It’s time we talked about our bowel movements.
They happen to the best of us and yet poo (and everything else gut-related) is considered taboo in polite conversation. It’s a shame really because defecation and, as my little stepsister used to call it, bottom burping are completely natural phenomena.
In fact, if you wish to get to the bottom of a health problem (excuse the pun), talking about our bowel movements is a mighty good place to start! And scientists are only just discovering how the health of our gut can impact the rest of our well-being, from supporting our immune systems against disease to helping us overcome anxiety.
Fortunately for all of us, times are changing. As we open our eyes to the wonders of gut microbiomes, a growing community of gut enthusiasts has emerged. The best part? The burgeoning scientific research has revealed that we all have the power to change our gut health for the better!
So if, like me, you’re excited by the 100 trillion bacteria living inside your intestines and you want to learn how you can work alongside them to promote a healthy vegan gut, then this article is for you!
|*Full disclaimer* I’m no doctor but as a plant-based microbiologist with a history of antibiotic use, I’m no stranger to gut health issues. These steps have helped me and many others to achieve a healthier vegan gut but, if you’re experiencing any digestive distress, I implore you to see a doctor.|
1. Get intimate with your gut
No, I’m not proposing you take your gut out on a date, although wining and dining is something you will always do together…pretty romantic if you don’t think about it in too much detail!
Instead, I’m suggesting you get to know your gut and what’s normal for you.
Knowing how often you poop; how long it takes for food to transit from your mouth to your anus; what size, shape, colour and texture or consistency your usual stools are (here are some handy stool charts) and whether or not you experience any bloating or digestive discomfort are all important observations to support optimal gut health. You may find it helpful to keep a journal to track how certain foods affect your bowel movements.
2. Understand your gut feelings
Poo and gas aren’t the only indicators of gut health. We should also be paying close attention to anxiety, cravings and even butterflies in our stomachs.
The gut is closely linked to the brain via bidirectional signal pathways. In other words, the gut and the brain communicate with each other using hormones, nerves and inflammatory molecules (pretty cool, right?)!
This mind-gut connection plays a crucial role in our emotional and physical well-being, as well as our ability to make intuitive decisions. By tuning in to our “gut feelings“, it’s possible to learn when to trust your gut and how to implement lifestyle changes to overcome anxiety and other mental health issues.
3. Recognise symptoms of poor gut health
Once you’ve got close and personal with your gut and its feelings, you should be ready to identify whether you have an unhealthy or healthy gut.
Here are some of the most common manifestations of poor gut health:
- Frequent discomfort and/or regular constipation, diarrhoea, gas, bloating, heartburn or other stomach disturbances
- Pooing less than 3 times a week or more than 3 times a day
- A food transit time of fewer than 10 hours or more than 28 hours
- Extreme food cravings (e.g. sugar) can indicate an imbalance of gut bacteria
- Anxiety, depression or frequent mood changes
- Chronic fatigue and/or sleep issues
- Skin conditions such as eczema could be a sign of a leaky gut or poor diet
- Inadvertent weight gain or loss
- Other manifestations include autoimmune conditions, food intolerances and allergies
By now, you should be pretty clued up about your digestive system and, as long as the doctor confirms there’s nothing more serious at play here, you’re ready to implement some changes!
4. Follow a diverse vegan diet
I know what you’re thinking…is being vegan good for your gut?
Well yes, yes it is. And I’m not just saying that to convert you to veganism (or maybe I am), study after review after study has indicated that a high fibre plant-based diet is the best way to increase the diversity of your microbiome. And a diverse microbiome is a healthy microbiome.
Just remember to switch to a high-fibre diet gradually, or you may be more prone to bloating and frequent stinky farts! This can happen to new and established vegans if your gut is not used to getting lots of fibre.
TOP TIP: If you suffer from farts, you should probably check out our Symprove review…seriously, it might just save you from some stinky situations!
5. Avoid highly-processed foods and snacks
I know that the new vegan burger joint looks tempting and that Love Raw keep bringing out new and delicious vegan chocolate bars to try (can’t get enough of those salted caramel wafers) but these types of food should really be enjoyed as an occasional treat.
The average Brit gets more than half of their daily calories from ultra-processed foods!
A recent study revealed that people who consume a diet high in processed and animal-derived fatty foods develop greater levels of destructive bacteria. Not only do these microbes wreak havoc on our guts but they can also have an impact on our long-term health. On the other hand, the same research team discovered that diets enriched in plant-based whole foods have the potential to prevent intestinal inflammatory processes at the core of many chronic diseases.
6. Incorporate fermented foods into your diet
Miso, kimchi, tempeh, sauerkraut, kombucha, kefir and yoghurt are all examples of fermented foods that can do wonders for the gut! In addition to their probiotic content (healthy microbes), fermented foods also increase the bioavailability of nutrients and produce biologically active peptides with potential anti-oxidant, anti-microbial and blood pressure lowering effects. What’s more, fermentation facilitates the reduction of anti-nutrients, improving the digestibility of vitamins and minerals.
7. Poop using a Squatty Potty
I’m serious. This simple contraption (or anything that elevates your feet) will change the way you poop and help you to avoid nasty gut problems such as “haemorrhoids, bloating, constipation and a butt-load of other crap.”
Ice cream, you scream. Plop plop, baby!