Hippocrates once said that “all disease begins in the gut.” If that’s true, then so does your health. Believe it or not, the human body is comprised of tons of bacteria—over 40 trillion bacteria, to be exact—and most of that is located within your intestines. The scientific name for these gut bugs is “microbiota,” and the good ones are essential to keeping you happy and healthy.
Humans have something called a “gut brain,” too, which shows that there is an innate connection between our minds and our bellies. In other words, if something odd is going on with your gastrointestinal tract, you are probably having symptoms elsewhere, as well. So, how do you get better gut health?
It is all a matter of what you eat.
Why Gut Health Is Important
As mentioned earlier, the gut has trillions of bacteria dwelling inside. You need these bacteria to digest foods you consume properly and for the brain and body to function optimally. Numerous studies have stated that the gut microbes can affect how your body stores fat, how well you balance glucose and insulin, and even how you respond to the hormones that make you feel hungry or full.
Imagine what happens when the gut brain isn’t well. You would gain weight easier, have trouble burning it off and maintaining a healthy weight, and you might even have hormonal imbalances that affect you later in life. Additionally, scientists found that gut bacteria is connected to neurotransmitters that regulate mood, like GABA, dopamine, and serotonin.
How To Get A Healthy Microbiome
Obviously, you want to get a healthy gut. The question is how. How do you keep your digestive system healthy? How do you promote an environment that helps your gut microbiome flourish?
Take a hard look at the foods you have been eating. The foods you select are going to play a pivotal role in your health.
But even if you have been eating horribly, there is still hope. Poor diets can be turned around, and your resilient gut will bounce back, stronger than ever. After all, the body can repopulate the gut with new microbiota in as little as 24 hours!
So, it’s time to add foods for gut health to your grocery list.
The Best Foods For Gut Health
People often overthink what is best for their digestive system. You know you need fats, proteins, and carbohydrates. What is missing? Here’s a statistic for you: 97% of the American population gets the recommended amount of protein per day, but only 3% gets the recommended daily 40 grams of fiber.
You cannot have a healthy gut without fiber—soluble and insoluble.
Soluble fiber lower blood sugar levels and LDL cholesterol. Meanwhile, insoluble fiber cleans out the intestines and makes the GI tract more hospitable for friendly bacteria. In fact, a 1998 study from the Journal of Nutrition found that eating plenty of insoluble fiber could reduce the risk of intestinal inflammation, or diverticulitis, by 40%.
Therefore, the best foods for gut health revolve around fiber. Let’s have a look at what you should be eating regularly:
Asparagus and similar greens, like dandelion greens, are very rich in inulin. This helps with regularity and decreases bloating. Asparagus also contains prebiotics, a distinct chemical found in bacteria that act as a food source for probiotic bacteria. In other words, you feed your gut bacteria prebiotics to keep them fueled, happier, and healthier.
Asparagus tastes good with just about everything and is very versatile. Add it to salads, marinate and grill it, or toss it together with some whole grain pasta.
Sauerkraut & Kimchi
Any fermented vegetables like German sauerkraut or Korean kimchi is chock full of probiotics that are great for your gut. Fermented cabbage, which is presented in both variants, is high in energizing B vitamins and is excellent for absorbing iron.
A 2014 study from the Journal of Medicinal Food found that kimchi helps fight premature aging, constipation, cancer, and obesity.
Just remember that there is such a thing as too much sauerkraut and kimchi. Pickled vegetables are usually high in salt, which can contribute to higher rates of certain kinds of cancer and hypertension.
Any foods with rich colors like blueberries, pomegranate, beets, and other berries are usually very high in anthocyanins, an antioxidant. One of the benefits of anthocyanins is promoting healthier blood vessels. However, the human body is rather bad at absorbing anthocyanins directly. Instead, the bacteria in your gut consume the remnants of the antioxidant and reflect those benefits back to you.
Broccoli & Cauliflower
Not everyone is a fan of cruciferous vegetables like cauliflower and broccoli, but you should be eating them anyway. The health benefits can’t be denied. Research has also found that cruciferous vegetables also have anti-inflammatory effects that prevent irritation in your GI tract and clear out toxins.
Other vegetables of the cruciferous family include kale, cabbage, and Brussels sprouts; that means you can add these veggies to an Asian-inspired stir-fry, slow roast them, make a salad, or even steam them up.
Whether you choose the orange or purple sweet potato, you are consuming a food that is rich in prebiotics and fiber. Your gut will love you for that. Plus, if you have purple yams on your plate, you get an extra serving of anthocyanins, too.
There are hundreds of reasons to incorporate olive oil into your diet. First, olive oil helps with detoxifying the liver. The healthy fat works to reduce inflammation in the gut, too. The monounsaturated fatty acids present in olive oil (as well as avocado oil) work to soothe the gastrointestinal tract, and the extra fat helps with transporting probiotics to your intestines as well. This means you can breakdown nutrients faster and absorb more.
