“To eat is a necessity but to eat intelligently is an art,” said somebody famous. And this is very true when you wish to eat for your gut health. Eating easy and convenient meals is the inclination of the times and Tik Tok food trends are doing nothing to add to the nutrition value of your diet. Eating healthy is not just about weight loss, it is also about keeping your body systems healthy and functioning. And that includes your gut health. Having a hearty gut is central to your overall well-being. This is quite a recent discovery and why there are so many researchers flocking to find out how the gut influences the body. The findings so far suggest the gut is responsible for a lot more than just food digestion. The gut is responsible for your immune system, muscle strength, bone integrity, hair, skin, and, to a certain extent, your cognitive function.
Most refer to the gut as just the intestines and the plumbing that follows. That is not true. The digestive tract begins at the mouth ending with the anus. Everything thing in between – pharynx, esophagus, stomach, small intestine, large intestine, liver, pancreas, and gall bladder, is solely dedicated to processing the food that you put into your system. Taking care of the digestive system seems obvious as this controls your energy, well-being, and immunity.
Our Microscopic Friends
Bacteria live throughout the body regardless of how much you may wash. Skin, hands, feet, hair, and even up your nose have a bacterial presence. If you suffer from body odor, you can thank the bacteria for it. But mostly, they live in harmony with us human hosts and cause illness only in very rare cases.
The microbes we are concerned with inhabit the gastrointestinal tract and reside in the intestines and colon. From here, these little creatures affect a range of physiological aspects. There are close to 300 to 500 different species of bacteria in your system, along with fungi and viruses that also dwell with them, which is known as the microbiota or the gut microbiome. Everyone has a different gut microbiome makeup and the accepted belief is that the more diverse the gut bacteria the healthier gut you have.
Not all of them are good for us though. Some bacteria are responsible for obesity, diabetes, renal failure, heart disease, inflammatory bowel syndrome, Crohn’s disease, and arthritis and have even been held responsible for anxiety, depression, and autism (research conclusions pending). You face trouble from the ‘bad’ bacteria only when they are stronger or more prevalent than the ‘good bacteria’. It is a delicate balance that needs to be constantly maintained.
On the face of it, the gut does what is basic – to digest the food consumed, absorb the nutrients from said food, and excrete what is not required. It isn’t as simple as that. The gut microbiome affects the body throughout your life and controls a lot more than nutrient absorption. More than 70% of the body’s immune cells are found in the gut – meaning the source of your defense against the diseases out there lies in your gut. In your gut lies close to 100 million neurons that produce neurotransmitters that regulate mood and motivation. Serotonin – the happy hormone is produced in the gut, 95% of it. The gut is also responsible for mental health, good cognition, and motivation.
The moment your gut goes out of whack you see subtle changes in your skin – flare-ups, acne, and blemishes. The gut microbiota is trying to send you a message. Something is not right. Let’s look at these messages.
- Food Intolerances
This is not an allergy, which is an immune system’s response to trigger foods, but the incapacity to digest the foods that you once could. This effect is prompted by the increase of bad bacteria in the gut and can result in bloating, gas, nausea, and abdominal pain.
- Skin Troubles
A damaged gut usually means that the gastrointestinal wall is no longer acting as a barrier between the bloodstream and substances in your intestines. As a result, proteins, undigested foods, and even some pathogens leak into the bloodstream leading to problems like eczema and skin inflammation.
- Sleep Difficulties & Off Moods
Serotonin production happens in the gut and any disturbances there can lead to a lot of problems. Serotonin is responsible for keeping you happy and an imbalance would make you a grouch perpetually. Serotonin is also responsible for the sleep-wake cycle and a disturbance in it keeps you awake leading to chronic fatigue.
- Weight fluctuations
Weight loss may seem like a boon but couple that with deficiency and you are in trouble. Healthy gut bacteria aid nutrient absorption and keep your body healthy. A suffering gut would either lead you down the obesity path or have you lose weight because your body is not receiving a fair share of nourishment.
- Sugar Cravings
A healthy gut will not ask for extra sugar. If sugar is what you are craving, chances are that the good bacteria are fighting to survive. High sugar products like corn syrup only make the situation worse by feeding the bad bacteria; it further worsens a bad situation.
- Ailing Tummy
Any discomfort in the stomach is a tell-tale sign that your gut health is in distress. Gas, bloating, diarrhea, constipation, pain, or heartburn are indicators of below-par gut bacteria.
