Tips to Improve Your Diet for a Healthy Gut
Food intolerances are extremely common these days. And instances of IBS, IBD, and other digestive issues are on the rise. If you are having GI issues or other gut-related ailments, stick around. Today I’m sharing habits to follow and foods to include in your diet for a healthy gut. By the end of this post you should understand how vital bacteria are to your gut and overall health. You’ll also be able to answer “What are probiotics and prebiotics?” and see how they are related. But most importantly you will have some great ideas on how you can promote these beneficial microbes.
What is Gut Health?
Your body is host to nearly 40 trillion bacteria cells at any given time. That’s almost 10 trillion more than your actual body cells! The vast majority of these inhabit your digestive tract and comprise your gut microbiome. Certainly, an infection or overpopulation of certain gut bacteria can cause sickness and disease, or at least gas and discomfort. However, your body cannot exist without bacteria. In fact, this complex system of various bacteria and their interactions with your intestines are essential for your digestion, weight, blood sugar, mental health, immunity and more.
In general “gut health” refers the function and balance of bacteria that populate many parts of the gastrointestinal tract. Ideally, organs such as the esophagus, stomach and intestines all function well individually. Moreover, they must also work together -and with their respective bacteria- to allow us to process food without discomfort. So as much as gut health is about keeping the organs of your digestive tract in good running order, it also includes taking care of the bacteria that are beneficial to you, too.
An imbalance of healthy and unhealthy microbes is called gut dysbiosis. This condition can occur when necessary microbiota are depleted or otherwise eliminated, or by an overgrowth of intestinal bacteria. Either way, dysbiosis can contribute to a number of health conditions. Examples are: abdominal discomfort due to IBS, weight gain, elevated levels of compounds related to heart-disease, and a compromised immune response.
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Why Do We Need Gut Bacteria?
There are literally thousands of kinds of bacteria that live on your skin and within your body. Trying to list all the benefits these various microbes afford you would take us a whole catalog of posts. But here are a few examples of critical roles that certain bacteria play:
- Early development and growth: Some bacteria (called Bifidobacteria) first begin to grow inside babies’ intestines. They digest the healthy sugars in breast milk that are so important for early growth.
- Digestion of fiber: Certain bacteria specialize in digesting fiber, which they convert to short-chain fatty acids. In turn, these are important for gut health as well as the prevention of weight gain, diabetes, heart disease and the risk of some cancers.
- Heart health support: At least one study has shown that a healthy microbiome increases levels of good cholesterol (HDL) and triglycerides. Conversely, some unhealthy bacteria may promote heart disease. Notably, Lactobacilli may help reduce cholesterol when taken as a probiotic.
- Gut health support (of course!): An imbalanced gut biome can affect gut health and play a role in intestinal diseases like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). However, certain probiotic bacteria (like Bifidobacteria and Lactobacilli) can help seal gaps between intestinal cells to prevent leaky gut syndrome.
- Immune system support: Remarkably, the gut microbiome also controls how your immune system works. By communicating with immune cells, it can control how your body responds to infection. And some can also prevent disease-causing bacteria from sticking to the intestinal walls.
- Brain health support: New research suggests that brain function may be affected by the gut microbiome and the way it interacts with the central nervous system.
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The above list is not all inclusive, but you get the idea. Clearly, bacteria are involved in countless bodily functions and processes, and supporting these beneficial microbes is in your best interest. So let’s take a look at habits that promote digestive well-being. Then we’ll review foods you can include in your diet for a healthy gut.
6 Healthy Gut Habits
Here are six actions you can take to help support your digestive system’s health:
1. Drink More Water
Staying hydrated is good for myriad reasons, including for digestion. Primarily, water and other liquids help break down the food you eat so your body can actually absorb the nutrients. Additionally, but no less important, water also softens stool, which helps prevent constipation. Keeping things “regular” promotes normal, good health.
2. Get More Sleep
As we’ve discussed before, sleep is critical for quite a few processes. This list includes digestive health. A lack of sleep is linked to an increased prevalence of obesity, which in turn is linked to disorders of the digestive system. So get your 7-9 hours per nigh, to help keep your weight down and keep your gut running smoothly.
3. Stay Active
Exercise has an even greater impact on your ability to lose weight and maintain a healthy body weight. Therefore, stay active in order to avoid obesity and the digestive problems (among others) that come with it. Walking, jogging, swimming and cycling are all great ways to get your heart beating and blood flowing on a regular basis. Additionally, if you’re into weight training -or looking to start- try our workout routines.
4. Stress Less
Stress is strongly linked to indigestion and heartburn. Thus, you can avoid these uncomfortable conditions by reducing stress via relaxation and meditation. Try things like:
– Meditating about life, the Heart Sutra, or nothing at all.