Who knew such a tiny seed can be packed with so much goodness? Flaxseeds are a cornucopia of phytonutrients, including lignans, a kind of antioxidant with anti-cancer properties. Flaxseeds are also high in soluble fiber. However, you shouldn’t bother with whole flaxseeds. Grind them up instead. The fiber will be more easily accessible for your gut microbiota to feed on.
Mushrooms are one of the best foods for your stomach, because they are rich in polysaccharides, a kind of sugar that your stomach bacteria need to grow. Studies have found that mushrooms not only spur good bacteria to proliferate, it also protects the intestines against infection and irritation.
There is a reason for the saying, “An apple a day keeps the doctor away.” One study found that apples have anti-inflammatory properties in the intestines, thanks to their antioxidants and fiber. Additionally, all that fiber gives the microbiota a healthy snack to enjoy. Another study even noted that apples contain prebiotics, and those prebiotics have an impact on cardiovascular health.
One food you think about immediately when talking about gut health and live and active cultures would be milk-based yogurt. Since yogurt is fermented dairy, it is one of the best sources of billions of good-for-your-gut bacteria strains. Eating yogurt regularly will boost the numbers of helpful Lactobacilli and Bifidobacteria in your gut by the thousands. Just be sure to avoid yogurts that are loaded with sugar and other artificial sweeteners, because that will do more harm than good.
Other substitutes include plant-based yogurt, cottage cheese with live and cultures, semi-soft cheeses, and kefir.
Do you like hummus? Then you’re in luck. Chickpeas, also known as garbanzo beans, are an excellent source of fiber and starch. Both fiber and starch work together in your stomach to slow the breakdown of food, promoting satiety while amplifying GI tract health.
Furthermore, research has found the chickpeas can prevent the overgrowth of bad bacteria strains that would upset your digestive system and lead to conditions like irritable bowel system.
Seaweed is quickly becoming a prized ingredient in many dishes throughout the world. You can have it baked, in soups, as part of a salad, or even wrapping up sashimi. But there’s a reason seaweed is considered a superfood and umami staple: It’s incredibly delicious and nutritious. In fact, seaweed is high in fiber, polysaccharides, and probiotics. Think about sprinkling some miso soup (another gut-friendly food) with dried kombu flakes or sprinkling some spirulina into your smoothies.
If you are a still having your doubts about seaweed, check this out: a study on Japanese women found that a high intake of seaweed raised good gut bacteria levels. Another similar study looked at the effects of alginate, a component of brown seaweed, and discovered the chemical could bolster gut mucus and promote satiety.
Also known as the Mexican turnip, jicama is an excellent substitute for white and yellow potatoes and parsnips. The crunchy vegetable is actually a root that is packed with wholesome fiber and flavor. A single cup of jicama contains an incredible 6 grams of fiber or about 15% of the recommended daily intake. It’s also been found that jicama helps with weight loss and blood sugar control, so if you are on a diet, you can add it to salads or bake up some jicama fries for a crunchy snack. The added bonus is that jicama also has large amounts of vitamin C.
What You Should Avoid
Having seen what kinds of foods promote gut health, let’s have a look at foods that will cause havoc in the intestines.
Over the past few years, there have been revelations about artificial sweeteners and what a terrible effect they have on our bodies. One of those negative consequences including killing off friendly gut microbiota. While many studies have focused on animal test subjects, the ones that used humans as well found that the impact of artificial sweeteners was the same for both test groups—upset blood glucose levels and impaired insulin response.
While sugar is needed by the body, if you eat too much white, simple sugars that are nutritionally devoid, you are creating an environment where the bad bacteria grows instead. The bad bacteria, like Candida yeast, will start to overcrowd the good microbiota, causing health problems.
The same issue occurs with fried foods. Not only is the bacteria in your intestines devastated, but the bad bacteria that is linked to weight loss problems will also stick around.
What About Probiotic Supplements?
Sure, a probiotic supplement can be a healthy addition if you are having problem adding the above-listed foods to your diet. Plus, probiotic supplements have been found to treat irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), colitis, acne, diarrhea, and even eczema—all because the microbiome is boosted.
However, probiotic supplements don’t work for everyone.
The reason is that the majority of friendly gut bacteria are effective in the lowest regions of the gastrointestinal tract. In order to reach this section of the intestine, the bacteria has to survive the acids of the stomach.
You need to eat food to use it as a buffer for the probiotics to pass through your stomach unscathed. Otherwise, you may just be wasting your money. So why not just eat probiotic-rich foods?
Be a Happier Human With a Healthy Gut
Are you ready for a happier, healthier gut? By eating the foods on this list more often, you will find that many of your stomach woes will start to disappear, and you will have more energy. After all, when the trillions of bacteria in your gut are appeased, your body can function much better than ever before. The best part is that all the foods are absolutely delicious and healthy, so you will not only eat better and feel better, but you might end up dropping some unwanted pounds too!
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