This is not a disease; at least, it hasn’t been classified as one just yet. Gut inflammation is when the digestive system as a whole or in part is inflamed. Also known as inflammatory Bowel Disease, it is a collection of symptoms that describe disorders in the gastrointestinal tract. It manifests in several ways like Ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease. The symptoms are as follows:
- Abdominal pain
- Blood in stool
- Appetite loss
- Weight loss
These signs could appear altogether or as a few but consistent complaints mean that your gut bacteria are asking for help. The easiest thing for you to do is avoid the following:
- Excess alcohol
- Sweets, candy, and artificial sweeteners
- Fried and greasy foods
- Beverages with high caffeine and sugar.
- Hot and spicy foods
- Raw high fiber fruits and vegetables.
Foods like the ones above damage the beneficial bacteria and digestive health is compromised. Gut inflammation is a real problem as it affects the way you live and eat. It leads to mental distress as well. So, what can you do to support gut health? Eating a better, more diverse diet is the easiest way to ensure a healthy microbiome.
You already have good bacteria in your gut; all you have to do is reinforce them. And you can do that by eating right. There are some varied options available to you.
Eating For Your Gut Health
Once you begin to eat right, your gut will almost immediately start to recover. It is a process but not a difficult one.
Probiotics are the bacteria that already reside in your digestive tract that help digestion along and fight inflammation. The most common classes of beneficial probiotics are Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium, and a type of yeast called Saccharomyces boulardi. When probiotic-rich foods are mentioned, it means that they have active cultures. Processed foods destroy the probiotic cultures so steer clear of processed foods. And you would find them in the refrigerator, not on a shelf.
The best foods are dairy. You can find probiotic content in cheeses, kefir- a probiotic fermented milk drink with a slightly sour taste, buttermilk, and yogurt. Fermented foods also have probiotic value – kimchi (fermented cabbage), sauerkraut, miso, kombucha (fermented tea drink), and natto. You also have soybeans, water-cured olives, and dill pickles.
It is effortless to add probiotic-rich foods to your diet as the health benefits are plenty. For example, you can add berries to probiotic yogurt with nuts and chia seeds for breakfast. For lunch, substitute tempeh for meat and make a stir-fry with a side of kimchi. Avoid using a lot of heat as this may destroy the live bacteria in the food. Use miso for soups instead of the packeted option and drink kefir or kombucha as a snack instead of eating processed foods. Sauerkraut can be used as a side dish during any meal.
In more cases than not, fermented foods would have some probiotic value, and consuming these would only do you good.
Eating probiotic foods helps to reset the good vs. evil equilibrium in your gut. The food replenishes the numbers of beneficial bacteria in the system and that helps tip the balance in your favor. Ongoing research is still trying to determine the right dosage of probiotics and how they will benefit you but for now, you can rest assured that the consumption of probiotic foods can only do you good.
A word of warning though before you go down to Whole Foods to stock up, you may face some discomfort if you have just introduced fermented foods to your diet. It may cause some nausea and upset your tummy a little but these effects soon wear off after a few days.
If probiotics are the bacteria, then prebiotic foods are the fodder that feeds the bacteria. They are a form of dietary fiber which allows the gut bacteria to produce nutrients for your colon cells, resulting in a healthier gut and overall health too. Some prebiotic fibers include short-chain-fatty acids like butyrate, acetate, and propionate, which are taken in by the bloodstream leading to better metabolism.
Now don’t start eating wood because fiber was mentioned. The beneficial bacteria must be able to break down the fiber once it hits the intestines but the fiber must not move through your system entirely. Some prebiotic fibers include chicory root, dandelion greens, garlic, Jerusalem artichoke, leeks, onions, asparagus, bananas, and barley.
Wheat bran, oat, and apples feature on this list too which are rich in resistant starch. Most roots like jicama root and yacon root, which are easily available, are high fiber foods too. Apart from being prebiotic fiber, they have multiple health benefits as well.
The gut flora will thank you for the intake of these foods as this is their nourishment. The good healthy bacteria will then show gratitude through rewards like a stronger immune system and freedom from digestive distress.
It is best if the prebiotic fibers are first taken in small amounts as it may cause your intestines to complain if consumed in large quantities. Apples and oats, a breakfast staple is probably on your weekly meal plan. Add garlic to your sauces and salads. Eat bananas for a snack and cook up a curry with onions and leeks for dinner.
Prebiotics do not have to be consumed in isolation so you can add them as a side or dessert for any meal.