– Reading calming phrases and books you enjoy.
– Starting your day with yoga and stretching, and remembering to Enjoy Today.
– Niksen – the art of doing nothing.
– Hygge – enjoying the simple comforts in life.
– Wabi-Sabi – finding pleasure and perfection in imperfection.
5. Get Help for Anxiety and Depression.
Additionally, your digestive system is greatly affected by your mood via the brain-gut connection. Interestingly, this is a two-way street. Good gut health (or poor gut health) can bring about correlating moods. But treating chronic mental conditions can also bring about a positive impact in the gut.
6. Eat a Diverse Range of Foods
We’ll get more into the variety of foods that best support your gut, but the general gist is: In general, a diverse microbiome is a healthy biome. Each of the hundreds of species of bacteria in your intestines play a specific role in supporting your health. However, each requires different nutrients for growth. Therefore, eat a wide range of foods to be sure you are getting all the various nutrients needed to support your bodily processes and your gut flora.
See the 10 Healthy Habits that Promote Longevity
10 Healthy Gut Foods and Eating Habits
The foods you consume and your eating habits have such a big impact on your gut health that they deserve a bit more detail. Here are ten things you can incorporate into your diet for a healthy gut:
1. Eat lots of veggies, fruits, beans and legumes
All of these natural food items contains lots of fiber. Your body cannot digest this fiber; however, bacteria like Bifidobacteria can. This stimulates their growth, and also inhibits growth of some disease-causing bacteria. Bifidobacteria are considered beneficial bacteria, because they can help prevent intestinal inflammation and enhance gut health. Here’s a tasty, nutritious super-salad to try.
2. Try a plant-based diet
While you are loading up on all those vegetables, consider shifting to a plant-based diet. Animal-based foods promote certain bacteria to thrive, which differ from those supported by a veggie-based diet. So beside being rich in fiber, vegetarian diets may help reduce levels of disease-causing bacteria such as E. coli, as well as inflammation and cholesterol. Make this delicious butternut squash and quinoa soup; you won’t even miss the meat!
3. Eat foods rich in polyphenols
Polyphenols are plant compounds that have many health benefits. These include reductions in blood pressure, inflammation, cholesterol levels, and oxidative stress. If you are eating lots of fruits and vegetables, then it should be relatively easy to get your fill of these compounds. But they are also found in red wine, green tea, dark chocolate, olive oil and whole grains. Polyphenols are broken down by the microbiome, which stimulates growth of healthy bacteria (such as bifidobacteria and lactobacilli) and reduces the quantity of harmful bacteria like Clostridia. Try this polyphenol-rich green smoothie.
4. Eat whole grains
If you have celiac disease of gluten sensitivity, you may want to skip this tip or at least review it with your doctor. But for everybody else, whole grains contain lots of fiber and beneficial carbs like beta-glucan. Good bacteria in the large intestine process these compounds, which in turn benefit weight, cancer risk, diabetes and other disorders.
5. Eat fermented foods
Fermentation is the process in which yeast or bacteria break down sugar. This is a critical step in creating alcohol. But it also leads to fermented foods with good gut bacteria such as: yogurt, sauerkraut, kefir, kimchi, kombucha and tempeh. All of these foods contain healthy microbes (often Lactobacilli) and can reduce the amount of disease-causing species.
6. Take a probiotic supplement
Probiotics are living microorganisms (typically bacteria) that provide a health benefit when consumed. They don’t usually setup permanent residence in your intestines; however, they may temporarily change the composition of your gut microbiome. This provides a benefit to your overall health and metabolism. So in addition to eating fermented foods like those above, you may want to consider supplementing with probiotics on a regular basis.
7. Include prebiotic foods in your diet
Seeding your intestines with good probiotics is most effective if those bacteria are well fed. Prebiotics are mainly fiber or complex carbs that human cells cannot digest. Instead, they are broken down by certain bacteria species, which then use as fuel. Resistant starch is a type of prebiotic that is not absorbed in the small intestine, but passes to the large intestine where the microbiota process and consume it. Importantly, studies show that prebiotics promote the growth of Bifidobacteria and several other types of beneficial bacteria. Additionally, certain prebiotics have been shown to reduce insulin, triglyceride, and cholesterol levels in people with obesity. These may be particularly beneficial for the prevention of conditions like heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
8. Limit consumption of artificial sweeteners
Although these chemicals are meant to replace sugar and sate sugar cravings, evidence shows that artificial sweeteners like aspartame may come with a significant ‘catch’. It turns out that they increase blood sugar by stimulating the growth of unhealthy bacteria like Enterobacteriaceae in the gut microbiome.
