More than 2,000 years ago, Hippocrates (the father of modern medicine), suggested that all disease begins in the gut. And there is no doubt about it, your gut and your health go hand in hand as we are all becoming quite aware of. With rising awareness about this important symbiotic relationship, research is showing just how important our gut is in keeping our immune system and overall health running optimally. But how can someone ensure that their gut is happy and healthy? What are actions we as individuals can do to make sure our gut is thriving? LIfestyle and diet are the two major factors to consider when gut health is the goal. Such as what foods to eat to help with gut health, and what lifestyle choices help or hurt our digestive system. Things such as stress, a poor diet of processed and sugary foods, dehydration, lack of sleep, use of antibiotics, and lack of prebiotics and probiotics can all be harmful to the gut. Which can therefore affect other important aspects of our health, such as the ability to absorb nutrients. The bodys’ brain, heart, skin, weight, and hormonal health can even be affected when the gut is stressed. Taking a closer look at what keeps our digestive system healthy is a great way to maintain gut health.
What Is Our Gut?
There are two answers to this question, one hypothetical and one physical. “Our gut” is sometimes commonly known as a place to look for an answer in making a tough decision, think the phrase “Just go with your gut!”. But, technically speaking our gut is the gastrointestinal system each of us have in our body. It is also referred to as the gastrointestinal tract, digestive system, digestive tract, or group of organs that includes the mouth, esophagus, stomach, pancreas, liver, gallbladder, small intestine, colon, and rectum. Each of these organs contain essential bacteria, and unfortunately for some harmful bacteria, also known as “gut microbiome” in order to function properly. The term “gut microbiome” refers specifically to the microorganisms living in the intestines. It is amazing to think that the average person has about 300 to 500 different species of bacteria, weighing close to seven pounds, in their digestive tract. While some microorganisms are harmful to our health, many are incredibly beneficial and even necessary to a healthy body and immune system.
Pay Attention To Any Signs Of Discomfort When Consuming Different Foods
One way to tell if the foods you are consuming are hurting or helping you gut is to see if you feel any physical discomforts. Stomach disturbances like gas, bloating, constipation, diarrhea, and heartburn can all be signs of an unhealthy gut. An unbalanced gut will have more difficulty processing food and eliminating waste through the digestive system in various aspects. For example, a diet high in processed foods and added sugars has been shown to decrease the amount of good bacteria in your gut. This imbalance can cause increased sugar cravings, which can damage your gut still further. High amounts of refined sugars, particularly high-fructose corn syrup, have been linked to increased inflammation in the body. And unfortunately, inflammation can be the precursor to a number of chronic diseases and even deadly cancers in the body. Paying attention and proactively reacting to your body’s signs of discomfort is essential in finding the key to gut health.
It’s important to understand that when the gut is teeming with beneficial bacteria, and getting the most nutrients from healthy foods eaten, it becomes easier to function as a whole. Including keeping the bodies immune system strong, energy levels high, and skin looking radiant. Plus, thanks to the gut-brain connection, the food you eat has a direct impact on how you think and feel overall. Even more of a motivation to learn what foods to eat to help with gut health. Choosing natural, whole, and fibrous foods, increases your chance of feeding your gut foods loaded with beneficial probiotics and prebiotics. Both are needed in keeping the gut and all that it includes happy and functioning properly. Another reason why it is important to know what foods to eat to help with gut health.
The Role Of Prebiotics In Helping Your Gut Health
In learning what foods to eat to help with gut health, one group of foods essential to happy bacteria of the digestive system is prebiotics. Prebiotics help the good bacteria not only stay alive, but thrive thanks to their role in nourishing the good bacteria. In fact, researchers have found that a diet rich in prebiotics is associated with positive heart and brain benefits, as well maintaining healthy levels of blood sugar, stress, hormones, and cholesterol. Because prebiotics help good bacteria flourish, these mighty fibers are crucial for supporting the absorption of nutrients consumed through natural foods. Maintaining a plethora of friendly flora can make it easier for your gut to absorb vitamins, minerals, and other health-promoting substances from foods eaten and supplements taken. Incorporating prebiotics into your diet is not as hard as you think, there are many delicious natural foods to eat to help with gut health!
Prebiotic-rich foods in alphabetical order:
Asparagus, Artichokes, Bananas, Broccoli, Brussels Sprouts, Burdock Root, Beetroot, Cabbage, Cashews, Cauliflower, Chickpeas, Chicory Root, Collard Greens, Endive, Fennel, Flaxseeds, Garlic, Grapefruit, Green Peas, Dandelion Greens, Honey, Jerusalem Artichokes, Jicama, Kale, Kiwis, Leeks, Lentils, Mushrooms, Nectarines, Oats, Onions, Persimmon, Pistachios, Pomegranate, Shallots, Radishes, Rutabagas, Watermelon, White Peaches, and Whole Grains.
The Role Of Probiotics In Helping Your Gut Health
Probiotics play a key role in supporting gut health. In fact, the word probiotic actually means “for life”. These inconspicuous, life-enhancing bacteria support a strong immune system, improve digestion, and synthesize various nutrients. Did you know that supporting the health of your bacterial ecosystem is your first line of defense against illness and disease?! Hence the importance in learning what foods to eat to help with gut health. Unfortunately, poor lifestyle and dietary habits can negatively affect these pro-life microorganisms and allow harmful bacteria to dominate. And when a person has a gut full of more harmful bacteria than good, ultimately overall health diminishes within the body. Luckily, there are several ways to encourage a healthy microflora ecosystem, one being incorporating what foods to eat to help with gut health.
