How To Support Your ‘good’ Gut Bugs
The trillions of bacteria, fungi, protozoa, and other microbes in your digestive tract make up your gut microbiome. The composition of that microbiome is unique to you.
A healthy gut contains a wide variety of bacteria.
We asked Dr. Will Bulsiewicz, a board-certified gastroenterologist and ZOEs U.S. medical director, a simple question: Whats the best thing you can do to improve your gut health? He responded:
If there’s one thing, and one thing only, that you do to improve your gut health, it’s eating a wider variety of plant foods.
But there are actually many ways to support your good bugs and suppress bad bugs.
Below, we outline 16 foods and lifestyle changes you can try today.
Exercise In Your Gut Health Diet
Who knew that getting the heart pumping and the sweat pouring was good for the diversity of your microbiome? Well it is, and heres why.
Research has shown that individuals who lead a sedentary lifestyle have a less diverse microbiome. Therefore, its not just what you put into your body that counts, there are so many other lifestyle aspects involved in improving gut health.
But dont despair, there are simple things you can do about it. Athletes, for example, have a more diverse gut than nonathletes. But you dont need to be an Olympian to make a difference. Walking, jogging, and dancing all count, just aim for 150 minutes each week alongside some strength exercises. Trust us, your gut bacteria will love you for it.
Eating Right For Your Microbes
What you eat isn’t just nutrition for you, it also feeds the trillions of bacteria that live in your gut.
Every person is different, but if you want to improve your digestion, lose weight or look after your general health, there are some broad principles that apply to all.
Easy tips for gut health
- Eat a wide range of plant-based foods. A healthy gut has a diverse community of microbes, each of which prefers different foods.
- Eat more fibre. Most people eat less than they should. Fruit, vegetables, pulses, nuts and wholegrains feed healthy bacteria.
- Avoid highly processed foods. They often contain ingredients that either suppress ‘good’ bacteria or increase ‘bad’ bacteria.
- Probiotic foods, such as live yoghurt, might encourage more microbes to grow. Eat them if you enjoy them.
- Choose extra-virgin olive oil over other fats when you can. It contains the highest number of microbe-friendly polyphenols.
- Antibiotics kill good bacteria as well as bad. If you need antibiotics, make sure you eat lots of foods that boost your microbes afterwards.
- If your diet is low in fibre, a sudden increase can cause wind and bloating. This is less likely if you make gradual changes and drink extra water.
Probiotics vs prebiotics
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But that doesnt mean that adults dont benefit from the fuzzy snuggles, too.
Garden. Play outside. Lounge on the grass. Exposure to the natural microbes around us can help replenish our microbiota and encourage diversity.
Its probably not wise to go around licking subway poles or eating undercooked chicken, but most of us could benefit from a little less cleanliness.
Limit Your Alcohol Intake
Drinking too much may negatively affect your microbiome, too. Repeated alcohol use is linked to gastritis, an irritation of the gut in which it becomes inflamed. Such inflammation can lead to heartburn, chronic discomfort, ulcers and bacterial infections.
Drinking too much is also associated with intestinal inflammation, which is a sign of an unhealthy gut. Research suggests that this kind of inflammation alters the microbiotaincluding how well it worksand can throw it off balance.
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How To Improve Your Gut Health
Your gut health impacts your immune system, your mental health and your overall well-being.
When you have a healthy gut, your gastrointestinal tract has a good balance of gut bacteria and is able to properly digest and absorb nutrients.
But when there is an imbalance in your gut bacteria, it may trigger unwanted gastrointestinal symptoms, like diarrhea, as well as mental health issues. Here are the basics of gut health and what you can do to improve yours.
What foods can affect gut health negatively or positively?
Prebiotic and probiotic foods like whole grains, onions, garlic, fermented foods, miso and yogurt feed the good bacteria in your gut. A diet rich with fiber and prebiotics ensures that the bacteria grows.
If you dont want to completely cut out things like sugar, alcohol or artificial sweeteners, moderation is important.
Its all about balance, says Lori Chang, associate director of Clinical Nutrition at MD Anderson. What can really impact your gut in a beneficial way is eating the rainbow.
Is there a link between gut health and mental health?
Theres a reason that your gut is called your second brain. There is a lot of crosstalk between your gut and your brain through the nerve that connects them, explains Chang.
What can you do to support the good bacteria in your gut?
How To Improve The Gut Microbiome With Sleep
Your gut and brain use nerves and chemicals to communicate with each other, and their discussions can influence your sleep patterns and mood.
A lack of sleep often partners well with a poor diet, increased alcohol consumption, and weight gain. Research has shown that individuals who get a good forty winks have a more diverse microbiome. It also shows that sleep deprivation is bad for your brain. And when your brain isnt happy, your whole body can feel it.
