• Probiotic-rich foods like yoghurt, kefire or fermented vegetables promote gut health. (SBS Food)
It seems like everyone is talking about gut health, taking probiotics and singing the praises of fermented foods. Yep, gut health is the buzzword du jour. But what does good gut health actually look like? If everything is on the inside, how can we know we’re doing the right thing by our gut?
By
Lauren Sams

26 Feb 2016 - 9:44 AM  UPDATED 1 Aug 2017 - 12:04 PM

In her clinic, naturopath Helena Davis has seen everything from ringing ears to the inability to focus to white-covered tongues. She’s a gut health specialist - and all of these symptoms are related to poor gut health.

Gut health is the buzzword du jour. Ever since German microbiologist Guilia Enders published the bestselling Gut last year, it seems like every symptom of poor health can be traced back to the gut. In the book, Enders explained the connection of intestinal health to obesity, mental health, immunity and even Alzheimer’s. Could good gut health be the panacea to keep us healthy and disease-free?

Possibly. Sydney nutritionist Lyndi Polivnick says she’s heartened at the public interest in gut health in recent years. “We do know it is really important,” she says. “There’s a real connection between healthy gut flora and good overall health.” And while Polivnick says there’s a lot of information about how to keep that gut flora healthy - take a daily probiotic, eat probiotic foods - there’s not a lot of talk about how to know if you’re doing enough to keep your gut happy.

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“My number one tip,” says Polivnick, laughing a bit, “is to be cool with the stool. When you go to the bathroom, you have to turn around and have a look. What goes into the toilet is going to be the best indicator of good gut health.” So what, exactly, are we looking for?

“Have a look at the Bristol stool chart,” says Polivnick. “Everyone should know about this, as far as I’m concerned. It breaks down the different types of stools and shows you what’s healthy and what’s definitely not. You want stools that are smooth like sausages, not hard or lumpy like grapes, or too squishy like peanut butter.” Colour is another indicator, adds Davis. “I see clients with white and black stools. That’s not good. Brown is good.” Odour is another sign, says Polivnick. “If you’re smelling something really foul in the bathroom, something is up.” (This also applies to flatulence). And beware any mucus in your stool. “That’s part of your stomach or colon lining coming away,” says Davis. “Not a good sign.”

 If you go three times a day but again, that’s normal for you, then there’s no problem there.

And how regularly should we be going? “I get that question a lot,” says Polivnick. “It varies from person to person. If you only ‘go’ twice a week, but that’s what you’ve been doing your whole life, that’s not constipation. That’s your regular bowel motion. And if you go three times a day but again, that’s normal for you, then there’s no problem there.”

Apart from that, Davis says, “Look out for bloating that’s out of the ordinary, and reflux. Adults should not have reflux!” A white tongue, she says, is also cause for gut concern.

And while it’s important to be aware of all of this, Polivnick warns not to jump on every gut-related symptom as an issue. “Everyone these days thinks they have IBS or gluten intolerance. It’s almost trendy to have a gut problem. A bit of bloating doesn’t mean what you’re eating is wrong - a certain level of bloating, especially at the end of the day, is fine.”

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The less obvious signs of poor gut health

-Low energy

-Dark circles under the eyes

-Interrupted or restless sleep

-Blotchy skin

What you can do for good gut health

-Take a daily probiotic

-Eat probiotic-rich foods like yoghurt, kefir, fermented vegetables (kimchi, sauerkraut and pickles) and miso

-Davis swears by starting the day with a glass of hot water and either lemon, lime or apple cider vinegar with a teaspoon of bicarb soda. “It alkalinises the body, kickstarts the engine of the gut and is great for the liver.”

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