As for benefits, probiotics have shown to:
- Inhibit the growth of harmful microorganisms by manufacturing organic compounds (lactic acid) that increase the acidity of the intestine and prohibit their reproduction.
- Produce short chain fatty acids (SCFAs) as they feed off of prebiotic substances in foods and supplements. SCFAs feed the colon cells and improve intestinal motility.
- Support healthy immune development, modulate inflammation, produce lactic acid which makes the colon more acidic which inhibits the growth of harmful microorganisms.
- Promote digestion by secreting needed enzymes, encouraging peristalsis (the wave-like contractions of the intestine), and assisting nutrient breakdown by fermentation, which enhances food digestibility.
- Boost immune function by preventing disease-causing invaders from permeating the intestinal wall and entering the bloodstream.
- Prevent and help remedy diarrhea in adults and children. Manufacture some of the B-vitamins, including niacin, pyridoxine, folic acid and biotin and small amounts of vitamin K2.
- Increase resistance to local or systemic infection by producing substances called bacteriocins that have a natural antibiotic action that kills unwanted microorganisms. It has been found that individuals with flourishing beneficial microflora are better able to fight the growth of disease causing bacteria.
- Help prevent vaginal yeast infections.
- Recolonize the intestine during and after antibiotic use.
Examples of dairy products that contain probiotics include:
Aged Cheeses such as Cheddar, Gouda, or Mozzarella, Kefir, Traditional Buttermilk (must not be cultured), Cottage Cheese, and Yogurt. But, not all foods must be dairy to contain probiotics essential in providing probiotics.
Examples of other probiotic dairy-free foods include:
Non-Dairy Yogurts such as coconut, almond, or cashew based, Fresh Dill Pickles, Kimchi Kombucha, Miso, Natto (a food made from fermented soybeans) Fresh Sauerkraut, Tempeh (a popular meat substitute), and Water or Brine-Cured Olives.
Remember, probiotics are microorganisms or bacteria that are alive! Often, the food production process destroys these wonderful living organisms. If a product is available to purchase from a room temperature shelf and not refrigerated, it may not contain live and active probiotics. Although it’s important to note that there are some probiotics (supplements for example) that are available and do not require refrigeration. When shopping or comparing, be sure to read the labels of a product carefully when learning what foods to eat to help with gut health.
Ideas For Incorporating What Foods to Eat To Help With Gut Health
So now that you have an idea about what the gut does, and what it needs to function smoothly, the next step is feeding your body well. Eating healthy does not mean a complete overhaul, it more or less means to focus your attention on mindful eating daily. Taking consideration into what foods to eat to help with gut health is essential for one’s digestive system. Look for foods that have no artificial sweeteners (think sucralose or aspartame), high amounts of sugar, and artificial flavorings. Although keep in mind, that research has shown natural sugars paired with healthy high fats respond and digest well in the body. Yogurt for example, is an excellent choice for a sweet treat when sweetened with fruit. Here are some great examples of what foods to eat to help with gut health:
- Probiotic-rich yogurt or cottage cheese with berries, flax seeds, and nuts. Did you know that raspberries are a prebiotic food, loaded with the most fiber of any fruit in comparison to size?! Oatmeal is another great option like this!
- Cooking a stir-fry, using tempeh as a meat replacement and bone broth as a water replacement. Remember, it is best to incorporate tempeh at the end of cooking as excessive heating can destroy the active cultures.
- Incorporating miso and/or bone broth into soups. Also, ginger is another wonderful food you can add to any soup for flavor and digestive benefits!
- Drinking probiotic-rich beverages, such as kefir or kombucha, is another great way to replace sugary sodas or energy drinks that we consume daily. Freshly grated ginger and lemon in warm or hot water with your choice of sweetener is also a wonderful morning beverage!
- Serving kim-chi, sauerkraut, and other fermented slaws as a side dish to main meals is not only refreshing, but also delicious! Example, try a kim-chi slaw on your Chicage Hot dog instead of the relish next time.
- Like dips? Try replacing dips that call for sour cream with greek yogurt for an extra boost to gut health! Or at least look for “cultured sour cream” as to be sure you are getting the health benefits from your dip.
Bone Broth Is Proving To a Power Player For Gut Health
Bone broth is also an excellent food to add into your daily regime, and easy to do so. Although it can be less expensive to make your own at home, there are a plethora of options in buying quality bone broth in grocery stores today. Bone broth is one of the best foods to consume for those suffering digestive issues, as it is rich in gelatin. Gelatin is essential for connective tissue function – it literally acts to heal and seal the gut. Therefore, consuming bone broth is essential for those suffering chronic inflammation or leaky gut syndrome. Some easy ways to add bone broth into your daily routine are:
- Before your morning beverage, drink one cup of broth to start your digestive day.
- Use broth in place of the water used in making rice.
- Use broth for a base in soups, gravys, or sautes instead of water.
Happy Gut Is A Happy LIfe
Taking the time and effort to explore your options in eating well can have exponential benefits in your life. By choosing what foods to eat to help with gut health, you are helping to keep your body functioning smoothly and the immune system running strong. Happy gut is a happy life, for when you feel good the rest just seems to fall into place.