestion, diarrhoea, or constipation. At the same time, the physical effects of gut inflammation may also negatively impact mood, as you become more irritable when you feel physically uncomfortable.

New research suggests that prolonged unhealthy eating behaviours may also contribute to the worsening of mental issues, such as anxiety and depression, and other brain disorders, such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and autism spectrum disorder. Our gut bacteria depend on what we eat—the more diverse our diets, the more varied our gut microbiota.

By regularly eating a gut-friendly diet that includes a large variety of fibre-rich foods, such as legumes, fruit and vegetables with their skins, whole grains, and naturally fermented and pickled foods, we can improve the functioning of our gut microbiome. Fermented foods and drinks – such as kimchi, sauerkraut, yoghurt with live cultures, kombucha, kefir, and maas (or amasi) – promote the growth of the much-needed health-promoting bacteria in our gut.

Probiotic and prebiotic supplements may help to regulate our gut microbiome in the short term, but our diet determines a healthy gut in the long term.

80/20 Rule

This rule is a guide for a balanced, healthy lifestyle. It is simple: Eat nutritious foods 80% of the time and have a serving of a favourite treat the other 20%. If the old adage “we are what we eat” is correct, then why not make sure your lifestyle includes equal helpings of fun, happiness, and a little indulgence every now and again so that you can live your best—and happiest—life?

A 10-step ab-building eating plan

Abs are made in the kitchen. Sculpt a six-pack with this eating plan.

  1. Diet combined with exercise sees the most significant changes to body composition.
  2. Eat regular, balanced meals that include the three macronutrients (wholegrain and high-fibre carbohydrates, animal and fat proteins, and healthy fats).
  3. Choose healthier and more nutritious snacks, such as fruit, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and wholegrain or high-fibre carbohydrates.
  4. Choose cooked, steamed, grilled, baked and air-fried foods more often than fried foods, which are higher in calories.
  5. Portion control is vital, even when it comes to healthy foods.
  6. Drink two glasses of water plus one extra for every 10 kg of body weight, and more when exercising or on a hot, humid day.
  7. Replace sweetened cold drinks, high-sugar fruit juices, and calorie-dense smoothies with water, homemade iced tea, herbal teas, and water flavoured with frozen fruit.
  8. Drink alcohol in moderation and have a glass of water between each unit. Choose low-calorie alcohol, mixers, syrup-free, and sugarless cocktails.
  9. Go easy on yourself – every day is a new opportunity to eat mindfully, with a few occasional treats.
  10. A registered dietitian can assist you in creating an eating plan suited to your lifestyle and fitness goals.

Give yourself a hand

Using your hand to measure portions can help us track food choices, nutrients and energy simply and easily. This trick saves time-consuming and often unnecessary weighing and measuring, which most people don’t need.

For example:

  • A serving of protein should be palm-sized.
  • One portion of vegetables should be the size of a fist.
  • One serving of good carbohydrates should fit into a cupped hand.
  • A single portion of fats is usually thumb-sized.

Understanding the intense connection between our gut and mental health opens up a new dimension of wellness. Taking care of our gut health is an investment in our overall wellness. By making mindful dietary choices and fostering a healthy gut environment, we pave the way for enhanced physical health, mental clarity, and emotional strength.
For more tips on nutrition and wellness, browse our blog, join a Virgin Active gym near you, and start your journey to a healthier you today!