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What The Science Says
Its logical to assume that a healthy gut only contains good microbes, but this isnt the case at all. Some microbes are only known to perform beneficial functions, like the production of certain short-chain fatty acids that our intestinal cells use for energy. Others dont seem to do anything in your favor, but they dont appear to cause disease, either.
Some known as opportunistic pathogens can cause disease if their relative abundance becomes high enough, either through their own proliferation or the loss of other species.
Your microbiome is as unique as your fingerprint, and there isnt yet enough high-quality data to establish widely-applicable reference ranges of the total number or proportions of gut microbes that should be present. Many reference ranges used by consumer gut microbiome testing companies are set by the manufacturers based on a selected cohort of healthy people.
In fact, science hasnt yet identified all of the bacterial species to be found in every human microbiome, and bacteria are only one portion of the community . Even less has been concretely established about the fungi, archaea, parasites, and viruses inhabiting the human digestive tract.
Without a consensus on what constitutes a healthy gut microbiome , theres no way to create a universal definition of dysbiosis. Despite its negative connotation, it doesnt mean a microbiome is unhealthy. Its simply different from the comparison sample.
Final Thoughts On Ways To Increase Beneficial Gut Health
Scientists have only begun to understand the complexity and function of the microbiome. Research shows that gut health impacts every facet of well-being, from heart health to blood sugar control. While genetics primarily determines our gut bacteria, we can alter our microbiome by following the pillars of health. Eating plenty of fresh, whole foods and fiber, exercising regularly, and limiting alcohol consumption can improve digestive health.
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Kick Processed Foods To The Curb
Processed foods should be avoided at all costs. They are filled with harmful chemicals, tons of processed salt & sugar, and trans fats. But it doesnt end there. Since processed foods arewellprocessed, they are digested very quickly. This may sound good at first, but its not.
When food is digested quickly, it is rapidly released into the body. So lets say you just ate a pre-packaged oatmeal cookie. All of the ingredients in that cookie including the sugar and flour are processed as well. When these processed substances hit our gut, they are quickly digested.
The sugar in this case would cause for a rapid spike in your blood sugar which puts stress on your pancreas . The calories are also quickly made available which can cause your body to store the excess energy as fat. This is how processed foods can make you gain weight considerably fast.
Easy Fix: Instead of purchasing processed or pre-packaged foods, opt for traditional and whole foods. Here is a chart of some common processed foods compared to their whole-food original form:
|Celtic Sea Salt
Trust Your Gut: How To Improve Your Gut Health
In recent years, the topic of gut health has increased in popularity among both medical professionals and the general public. As studies continue, experts are finding a strong connection between gut health and whole-body health.
So what exactly does it mean to have a healthy gut?
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Find Healthy Ways To Lower Stress
Stress is a natural part of life, but too much stress, especially when left unchecked, can wreak havoc on your health in a number of ways, including your gut health. Its not entirely clear why stress impacts the gut so profoundly, but experts do know that the gut is supplied with nerves by the enteric nervous system. This is a huge network of nerves that intricately controls the workings of the gut, Dr. Boxer explains. It can affect and cause pain, constipation, diarrhea, and many other symptoms.
Its impossible to avoid stress entirely , but you should take time out of your day, even if only for a few minutes, to do something that relaxes you and reduces stress, Dr. Pimentel says. Play with your pet, read a book, watch a funny TV episode, or take a yoga class.
The 19 Best Prebiotic Foods You Should Eat
Prebiotics are a form of dietary fiber that feed the friendly bacteria in your gut.
This allows your gut bacteria to produce nutrients for your colon cells, which leads to a healthier digestive system (
Some of these nutrients include short-chain fatty acids like butyrate, acetate, and propionate .
These fatty acids can be absorbed into your bloodstream and improve metabolic health .
However, prebiotics shouldnt be confused with probiotics.
Probiotics are live bacteria found in certain foods or supplements. To learn more about the difference between prebiotics and probiotics, read this article.
Read on to explore 19 healthy prebiotic foods to add to your grocery list.
Chicory root comes from a flowering plant in the dandelion family. Its popular for its coffee-like flavor and has historically been used in cooking and medicine.
Its also a great source of prebiotics.
Approximately 68% of chicory root fiber comes from the prebiotic fiber inulin .
It may also help prevent diabetes by raising levels of adiponectin, a protein that helps control blood glucose levels .
Additionally, chicory root is high in antioxidant compounds that may protect your liver from oxidative damage .