9. Use antibiotics only when necessary
Antibiotics are effective at improving our health when we are ill by the killing bad bacteria causing the sickness. Unfortunately, antibiotics are indiscriminate bacterial killers, which means they also eliminate many good bacteria in the gut microbiome. As noted, a depleted gut will suffer, possibly contributing to weight gain and other symptoms. Additionally, excessive use can lead to antibiotic resistance. And this can make it harder to overcome infections when you really need it.
10. Breastfeed for at least six months
This tip isn’t so much for you, but rather for your children. Natural breastfeeding is critical in the development of a newborn’s gut microbiome. Research shows that children who are breastfed for at least six months have more beneficial gut bacteria than those who are bottle-fed.
Replant Your Microbiome With Gut Garden
If you suffer from abdominal discomfort or other digestive issues, you may want to consider hitting the “reset” button. Luckily, it is easy to do with the help of Gut Garden. After going through her own journey to restore her intestinal health, the founder of Gut Garden made it the company’s mission to bring the functional medicine approach to gut health to as many people as possible.
“The truth is that there are so many people walking around that simply don’t feel well. We felt there needed to be an easy-to-follow roadmap to relieving digestive symptoms.”~ Lily Berman Lopez, Founder
Gut Garden’s 5-step approach to optimizing gut health is: clean, prepare, plant, feed, and then protect. As such, they supply five products that are each scientifically-researched and formulated to work together to bring your gut back into balance.
Clean with Activated Charcoal
This highly porous material absorbs unwanted materials and gas in the digestive tract. It then safely carries this waste out of the body. Gut Garden’s charcoal is effective for:
– Supporting a healthy detox regime.
– Relieving stomach discomfort.
– Easing gas and bloating after certain meals.
– Helping the body expel irritants after food poisoning.
Prepare with Digestive Enzymes, Betaine HCL and Pepsin
Digestive functions can become depleted or compromised over time. Gut Garden’s Digestive Enzyme Blend is designed to break down fats, carbohydrates and proteins to support proper digestion and improve nutrient absorption. Among its potent ingredients:
– Betaine HCL increases the level of hydrochloric acid in the stomach. This is necessary for proper digestion and absorption of nutrients, including vitamin B12 from food.
– Pepsin initiates protein digestion and works in synergy with Betaine HCL to provide complete protein digestive support.
– Bromelain and Papain from pineapple and papaya help break down amino acids into smaller, usable proteins.
– Peppermint Leaf and Fennel Seed soothe the stomach and fight indigestion or inflammation in the intestines.
Plant with Perfect Probiotic
Use Gut Garden’s Perfect Probiotic to (re-)introduce beneficial bacteria to your system. This special blend provides 10 proven cultured strains. You know it’s highly potent because just one capsule delivers over 13 billion colony forming units! Importantly, a delayed-release coating protects the microbes from the harsh environment of the stomach. This ensures delivery to the intestinal tract for improved metabolism, digestion, and immune function. Additionally:
– Provides daily relief from gas and bloating
– Encourages regular movement, easing constipation
– Helps prevent diarrhea
Feed with Resistant Starch Prebiotic
As mentioned above, prebiotics are the preferred food source for beneficial bacteria. Resistant starch has been shown to work best when paired with a diverse array of other soluble fibers. Consequently, Gut Garden’s resistant starch prebiotic fiber blend is a mix of raw unmodified potato starch and 4 soluble fiber types. This facilitates easy digestion and the formation of short chain fatty acids. In turn, these are responsible for a host of benefits like:
– Weight Loss
– Reduction in Inflammation
– Improvement in symptoms of IBS and IBD
– Balanced blood sugar and improvement in insulin sensitivity
– Reduction in anxiety and depression
– Repairs to “leaky gut”
– Increased absorption of nutrients
Protect with Collagen Peptides
Our digestive tracts are composed of the same amino acids that are abundant in collagen. Therefore, you can use Gut Garden’s Collagen Peptides to help restore and strengthen the intestinal lining that may have been broken down over time.
GoodGut Program – One Month Supply
You can buy each of the components separately, but if you’re trying to reset and replenish your system – especially for the first time – we highly recommend going through the whole regimen. Each kit includes easy-to-follow instructions, a sample schedule, and all five products.
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Recipe For A Healthy Gut
Processed and pre-made foods often contain many artificial ingredients that can disturb your gut microbiota. Moreover, they often lack the appropriate nutrients that are necessary to properly sustain your body and your healthy bacteria. Therefore, cooking at home is a great way to ensure you (and your gut) are getting the foods that fall in line with the tips above. Here is a simple condiment you can whip up anytime to add a flavorful, nutritious burst to pasta, sandwiches, chicken, fish… and anything, really!
Super-Powered Spinach Pesto
Click here for the full recipe.
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