FUTURES FEST

Trust Your Gut – 3 Tips For Optimising Your Health While Starting University

Butterflies in your gut about the next chapter in your life? That’s your gut and your brain having a chat….

Trillions of microbes inhabit your gut (mostly in the large intestine) and play a fundamental role in your health throughout your life. We need microbes within, around and on us. They influence your physical and mental health, your ability to digest food and even your susceptibility to disease. What is key is making sure your microbes are a diverse bunch meaning there are lots of different types and the vibe in your gut is just right so they don’t want to leave.

Your microbes are fickle things and can change really quickly, for better or worse, in response to dietary and/or lifestyle changes. This often happens around key life changing events, like living away from home and/or starting university. Listen to your gut (and it’s microbes) for a chance to get to know it better and “live that gut life”.

So you’ve finished school or college and now you’re on to your next adventure, this could mean leaving or staying at home, but you’re embarking on a big lifestyle change. You might become more aware of your appearance, how you are perceived by others and also have some pretty big life decisions to make, not to mention exams and coursework. This often leads to stress or anxiety which, interestingly, can affect your gut microbes too through the gut-brain axis. In a nutshell, how we feel effects our microbes and how our microbes behave, what types we have and the stuff they produce, affect how we feel (like a WhatsApp chat going off the whole time!). So looking after your gut and it’s community of microbes might go some way in supporting how you feel.

When starting uni you might find yourself having to cook for yourself, grabbing late night takeaways, staying up late, not doing as much, increasing processed food (crisps, biscuits, ready meals), boozy nights and caffeine fuelled lectures. What does this mean for your gut? You are probably going to be eating less plants and fibre, more processed food (this decreases that all important variety- more on this in a mo), sleep may be erratic (your microbes love routine) and moving less will all affect how diverse and thriving your gut microbes are.

Our tips for looking after your gut during this time:

Diversity

Your microbes need a variety of plants (we are talking 30+ a week, including whole grains, veg, fruit, pulses, legumes, nuts, seeds, herbs and spices). Research shows that by aiming to hit 30 different plants a week you are going to help support a diverse mix of microbes (this is a good thing!) Tips: head to the reduced aisle at the end of the day to see what plant bargains you can bag, have a kitty with your housemates and take it in turns to cook a proper meal (give our fakeaways a go). Include pulses and legumes in your meals to make them go further (like a spag Bol with lentils) and make plants the star of your meals (will save you some pennies too). By doing this, you’ll also be loading up on fibre – what your microbes need for fuel. Planning your meals and writing a shopping list will help you budget and research shows it may even encourage you to eat healthier and more vegetables – win for your microbes.

You can read more on this here.

Sleep

We aren’t saying don’t go out late BUT be aware that your gut microbes are also tuned to day-night cycles and can be upset if your sleep becomes erratic. For example, some microbes come out at night to do different functions to the ones in the day so if you suddenly start chowing down on some 2am cheesy chips, it’s going to upset them as well as affect how you feel, what you crave the next day and how your body manages it’s weight control.

Alcohol

We can’t talk about going to uni without mentioning alcohol and it’s affect on your gut. You actually have (or may not have) microbes in your gut that help you breakdown and get rid of alcohol. In excess, alcohol can have a negative impact on your gut by aggregating your gut lining (some microbes live within a mucus layer) and making the environment less favourable to the more beneficial types.

We’ve got a whole heap of information on alcohol and the gut. What is key is to get to know your units, moderate how much you drink, include food and be mindful of how it might affect your food choices the next day.