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Compromised gut health is linked to many physical and mental health issues, as studies have found, knowing that human health is affected by what we eat and drink. Diet modification is one of the easiest ways to maintain a healthy gut. If you’re interested to know how to make the needed changes in your dietary habits but you don’t know where to start, then read on. Let’s focus on the nutrients and foods that have been found to promote a healthy gut and support digestive health, as well as some tips to give your gut the care it deserves starting today.
Why Gut Health Is Important
You may probably be asking what makes for a healthy gut. The answer lies in your gut microbiome. Living in your gastrointestinal tract are microorganisms collectively called the gut microbiome. Bacteria, viruses, fungi, microbes, and trillions more, comprise the gut microbiome, most of which are good for human health while others may cause harm. Ideally, the more diverse this microbial community is, the better because such composition helps lower your risk of diseases.
Dr. Elliot Dinetz, a double board certified in Family Medicine and Functional Medicine, characterises the gut microbiome as “one of the most important yet least understood systems in our body.” Much research still needs to be done to fully understand the gut microbiome, but what’s sure is that it plays a crucial role in many aspects of human health, from digestion to immunity and metabolism.
In maintaining this diversity, what we eat or drink plays an important role. According to Dr. Dinetz, the type of food or beverage that we put into our body could modify “the organisms in our microbiome right down throughout the colon.” In short, food “can either promote health or on the other hand lead to disease,” he adds.
Artichokes, blueberries, and apples are some examples of foods that are good for your gut because they help promote the growth of the beneficial bacteria Bifidobacteria, according to studies. Bifidobacteria is good for human health because it also helps prevent intestinal inflammation. In contrast, bad bacteria, as the name connotes, may cause illnesses like ulcerative colitis and irritable bowel syndrome.
Registered Dietitian Nutritionist Sue-Ellen Anderson-Haynes also points to diet as one of the factors that can affect the composition, or diversity, and function of the gut microbiome. She writes, for instance, that consuming too much processed foods– which typically comprise the Western diet– and dairy desserts have been linked to gut species associated with blood sugar, cholesterol, and inflammation– all of which contribute to the development of serious diseases, including diabetes and stroke.
She adds that a person who eats a diet rich in fibre, minerals, and a wide range of nutrients, such as vegetables, fish, and eggs, leads to the growth of gut species that can help prevent some chronic diseases. This proves all the more how crucial a nutritious, balanced diet is to a healthy gut microbiome and, by extension, to overall human health and wellness.
Steps to Improve Your Gut Health Naturally
A diverse gut microbiome is very much connected to our dietary habits, and it is never too late to modify your diet for optimal gut function. Remember though that, when making dietary changes, do it gradually to know what is good for you and ensure that they stick.
Here are 5 easily applicable steps that you can do to modify your diet naturally for a healthier gut.
1. Choose a Diet Rich in Fibre
Fibre-rich foods help regulate bowel movements, prevent constipation, helps in blood sugar control and aids in reducing the risk of colorectal cancer. If you’re into managing your weight, fibre makes you feel full longer even if you’re eating only small amounts of food.
An article reviewed by Dietitian Jessica Ball says that fibre makes your gut bacteria happy so to speak. Gut bacteria, it states, especially loves to feast on these two kinds of fibre: fructan fibres found in plant foods and insoluble cellulose fibre found in broccoli stems, carrot peels, and asparagus stalks.
2. Learn About Probiotics and Prebiotics
To improve gut health, it's important to nurture good bacteria and “starve” the bad bacteria. Probiotic foods and prebiotic foods are recommended to have a healthy gut microbiota.
According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, probiotics are good bacteria that may not only boost your immune response but also help "your body's community of microorganisms return to a healthy condition after being disturbed." Furthermore, one study has revealed that probiotic supplements may help ease the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome and inflammatory bowel disease.
Healthy probiotic foods include sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir, and natto. Yoghurt and other fermented foods are rich in probiotics - the "good" live bacteria and yeasts that can enhance digestion, strengthen the immune system, and prevent harmful infections, according to Harvard Health. If you plan to include yoghurt in your diet, choose plain and unsweetened varieties that have live and active cultures. Avoid added sugars as they can adversely affect your gut health.
Prebiotic foods, on the other hand, are vital to promoting the growth of healthy bacteria in your gut. Prebiotic foods are also rich in special types of fibre that you need to maintain a balanced gut microbiome. Dietary fibre, which is classified as soluble and insoluble fibre, can contribute to your bowel health, thus reducing your risk of constipation, haemorrhoids, and colorectal cancer, according to Mayo Clinic. Prebiotic foods include onions, garlic, asparagus, bananas, and apples, and other fruits and vegetables.
3. Limit Your Intake of Processed and Refined Foods
You should avoid meals that can irritate the digestive system like processed and refined foods as you shift to healthier dietary habits. The reason behind this is that processed foods, in particular, are high in sugar, salt, and unhealthy fats, which can disrupt the balance of bacteria in your gut. Harvard Health notes that canned foods, salted-meat products, soda, sugary and packaged snack foods, and instant noodle soups, among others, may cause inflammation and diseases.
4. Diversify Your Diet
A diverse, balanced diet can help promote a healthy gut microbiome. Make it a point to eat a wide variety of fruits and vegetables like spinach and kale to improve your immune function and digestion and protect your overall health. Leafy greens also contain antioxidants that can help reduce gut inflammation.
5. Try the Elimination Diet
Certain foods may be causing you some digestive issues. It pays to watch for foods that may be potentially causing these problems. What you can do is to remove foods that you suspect to be causing some issues for a period of time and then gradually introduce them to your diet. Pay attention if your symptoms have improved. However, talk to your doctor or a registered dietitian first before deciding to eliminate any food from your diet for good to ensure you’re not missing your nutritional requirements.
Diet is a key factor to your digestive health. With nutritious foods, you’re helping promote good, beneficial bacteria and prevent digestive issues, such as constipation. Also, avoid foods that could irritate your digestive system. By applying the 5 tips above, you can start feeling better and enjoying better gut health now.
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