In last week’s blog, we learned how the health of our gut has far-reaching effects on the rest of our body. A healthy gut contributes to a strong immune system, heart health, brain health, a healthy weight, and effective digestion. But how do we keep our gut healthy? It turns out what you eat directly influences the makeup of bacteria in your gut known as the microbiome. It’s never too late to change your diet to support a healthy gut.
Here are the top categories of foods to best support a healthy gut:
- Probiotics: Probiotics (“good bacteria”) are live microorganisms that can be found in fermented foods such as yogurt, sauerkraut, kimchi, and miso and dietary supplements. Eating probiotics add good bacteria to your gut, however in order to be considered a probiotic, after ingestion, the microorganisms need to survive stomach acid and bile so they can make it all the way to your colon and then be able to survive in that environment. The more variety of these healthy microorganisms you have, the more they can do for you.
- Prebiotics: Once you’ve got good bacteria in your gut, you need to feed them so they can flourish to keep making more good bacteria. Prebiotics are indigestible fibers that feed the beneficial probiotics in your gut. Although there are many kinds of prebiotics, three of the most common are found in resistant starches (beans and legumes, potatoes, rice, oats, barley, etc.), inulin (asparagus, onions, garlic, leeks, soybeans, Jerusalem artichokes, etc.) and pectin (apples, carrots, peaches, raspberries, tomatoes, apricots, green beans, etc.).
Now that we know what to eat for a healthy gut, conversely, there are things we should avoid including:
- Artificial Sweeteners: Artificial sweeteners, such as aspartame, saccharin and sucralose, have zero calories and no sugar. They pass through the body without being digested, yet they come into contact with the microflora in the gut. More research is needed, but it appears they negatively change the composition of gut bacteria.
- Red Meat: Carnitine, a compound found in red meat, interacts with gut bacteria to produce trimethylamine-N-oxide (TMAO). Unfortunately, elevated levels of TMAO are associated with a higher risk of heart disease and early death, according to a June 2018 article in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Eat red meat in moderation, and choose fish, chicken, or plant-based proteins like tofu and tempeh instead.
- Processed and Refined Foods: Processed and refined foods lack fiber and are often filled with added sugars, salt, artificial sweeteners, and/or additives and preservatives.
- Alcohol: Research published in the journal Gut Microbes in 2020 suggests that drinking alcohol excessively is associated with dysbiosis, which occurs when the bacteria in your gastrointestinal tract become unbalanced. If you enjoy drinking, be sure to do so in moderation, which is one drink per day for women and two for men.
Overall, a diet high in fermented foods (yogurt, kimchi, sauerkraut, etc.) in combination with lots of fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds, and whole grains, while limiting processed foods, added sugar and salt, artificial sweeteners and alcohol will support good bacteria in your gut. If you have sensitivities or you’re just not a fan of the above-listed foods, a probiotic supplement can be a good alternative. Whether you decide to get your probiotics from food or supplements (or both), the important thing is you’re ingesting these beneficial bacteria on a daily basis which will help keep both you and your gut happy and healthy.
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Bigleyj. (2022, March 14). What are prebiotics and what do they do? Cleveland Clinic. Retrieved May 19, 2022, from https://health.clevelandclinic.org/what-are-prebiotics/
Katherine Zeratsky, R. D. (2020, July 10). Probiotics and Prebiotics: What you should know. Mayo Clinic. Retrieved May 19, 2022, from https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/expert-answers/probiotics/faq-20058065#:~:text=Probiotics%20are%20foods%20or%20supplements,as%20food%20for%20human%20microflora.
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (n.d.). Probiotics: What you need to know. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. Retrieved May 19, 2022, from https://www.nccih.nih.gov/health/probiotics-what-you-need-to-know