Our gut has more profound effects on our health than we may know. Our large intestine houses trillions of microorganisms from bacteria, viruses, and fungi, which are called the gut microbiome. These organisms can influence everything from our metabolic health and weight to our immunity, allergies, emotional well-being, and others.
Studies show that one of the best ways to shape our gut microbiome is through our diet. Certain foods promote a healthier gut microbiome, while other foods lead to inflammation.
Read on for ways to improve your gut health.
Eat a diverse range of whole foods
Each of the hundreds of types of bacteria in your intestines has a specific role in health and needs different nutrients for growth. So a diet that consists of different food types can lead to a more diverse and healthier microbiome.
Moreover, a diet high in antioxidants such as berries, kale, spinach, green tea, and even dark chocolate can cure gut imbalances, while processed, junk, and fast food can kill the beneficial bacteria that improve digestion and strengthen the immune system.
Unfortunately, the Standard American Diet lacks diversity and is high in processed foods, added sugars, and refined fats/oils. Eating these types of foods on a consistent basis can hinder the diversity of the gut microbiome while promoting inflammation and increasing the risk of heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and other chronic health conditions.
Incorporate prebiotic foods
Prebiotics promote the growth of beneficial bacteria in the gut. These are mainly fiber or complex carbs that human cells cannot break down, but the beneficial bacteria can digest them and use them for fuel for growth.
An example of a beneficial bacteria species is Bifidobacterium; it can help prevent intestinal inflammation and enhance gut health.
Fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains are high in prebiotics. Including these in your weekly diet will make for a happy gut!
Say yes to fermented foods
Fermented foods contain probiotics; these are strains of good bacteria that have many health benefits. Fermentation is a method of preserving foods that has been around for many many years. During fermentation, sugars are broken down by yeast or bacteria, to produce good bacteria, also known as probiotics. Lactobacillus is a very popular probiotic that can fight inflammation and benefit your health. Consider adding some of these fermented foods to increase you intake of probiotics: yogurt, tempeh, kimchi, sauerkraut, and kombucha.
Yogurt, for instance, in addition to enhancing the function of the microbiome, can also decrease symptoms of lactose intolerance. Nevertheless, opt for plain, unsweetened yogurt or flavored yogurt with minimal added sugar.
Choose polyphenol-containing foods
Polyphenols are plant compounds that have many health benefits, including reductions in inflammation, cholesterol, blood pressure, and oxidative stress. Polyphenols cannot be digested properly by human cells, but they are efficiently broken down by the gut.
Some foods rich in polyphenols are cocoa and dark chocolate, grapes, red wine, green tea, broccoli, berries, onions, and almonds. As an illustration, polyphenols from cocoa can increase the amount of Bifidobacterium and lactobacilli in humans and reduce the quantity of Clostridia, a type of bad bacteria.
Red wine has similar effects and can help increase levels of beneficial bacteria in people with metabolic syndrome.
Unfortunately, this is not an invitation to have all the red wine and chocolate your heart desires, because small amounts of these polyphenols can go a long way!
On the other hand, what should you limit?
For good gut health and overall health, drink in moderation. Not only does alcohol kill beneficial bacteria, but it can also irritate the stomach lining leading to a medical problem called gastritis.
Experts say this means no more than two drinks per day for men and one daily for women.
Stress triggers gut-related issues like Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBS) and leaky gut. Stress can also affect the brain-gut communication and may lead to pain, bloating, and other gut discomfort issues. Reducing stress through meditation, relaxation, and exercise is vital.
These medications can kill healthy bacteria leading to several effects on the gut microbiome. Physicians recommend taking antibiotics only when necessary to keep your gut healthy.
Your gut bacteria are crucial for many aspects of health, so strategically adding certain foods to your diet and evading other options can reduce the risk of developing chronic disease and promote overall health.