If you’re on a mission to improve your well-being, you may have come across articles regarding your gut health. Over 20 million Americans are living with digestive diseases, from upset stomachs to lactose intolerance. Your gut microbiome, the more than 20 trillion bacteria that live inside your digestive tract, can have a huge impact on both your physical and mental well-being.
There are foods that can help you improve your health, mind, body, and spirit. Let’s explore what foods you’ll need to get there.
Follow your gut
Ever heard this expression? Following your gut means a lot more than just listening to your inner voice before making a decision. It actually can tell you a lot about your body’s overall wellness, too.
The microbiome within your gut and digestive tract reacts to the foods you eat and the movement you integrate into your daily life. Healthline notes that many things such as stress, poor sleep, sugary foods, and antibiotics can hurt the health of your digestive tract and can affect your weight, disease development, or immune function.
Here are some signs of poor gut health:
- Gaining or losing weight without changing your diet or exercise
- Food intolerances
- Skin irritations
We all know that balance is key when it comes to eating healthy, and that means paying attention to how you feel when you eat certain foods. The microbiome in your digestive tract is affected by everything you ingest because each microorganism within it is sensitive to the energy you feed them.
There are microbes everywhere in nature, including your stomach, and they consist of microorganisms such as bacteria, fungi, and viruses. These microorganisms are affected by environmental factors like diet and exercise level, according to the National Human Genome Research Institute. So, a consistent practice of choosing gut healthy foods can change how you feel in your body.
Why does gut health matter?
Aside from wanting to get rid of bloating and achy tummies, there are benefits to investing your awareness to your gut health.
Supporting your gut health is important for many reasons, one of which being that it holds the enteric nervous system in your intestines, also known as your “second brain.” According to the National Library of Medicine, there are more neurons in the stomach than there are along the entire spinal cord. This means that a healthy gut can improve the way you look, feel, and think!
Imagine a world where you can think clearly and not feel so sleepy after lunch… wild, right? But the answers may have been lying inside your stomach all along.
The gut is governed by the sympathetic and parasympathetic systems which communicate with the central nervous system. The gut also communicates with both your hormones and the immune system. All of this information is to say that the way your stomach and intestines react to certain foods can change the way you feel, both mentally and physically.
Furthermore, scientists have found a connection between the microbiome of your lower digestive tract and mental ailments such as depression, dementia, and schizophrenia. Serotonin, colloquially known as the “happy hormone”, is mostly (95%) produced in the intestines.
Choosing good foods that support a healthy digestive tract can do a surprising amount of good, beyond just helping you reach your fitness goals. Let’s take a look at a few foods that can help you get on the right track.
Tips on some of the best gut healthy foods to reach for
Gut-healthy items don’t necessarily mean cutting out processed foods and artificial sweeteners (although eating less of these items never hurts, either). Because your gut bacteria facilitate many important aspects of your mental and bodily complexion, from your emotional health to your physical well-being, it’s helpful to pay attention to the foods your body reacts positively to. Here are a few tips on creating healthy gut bacteria, according to Healthline.
1. Create a diverse microbiome
Diversity within the gut is a good thing. With many different types of bacteria interacting and working together to fight off diseases, the better chance your body has in staying healthy. You can achieve a diverse microbiome by eating a wide range of foods. Look for more plant-based meals and meats that may reach outside of your everyday chicken and pork.
2. Eat the rainbow
To continue down the diversity road for a bit, eating a variety of colorful foods like veggies, fruits, legumes, and beans can help improve digestive health. Healthline notes that the reason for this is due to the amount of fiber in these foods — especially vegetables.
Foods like apples, blueberries, artichokes, and pistachios also increase your level of Bifidobacteria, which is a type of healthy bacteria that reduces intestinal inflammation. If the intestines are where most of your serotonin is created, then we’ll take all the yummy, colorful foods you can get!
Other examples of gut healthy food include:
- Green peas
- Whole grains
3. Ferment some foods
If you’re gonna be pro- anything, be probiotics. Fermented food and probiotic supplement tablets become incredible superheroes once they reach your gut and can help improve the function and composition of your microbiome. Probiotic rich foods help support healthy gut flora, your digestive system, and overall health by avoiding added sugar.
If you’ve ever eaten foods like kimchi, kombucha, or kefir, then you’ve had a good helping of probiotics! Some other fermented foods you might be more familiar with are yogurt or sauerkraut.
Yogurt and kombucha have live cultures within them that help actively support a healthy gut microbiome and increase lactobacilli within your intestines — which helps fight off inflammation.
One word to the wise, though: As you shop for gut-healthy foods, be sure to read the label before making your purchase. You’ll want to avoid foods high in sugar because this can have the opposite effect on your gut health.
4. Support existing healthy gut bacteria
Prebiotic fiber can help support beneficial bacteria. They come in the form of fiber or complex carbs that the body cannot digest until they reach the small intestine. Instead, the bacteria take these foods in and use them as fuel. Author of The New Rules of Aging Well: A Simple Program For Immunity Resilience, Strength, and Vitality, Frank Lipman, MD, says that prebiotics can be found in the stalks of vegetables or other insoluble fiber sources.
The bottom line
If you’ve noticed a common thread among these tips, fiber has got to be the one on top. Probiotics are important for fighting off inflammation, which plays a big role in a healthy microbiome. But, balancing your diet with a diverse range of delicious, fiber-rich foods could be the hero we’ve all been holding out for.
Your stomach may feel bloated as you enter into this new gut-healthy world of food, but as your body gets used to the feeling of support, the bloating should subside, according to Dr. Lipman.
Now, this doesn’t necessarily mean constantly chugging kombucha. The moral of this story comes down to eating a balanced, colorful meal every chance you can, while avoiding overly processed foods high in sugar and salt, as reported by John Hopkins Medicine.
When in doubt, though, consult a healthcare provider about any persistent gastrointestinal pain or issues for specific recommendations on improving your gut health. One size does not fit all, and everyone’s microbiome differs.
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