How to glow from the inside out
...or more specifically, from your gut. Experts talk about why that's where beauty - and health - begin
Would you believe us if we told you that you could eat your way to not only better health but also to a happier lifestyle? Or even that you could rewire your brain by paying attention to what you put in your mouth? But this is not just a new dietary fad that promises you clearer skin, more energy and a loss of love handles. While it will give you all those things, it involves digging a bit deeper than that - all the way down to your gut, that is. Hippocrates firmly believed that "all disease begins in the gut". The path to a happier mind and body lies in listening to it. We ask experts to weigh in on just how to do this.
Dr Preety Tyagi, nutritionist, lead health coach and founder of My22BMI, explains, "In layman's terms, a microbiome is a house for all the bacteria to live in our body. This can be classified as good bacteria (i.e. the bacteria that works for our healing, wear and tear and is essential in the production of important enzymes) and bad bacteria (i.e. bacteria that not only irritates the intestinal lining and depletes the nutrition of our bodies, but also feeds on the good bacteria present inside our bodies). Having a healthy gut microbiome is simply striking a balance between the amount of good vs bad bacteria present in our gut microbiome." Some of the roles this microbiome plays includes nutrient absorption, digestion, vitamin synthesis, bowl regulation and proper functioning of the immune system.
"Poor gut health can be linked to an imbalance of the gut microbiome, which is often referred to as dysbiosis. This condition is connected to various health issues such as compromised immunity, food allergies, digestive disorders, obesity, and yeast overgrowth, to name a few," says Sargam Dhawan, director, Planet Herbs Lifesciences Pvt Ltd.
What about the effect on our skin? Rajni Ohri, founder, Ohria Ayurveda, breaks it down. "Ayurveda states that 'Rakt Dhati', the nutrition in the blood, nourishes our skin and the assimilation in the gut transmits this nutrition to the blood. If the food we are eating is healthy but our gut is not assimilating it at its optimum best, we would not receive nutrition needed to regenerate, repair and functioning of the entire body cells, including the skin cells. The gut should also effectively remove toxins, else the body will create more fat cells to store toxins and inflammation and breakouts on the skin will occur. Ayurveda refers to these toxins as 'ama'. More 'ama' is the main cause of ageing, dull, and lacklustre skin. A healthy gut with proper removal of toxins will undoubtedly result in firm, healthy, youthful skin."
All in the gut
There are many reasons our gut microbiome is suffering and it can begin at childbirth. "Babies in the womb only have a limited microbiome, they get a huge injection of bacteria during natural birth, which babies delivered via C-section don't get. Breastfed babies also have more diverse microbiome than formula-fed babies," explains Maadhuri R Sharma, nutritionist and wellness coach, Thriive Art & Soul.
Apart from this, an imbalance can come down to our diet - in particular, consuming processed, refined, sugar-laden or stale foods - though it's far from being the sole culprit. Nutritionist and food coach Anupama Menon lists the other offenders: use of hand sanitisers, frequent use of antibiotics, pollution, poor sleep patterns or even acid suppressants used to treat acidity/reflux. "What adds to the problem are also irregular meal timings, unmindful food options, excessive intake of low nutrient food, skipping meals, or eating large meals after long gaps, chronic constipation, or irregular bowel habits, long-standing mental or emotional stress, chronic fatigue and inadequate sleep," states Dr Shailendra Chaubey, medical director of wellness house, Vedary.
Experts recommend staying away from alcohol, cigarettes and refined vegetable oils. Instead, they say it's important to enrich your diet with natural fibre foods. One can get enough insoluble fibre from oats, dark chocolate, bananas, apples, chicory, aloe vera juice, pomegranate, grapes, avocado, plums, almonds, pistachio, buttermilk, vegetables from the gourd family, spinach, carrot, bell pepper, sprouted seeds, steamed vegetables, ginger, amaranth, buckwheat, quinoa, turmeric and bone broths.
"Basically, if we stick to a healthy, balanced diet full of fresh fruit, vegetables, lean sources of protein and complex carbohydrates, whole grains (plus the occasional treat), then our digestive processes will tick along nicely and your friendly bacteria will multiply," assures Dr Vinay Dhir, director, Institute of Digestive & Liver Care, SL. Raheja Hospital Mahim-A Fortis Associate. And don't leave out water. Proper hydration is non-negotiable. A glass of water had on an empty stomach every morning cleanses the entire system.
Those who've opted for a dietary change have found that it goes a long way to restoring gut health. The founder of Vedary, Harshvardhan Saraf, was troubled by health issues for a long time before he cleaned up his act, or rather, his food intake. Initially, he found that the problems stayed at the skin level, which was why he never connected them to his gut. But after reducing his intake of spicy ingredients (chillies and spices) and foods involving vinegars and Chinese sauces, his gut health improved considerably.
"These ingredients are either highly spiced, high on salt, or very dehydrating, and acidic in nature. On stopping them, my system became more alkaline and detoxified. The sluggishness and lethargy disappeared. Balance was restored, which was also destabilised due to the plethora of antibiotics I consumed during my childhood. What worked for me was an overall diet of ripe fruits and fresh seasonal vegetables. We do not need expensive and imported products to create a magical gut. Stick to the basics," he says.
Wellness chef Karishma Sakhrani found that a healthy gut can indeed give you a natural glow to rival the best cosmetics on the market. "When the protective lining of the gut is inflamed, the body is more vulnerable to allergies, infections, and unhealthy skin. When this toxic load is reduced, it alleviates pressure on the body to do other things. The body is thus able to repair and heal, and build beautiful skin. Fermented foods feed the gut with healthy bacteria and help nourish the body. Things like kimchi and sauerkraut can be an acquired taste and so I recommend starting slow; eat a spoonful and slowly build up. I also experiment with making fermented vegan cheeses. They're high in good fats, which help boost hormonal health to work in tandem with maintaining a healthy gut and beautiful skin."
So, there you have it. The key to a flat tummy, beating the bloat and a radiant visage simply lies in resetting your gut.