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You are what you eat. This age-old saying is truer now than ever before. As more and more people across the world seek a remedy for a plethora of lifestyle conditions that plague us- think diabetes, cardiac problems, gastric issues, obesity, poor sleep and mental health problems- scientists, doctors and dieticians are able to prove that all of it to a large extent stems from the food we eat and how it directly impacts our gut health.

Bhawna Nihalani, Dubai-based gut health coach explains, ‘Our gut lies in our gastrointestinal system and manages our digestion. From the moment we eat something until that food exits our body, our gut is responsible for digesting the food, absorbing the nutrients from the food and eliminating the waste products.

Bhawna Nihalani

‘The gut is now also referred to as our “second brain”, as it houses a diverse range of gut bacteria that also affects our mental health. Good gut health, therefore, will ensure we are happy and healthy.’

As a society, we consume too many ultra-processed foods and not enough fruit and vegetables. Overprocessed foods, Bhawna says are one of the biggest culprits behind gut health problems. ‘Our bad gut bacteria actually thrive on these foods. These foods often lack the essential nutrients and fibre needed for a healthy gut. Instead, they’re loaded with sugars, additives and preservatives, which disrupt the delicate balance of gut bacteria. [Bad gut bacteria] cause conditions like low immunity, skin and digestion issues in our body,’ she explains. What we need more of is fibre. Experts have found that few of us meet the 30g of fibre per day recommended by diet experts.

But it is not just fibre that defines our gut health. Dr Sandeep Thomas, General Medicine, Life Medical Centre, JVC, Dubai, says the top five food groups that we should regularly consume to improve gut health are:

Dr Sandeep Thomas

• Whole foods: Such as whole grains, legumes, fruits, and vegetables. These fibre-rich foods provide nourishment for beneficial gut bacteria.

• Probiotic-rich foods: Like yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi, and other fermented foods, which introduce beneficial bacteria into the gut.

• Prebiotic foods: Such as garlic, onions, leeks, asparagus, and bananas, which provide nutrients that help feed beneficial gut bacteria.

• Lean proteins: Including poultry, fish, and lean cuts of meat, which support overall digestive health.

• Nuts and seeds: These provide healthy fats, fibre, and other nutrients that benefit gut health.

Dr. Jayakumar B. Kannan

Dr. Jayakumar B. Kannan, Consultant Gastroenterology, Aster Clinic, Muteena, Deira, adds that along with food it is vital to change certain lifestyle habits. These are:

Drink more water as it helps to flush waste and toxins out of the body.

Get quality sleep and find ways to manage stress

Exercise regularly for at least 45 minutes every day

Avoid foods with refined sugars and carbonated drinks, and eat more prebiotic foods

Quit smoking and alcohol consumption.

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So, how can parents ensure kids begin to eat healthy? ‘The best way to ensure our kids eat healthy is to set a positive example by embracing nutritious foods ourselves and making meals a fun activity,’ says Bhawna. ‘Some other measures that have worked for me personally are engaging my kids in grocery shopping, meal planning and preparation, and having a variety of healthy and tasty meal options available for them. We prepare and cook at least one fun meal together every week and that meal includes colorful vegetables too.

‘Also, I would recommend avoiding stocking sugary snacks, chips and aerated drinks at home where they are easily available to the kids.

‘While shopping for grocery, it is important that our shopping trolley is filled with fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains and lean proteins.’

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