Former Black Sticks captain Gemma McCaw has made a career out of being fit and healthy, so she knows a thing or two about wellness. Each week Gemma shares her tips on how to live healthier, from getting started on your fitness to how to increase your water intake. This week she gives her advice on how to get a healthy stomach.
A healthy stomach improves our overall wellbeing and helps boost our immune system. Our digestive tracts are home to trillions of bacteria that help process our food, absorb nutrients, eliminate toxins and fight disease.
So for peak health, it's about limiting the bad bacteria and encouraging the good bacteria to grow. When your gut isn't healthy, the effects can be more than just bloating, diarrhoea or gas – it can have a serious impact on your health.
So much of our immune systems are located in the gut, so an unhealthy one can be linked to a huge variety of illnesses, including anxiety, eczema, diabetes, autoimmune diseases, hormonal imbalances and other chronic health problems.
Make sure you are drinking plenty of water as it helps break down the food you eat and boosts nutrient absorption. And ensure you get enough sleep – your digestive system will love you for it!
Listen to your body
Whether you've ever had to trust your gut over a big decision or felt butterflies in your stomach, it's likely you're getting signals from your "second brain", hidden in the walls of your digestive system. Did you know around 90% of the happy hormone serotonin is produced in our guts? This neurotransmitter is responsible for regulating appetite, mood, sleep and relaxation.
This means what we put in our mouths has a huge bearing on how we think, feel and function. With this in mind, we must look after our guts and take notice of the impact the food we are eating has on the way we feel.
Cut back on sugar
Our diet affects both the gut microbiota and our mental health. It is important to prioritise whole and plant-based foods with plenty of vitamins, minerals and healthy fats. Simply put, eat more veges! Try to avoid sugar as well as it is inflammatory and will feed all the bad bacteria, upsetting your balance of good and bad gut flora.
Get into fermented food
Fermented food, such as yoghurt, kombucha, kimchi and kefir, help create a good ratio of good to bad bacteria as they contain probiotics (healthy bacteria). It's also a great idea to fill up on prebiotic foods, which actually feed the good bacteria. Try pistachios, bananas, garlic, onion, wheat and oats, plus ancient grains such as quinoa, millet or chia.
Along with changing your diet, one of the best things you can do for your gut is manage your stress. Make sure you rest, digest and engage in things that make you feel relaxed and happy.
Making time to de-stress will lower cortisol levels and inflammation, as well as improve your gut health. Yoga, meditation and exercise can also help you unwind from a busy life.