Gut health is garnering a lot of attention, as research continues to show its importance to overall health. Yet, the flood of information online about improving digestive health can make it hard to separate fact from fiction. Science is just starting to understand the importance of multiplying the good bacteria in our gut, which help with decreasing inflammation and improving our overall health. Our microbiome requires nurturing and depends on us to maintain a healthy lifestyle. The first step is eating a healthful diet with a variety of prebiotic and probiotic foods.
The gut microbiome – the trillions of bacteria, viruses, and other microbes that live in our guts – may play a key role in overall health and several diseases. There’s also early evidence that different strains of gut bacteria can help protect against some cancers and heart disease. We’re learning more about the gut microbiome every day, but we already know some eating choices can help or harm it. Here are some simple ways you can improve the health of your gut.
Introduce more “good” bacteria, naturally.
Eating fermented foods is a simple step you can take to add more good bacteria, or probiotics, to your gut. Probiotics may help with digestion and protect you from certain harmful bacteria. Some examples of probiotic-rich fermented foods:
- Kefir: a tart, yogurt-like drink
- Kombucha: fermented black or green tea with sugar
- Tempeh: fermented soybeans
- Kimchi: a traditional Korean condiment made with fermented vegetables, spices and other ingredients
- Sauerkraut: fermented cabbage
- Pickled vegetables or fruits
Eat prebiotic foods.
Prebiotics are non-digestible plant fiber, and they feed probiotics. Prebiotics share three criteria: They survive the stomach, can be metabolized by intestinal bacteria, and must confer a health benefit. It’s a tall order, but a lot of plant-based foods contain prebiotics. Examples include:
- Whole grains
Limit high-fructose corn syrup and gluten.
In his book Brain Maker, author and neurologist David Permutter, MD, notes that high-fructose corn syrup and gluten can disrupt the balance of a healthy gut. High-fructose corn syrup is found in many processed foods. It’s rapidly consumed and processed by our gut bacteria into byproducts linked to disruption of the gut barrier and insulin resistance. Gluten, a general name for certain proteins found in wheat, barley, and rye, may also damage gut barrier in some people. That means tiny particles may be able to “leak” out into the bloodstream. When your immune system is exposed to a protein that doesn’t belong in your bloodstream, inflammation occurs. The Western diet produces a gut environment that has less healthy types of bacteria and more unhealthy types than it should. Fortunately, you have the power to shift the balance. If you need advice on how to turn your eating habits around, talk to your MDVIP-affiliated doctor.