Simply put, symbiotic foods are a combination of probiotics and prebiotics. The logic is that the two work together to promote gut health so they should be consumed together as well. Synbiotics have been found to be especially helpful in easing the symptoms of IBD – Irritable Bowel Syndrome. It reduces gut inflammation thus reducing the tenaciousness of the symptoms. The limitation with synbiotics is that successfully getting them to you has proven to be a nightmare. Keeping the live active cultures alive while keeping the dietary fiber intact has become a challenge that scientists are yet to figure out.
Some synbiotic foods that you may know of are fermented foods sauerkraut and kimchi. Along with probiotic bacteria, these gut-health foods also include onions and garlic, giving them prebiotic value. A synbiotic yogurt is also an option. You could check them out the next time you are at Whole Foods.
Broiler vs. Barbeque
Cooking may be therapeutic for some but sometimes cooking may not be so good for gut health foods. In the case of probiotic foods, there is a chance of destroying the value by any exposure to heat. Most of the foods are refrigerated for that purpose. Fermented foods like kefir, miso, sauerkraut, and kombucha need not be cooked at all and can be consumed as it is.
Prebiotic foods are a lot easier to deal with. The foods can be cooked but opt for healthier cooking processes. Frying, grilling, and baking may destroy the prebiotic fibers. Instead use boiling, steaming, broiling, or stir-frying which have greater health benefits. Limit the use of fats like butter, refined oils, and animal fats to a minimum. Grease is not your friend.
Changing Up Your Lifestyle
You may think it preposterous, but the way you live affects your gut microbiota. Your gut microbes are living organisms and your habits can affect their lives too. Once you have adopted food habits that support gut health, a few more steps need to be taken.
- Meals – Adjusting the content of your meals are not enough, you have to adjust when you eat as well. According to Dr. Bitok of the Department of Nutrition and Dietetics, the ideal gap between meals is 3 to 5 hours. This is ideal for your gut to completely process the meal and have a quick rest between meals. This allows for optimum nutrition absorption. The health benefits reaped are aplenty.
- Organic Fare – Farm to table is not an option available to all but try to buy your groceries fresh or frozen. Steer clear of processed foods as they are considered the Worst foods for gut, because processing would:
- a) Destroy necessary nutrients in food
- b) Introduce possibly gut-harming chemicals into your system and
- c) Flush your system with too much sugar.
Sugar feeds the bad bacteria and would let them maybe over-power the bacteria that promote gut health.
- Alcohol: Excessive consumption of alcohol can have a devastating effect on the gut microbiota. Alcohol destroys the bacteria in the colon and could possibly lead to a significant decline in gut microbes. This may lead to loose stools, bloating, and gas. Not to mention liver damage.
1. While navigating the maze of best and worst foods for gut health, adding Biotics 8 to your daily intake can be prudent. This supplement enriches your gut microbiome with beneficial bacteria and supports the dietary fiber from your intake of wholesome foods, offering a balanced approach to maintaining a healthy gut.
2. Alongside carefully selecting gut-enhancing foods, women would be well-advised to consider Yourbiology Gut Plus. Its specialized formulation complements a gut-friendly diet and counteracts the negative impact of less beneficial food choices, fostering a resilient and vibrant gut microbiome tailored to women’s health needs.
For the benefit of your gut health, you can also add certain elements to your everyday diet that will support the beneficial bacteria. In addition to eating probiotic foods and adding prebiotic elements, you can also add whole grains. A lot of weight-loss diets suggest omitting high-carb foods like whole grains but avoiding them altogether may not be very smart. These grains add fiber to your diet which the bacteria ferment within the body. These fibers are then turned into fatty acids that act as nourishment for the gut microbiota.
Spinach, kale, and other leafy greens are another excellent addition to your diet. Rich sources of vitamin C, K, and B, help develop a diverse microbiome and aid in a healthier you.
Artificial sweeteners are a strict no-no for the gut so you could use low fructose fruits when possible. In smoothies or oats, using such substitutes could help blood sugar control and provide fiber, inulin, and vitamins to eliminate gas and bloating. The digestive system is reinforced by these fruits, which also act as prebiotic foods.
Lean proteins are an alternative to fatty fish and red meat as this may further hurt those suffering from Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Red meat promotes the colon bacteria that produce chemicals that lead to an increased risk of clogged arteries and heart trouble. You could also opt for bone broth instead of the meat itself.
The bottom line is this, consuming processed foods from big food labels may be convenient but opting for a diet rich in plant-based foods like colorful fruits and fermented vegetables would do your gut a lot better. Your gut health improves drastically with the healthy eating and lifestyle changes mentioned above and at the same time, you can also use a probiotic supplement for the beneficial nutrients and the bacteria, which means you get to live a healthier and fuller life.