The recent research around the importance of gut health has awakened many of us to the direct impact the bacteria in the gut can have on our health. The term “gut health” is trending in 2019 and beyond as we continue to unfold the importance these microbes have on us. But what does gut health really mean?
If you have your ear tuned into health news, you will have heard the increasing talk about gut health and the trillions of bacteria that reside in our gut. The term gut health doesn’t have a clear scientific definition, but this term is gaining popularity as a way to address normal and stable intestinal bacteria, effective immune health in the digestive tract, absence of gastro-intestinal (GI) illness and normal digestion and absorption.
Gut health is strongly tied to what bacteria are in your intestines. These bacteria, whether helpful or harmful, can impact digestion, bloating, GI immune function and may even impact other aspects of the body like mental health or weight regulation. Maintaining good bacteria—called probiotics—in the intestine is essential for optimal gut health.
So, the burning question is how can we get and maintain good bacteria in our gut? These top 5 ways will help boost your gut health by promoting good bacteria in your gut and may surprise you how seemingly simple they are.
1. Eat more fiber
One of the top ways experts suggest to boost gut health is not something new: eat more fiber. This unglamorous, simple suggestion can have big rewards on your health. According to many health experts, this may be even more important for gut health than taking a probiotic supplement.
Why is fiber so important? Bacteria in your gut feed off fiber. Therefore, in order for beneficial bacteria to thrive in your gut, they need a constant source of food (fiber).
Ninety-five percent of Americans fall short of getting the recommended 19-38 grams of fiber per day. Therefore, most of us can benefit from getting more fiber in our diet.
Top fiber foods include: fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds.
2. Cut down on the added sweeteners
A typical standard American diet—low in fiber in addition to high in sugar—is a recipe for poor gut health. A high sugar intake can negatively affect the bacteria in your gut. Not to mention a low fiber, high sugar diet may increase risk for constipation or other unpleasant GI issues.
As a first priority, cut down on sweetened beverages like soda and juice to lower your intake of added sweeteners. Other sources of added sugars can include: sweets, packaged snacks, breads, frozen meals, pre-packaged condiments and fast foods.
Cutting down on sugar alternatives is also a good idea for gut health. Researchers are still investigating the role of artificial sweeteners on gut health, but some studies suggest these forms of sweeteners could have negatively impact gut health.
3. Eat more fermented foods (and drinks)
Fermented foods and drinks are trending right along with gut health in the food/nutrition world and for good reason. Fermented foods are a natural source of beneficial probiotics.
Fermented foods have been used in cultures around the world for centuries, but as technology food storage progressed they have gone away in many developed parts of the world. However, now these ancient food preparation methods are coming back in trend for at least some part because they beneficial role they play in gut health.
Fermented foods that provide probiotics include: kimchi, sauerkraut or other fermented vegetables, kefir, yogurt and kombucha. Note that not all fermented foods have probiotics, as heating foods can destroy these beneficial bacteria. Therefore, depending on how fermented foods and drinks are made, they may have varying levels of probiotics.
Note that a varied diet with different fermented foods is ideal for optimal intake of probiotics. Taking a probiotic supplement does not have the same benefit. Research is ongoing for which strains and in what amounts are optimal for overall health. There are thousands of strains of gut bacteria.
Again, just like eating more fiber, this way to improve gut health is not new. Exercise, especially when in combination with a high fiber diet, has been shown to positively impact the bacteria in the gut. Exercise can have a role in increasing the diversity of bacteria in the gut which is associated with best health outcomes.
Increasing the diversity of the strains of bacteria in the gut is better than just having a smaller number of bacteria. Think of it like a wildflower field. If an insect wipes out one kind of plant, there are many other plants still thriving in the field. However, if the field has one type of crop, a pest who eats that crop will wipe out the whole field. Same idea for your gut bacteria. The more diversity, the better. Exercise can help with that.
5. Eat a variety of foods
How else can you promote a diverse amount of beneficial bacteria in the gut? Eat a lot of different foods. Again, not new nutrition advice for this one. Eating a varied diet can provide different fuel sources for bacteria in your gut. Probiotics strains don’t all eat the same food; they eat different types of food and fibers.
Therefore, eating a varied diet with a wide array of different, nutrient-dense foods is optimal for promoting healthy bacteria in your gut. So, instead of eating the same foods- which may even be healthy- challenge yourself to rotate in different grains, veggies, fruits, etc.