Gut health has become a recent buzz word amongst nutritionists and doctors alike.
Home to trillions of organisms, our gut is a complex house of information about our body’s overall well-being. The organisms that live in our gut lining include viruses, fungi, and bacteria-some good for us and some not so good for us.
Scientists are currently trying to decode the different types of bacteria in an effort to determine how certain types of organisms in our gut correlate to different types of diseases and/or health benefits.
“We know in general what looks like inflammatory and noninflammatory bacteria, but in a practical sense we can’t really measure it or match specific bacteria to specific diseases,” said Dr. Robert Hirten, assistant professor of medicine at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, in an interview with Time Magazine.
While scientists continue to research how specific types of gut bacteria influence our overall health, past studies have revealed the importance of maintaining a healthy gut.
What goes on in the linings of your intestines and stomach effects systems outside of digestion. Studies have linked gut health to obesity, heart conditions, anxiety, depression, and chronic illness such as Type 2 diabetes and cancer.
The key to a healthy gut is diversity. When your gut has the right mix of bacteria, it can fight off infectious agents and communicate with the brain to sustain your immune system.
In fact, a lack of diversity within your gut is a sign of inflammation, which has been connected to heart disease, arthritis, and obesity.
Different foods have different types of bacteria, so eating a well-balanced meal is key to ensuring your gut bacteria is diverse and primed to function at its best. Adding the foods below to your daily diet can help you maintain a high-functioning gut and boost your overall immunity.
“Americans’ fiber intake is 40 to 50 percent of what it should be,” says Johns Hopkins gastroenterologist Gerard Mullin. The American Heart Association Eating Plan says fiber consumption should be around 25 to 30 grams a day from food; however, average fiber intake amongst adults in the United States is about 15 grams a day. Getting enough fiber is vital for your gut health because prebiotic fibers are the food source for the healthy bacteria in your gut. Whole grains, nuts, and seeds are all a great source of prebiotic fiber. Legumes, such as beans, chickpeas, split peas, and lentils, are also sources of prebiotic fiber and protein. Prebiotics have also been found to reduce cortisol levels, decreasing overall stress.
- Fermented Foods
Tempeh, kimchi, kombucha tea, kefir, sauerkraut, and yogurt are all examples of fermented foods. While high-fiber foods contain prebiotics, fermented foods contain probiotics, live bacteria that promote a healthy gut. When buying these products, it is important you double check to make sure they are not pasteurized. Pasteurization kills the probiotics. You should also make sure your yogurt says “live active culture,” which indicates that the yogurt contains probiotics.
- Fruits and Vegetables
A variety of fruits and vegetables are high in fiber, and thus have prebiotic benefits. Artichokes, broccoli, blackberries and raspberries are high-fiber foods great for your gut. Add a cup of blackberries or raspberries to you daily breakfast for 8 grams of fiber! Furthermore, some fruits and vegetables prevent the growth of disease-causing bacteria and promote beneficial bacteria. Bifidobacteria is a type of gut bacteria that prevents inflammation. Apples and blueberries have been found to increase bifidobacteria.
- Foods containing Omega-3
Omega-3 is a type of fat that helps promote gut diversity and anti-inflammation. One way omega-3 benefits your gut is by producing chemicals known as short-chain fatty acids, which help prevent bowel cancer and diabetes. Omega-3 has also been found to reduce the risk of depression and aid adolescent neurodevelopment. Salmon, sardines, mackerel, herring, and trout are oily fishes that contain high levels of omega-3 fatty acids.
- Polyphenol-Rich Foods
Polyphenols are plant-based nutrients packed with antioxidants and have been found to increase the number of healthy bacteria in your gut. Examples of polyphenol-rich foods include blackberries, raspberries, apples, plums, almonds, and dark chocolate. Certain drinks, such as green tea and red wine, have also been found to contain polyphenols and have prebiotic benefits.
- Bone Broth
Bone broth is a source of gelatin, and the gelatin in bone broth is made of glutamine and glycine. These two amino acids protect your intestinal wall and help fluid pass more easily through your digestive tract. Bone broth has also been found to help patients with a leaky gut, a condition in which food and toxins pass through the intestinal lining. Rich in collagen, bone broth is also said to reduce the look of wrinkles and promote the skin’s elasticity.
- Limit Your Consumption of Fried and Processed Foods
Foods high in sugar and fat can cause inflammation in your gut. When your intestines are inflamed, your gut has a hard time absorbing the nutrients it needs. Inflammatory bacteria can produce metabolites, which can pass through the gut lining and enter the bloodstream, causing inflammation throughout the body. Additionally, chronic inflammation in the body is linked to heart disease, obesity, and diabetes. Limiting your sugar and fat intake can help reduce inflammation within your body and keep your gut happy.
Your gut is a complex system full of microbes working to digest food, protect you from disease, and reduce inflammation. When you eat foods that provide the good bacteria with the right nutrients, you help your body stay healthy.
While avoiding sugar and adding some of the above foods into your diet can benefit your gut, it is also important to be mindful of eating these foods in moderation. Too much of a good thing is not healthy, so strive for a varied and balanced diet.
Lifestyle choices outside of your daily meal plan can also impact your gut health. Getting enough sleep, exercising on a regular basis, and taking antibiotics only when needed are other ways you can promote overall gut health.