For something we can’t see, the gut sure has a major impact on our lives, potentially influencing everything from immunity to mental health. So good gut health could mean better health overall, but it’s not always easy to tell when your gut microbiome needs a little extra TLC.
According to nutritionist Reece Carter, it can be tricky to discern normal gut symptoms from those that could be problematic. For example, if you start increasing your fibre intake rapidly you could experience increased flatulence and bloating, which you might assume to be intolerance to certain foods – but that often isn’t the case.
“What you don’t want to do is self-diagnose and immediately pull foods out of your diet,” he explains. “Instead, think of gut health as like going to the gym: If you don’t go to the gym for two years and then you go and lift weights and your muscles hurt, that doesn’t mean exercise is bad for you, it means that you haven’t been doing enough of it up until now.”
“The same is true with gut health: start doing it every day but build up incrementally, that’s how good gut health is built.”
We asked Carter to share the signs that your gut is healthy, and the indications it might need a little more support.
Signs of a happy gut
Carter says a normal amount of bloating and flatulence – between seven to 12 times a day, in fact – is fine.
And when it comes to going to the bathroom, “There’s no right number of times to go a day, one to two times is pretty standard. Any less than that and I would consider someone’s digestive system to be moving a little too slowly. It should also be easy to pass, that’s a sign of a well-functioning gut.”
Signs of a not-so-happy Gut
Carter says there are some tell-tale signs of an unhappy gut, including:
Bloating and pain: While some bloating – or swelling of the stomach after certain foods – is normal, if it’s a regular occurrence Carter recommends seeing your doctor.
“If it’s getting to the point where it’s actually impacting your quality of life – so it’s coming with extreme pain, for example – that is a problem. By and large, we shouldn’t be experiencing significant pain and bloating.”
Struggling or straining in the bathroom: “If it’s too loose or too hard, that’s a problem as well that’s best to get checked out.”
Anything that concerns you: Blood where there shouldn’t be, changing bowel habits or anything that doesn’t feel quite right should be checked out by a doctor ASAP.
Introducing… The 7 Day Gut Health Challenge
Carter has designed a week-long challenge to help you get to grips with your gut behaviour and ramp up your gut health. Start with a journal, and then each day record these two different components: ‘symptoms’ and ‘diet’.
PART 1: SYMPTOMS
At the end of each day, rate how frequently you experienced the following symptoms:
- Abdominal discomfort
At the end of the week, if you’re scoring mostly 2 and 3, seek professional advice from your doctor.
PART 2: DIET
Each day, make a list of five or more unique plant-based foods you’ve enjoyed. The challenge is to reach 35 different foods across the week – and remember you can include fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and grains.
At the end of the week, if you hit 35, give yourself a big tick — you’ve fed your gut well!