Chicory root is often used as a caffeine-free coffee replacement. Its inulin fiber promotes friendly gut bacteria, reduces constipation, and can help control glucose levels.
They contain 1.92 grams of fiber per 1 cup .
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Alcohol And Gut Health
Getting merry too often can have implications for your intestinal health, not just your head and your wallet.
Simply put, reducing your alcohol consumption is generally just good for your health, but the odd glass of red wine isnt so bad. It contains polyphenols, antioxidants that help protect you from inflammation and disease, and increase the abundance of beneficial bacteria. If you get red and blotchy when you drink, you might have alcohol intolerance.
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Ways To Naturally Improve Your Gut Health
We live in this day and age where lifestyle plays an essential role that impacts our overall health. Unfortunately, diseases such as hypertension, diabetes, and obesity continue to rise, despite being preventable with lifestyle adjustments. Do you know what these lifestyle diseases have in common? Theyre all related to your gut.
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Take A Prebiotic Or Probiotic
While research is ongoing, adding a prebiotic or probiotic supplement to your diet may help improve your gut health. Prebiotics provide food meant to promote the growth of beneficial bacteria in the gut, while probiotics are live good bacteria.
People who have a severe illness or weakened immune system should not take probiotics. Also, not all probiotic supplements are high quality or beneficial for your health.
Its best to speak with a healthcare professional when choosing a probiotic or prebiotic supplement to help improve your health.
The Link Between Your Teeth And Your Gut
Brush and floss your teeth regularly. Having regular dental cleanings and check-ups may not seem to be important to a healthy microbiome, but studies at Cornell University and in Sweden have found that bacteria from your mouth can get into your stomach and cause problems.
Avoid the bad guys taking over the good guys in your tummy by taking care of your teeth.
Limit sugary foods, said Susan Mintz, RN, BSN, CDE, of Brunswick County Health Department in Bolivia, North Carolina. In addition to being inflammatory to the system, sugar can cause yeast to grow and it can throw off delicate gut balances. In addition, avoid prepackaged foods and stay away from processed foods.
In addition to being inflammatory to the system, sugar can cause yeast to grow and it can throw off delicate gut balances.
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Make Diverse Food Choices
Microbiome diversity refers to the richness and evenness of the population living in your gut. Generally speaking, more gastrointestinal diversity is regarded as a good thing, because it often means a high level of functionality and resiliency.
In other words: If some microbes are killed off due to an environmental stressor like antibiotics, for example there will still be many microbes available to pick up the slack and maintain the overall functionality of the microbiome. .
Like organisms in any ecosystem, these microbes interact with each other. They may share, compete for, or even provide resources to other microbes. To make energy, most gut microbes rely on the indigestible carbohydrates fiber and resistant starch that you eat. These are sometimes referred to as microbe-accessible carbohydrates, or MACs.
Dietary diversity seems to correlate with gut microbiome diversity, so the most prudent recommendation is to eat a wide variety of MACs from whole grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes, and nuts.
While you dont need to follow a vegan or vegetarian diet, its just as important to hit your daily fiber goal as it is to hit your protein target.
Eat A Wide Range Of Healthy Foods
A diet made up of several different food types can lead to a more diverse microbiome that is made up of more species, according to a review published in the journal Molecular Metabolism. This, Dr. Lee explains, strengthens our microbiome and enhances its resiliency.
The best foods for gut health are fruits, vegetables, legumes , nuts, seeds, and whole grains, especially those highest in fiber, which help your digestive tract work properly. Women should aim for 25 grams of fiber per day and men should aim for 38 grams per day, per the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
And cut back on unhealthy foods. The more grease, fat, and salt you eat, the worse your gut health will be, says Scott David Lippe, M.D., chief of gastroenterology at Bergen Regional Medical Center in Paramus, NJ, and assistant clinical professor of medicine at Rutgers Medical School. This is something to keep in mind especially when youre out to dinner, as restaurants tend to load up on salt, grease, and fat because they taste good.
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You Have New Food Sensitivities
Gut issues can also trigger food sensitivities, Salazar says. One common example is a leaky gut, which refers to the permeability of the cells lining your intestine. BTW: The gut lining is supposed to be semi-permeable, as this allows nutrients and water from the food you eat to enter the bloodstream, according to Harvard Health Publishing. Sometimes, however, the gaps between cells become too large or loose, resulting in increased permeability. When this happens, large food particles and/or bacteria may enter the bloodstream, resulting in inflammation, Salazar explains. This may contribute to food sensitivities, which can manifest as G.I. symptoms like bloating, gas, diarrhea, constipation, and nausea, as well as non-G.I. signs such as headaches, brain fog, and skin rashes, Salazar adds.