The best foods to improve your gut health
There’s a Party in Your Gut: Who’s Invited?
We’ve talked immunity; we’ve talked mental health; and we’ve talked fitness and nutrition. Now, it’s time we talked about an issue that’s core to your health. But be forewarned … it’s going to take guts to face the issue ...
That’s right: It’s time to talk about the lower intestine -- the very reason for the invention of our Good Gut shot.
If someone asks you, “What is the most important organ in the body?” You might chirp, “The Brain!” or, “The heart!” Although the brain and the heart are both absolutely essential organs, your gut health is an unsung, and very important part of your wellness.
In fact, the gut may be the most important part of your body when it comes to health. The proper functioning of this humble organ is related to so many facets of our wellbeing that it is hard to overstate its importance. Good gut health is linked to the functioning of the brain and nervous system, the immune system, the heart, the endocrine system, and pretty much everything else, too. In other words, gut health is crucial for…everything.
You might say that the brain is a bit like the kid who throws raging parties when her parents leave town -- she only thinks she’s in control. The state of your gut, on the other hand, is like the partygoers themselves … will they trash the solarium? Will the couch wind up in the pool? It’s really up to them.
When it comes to your gut, you have to be careful about who you invite and be sure to bring along a few bouncers (you know, probiotics and prebiotics).
The Gut Microbiome
Biome chika Biome Biome. There is a name for this party in your gut: It’s called the gut microbiome. The gut microbiome is a collective label for the bacteria and other microorganisms living in your intestine. And it is a big party with a digestive system bacteria guest list of about 100 trillion. In fact, there are more bacterial and microbial cells (your total microbiome) in and on your whole body than there are ‘human’ cells.
As with any party, there are some bad apples. (Not literally, though. Apples, like black eyed peas, are good for gut health). But seriously, while some of the organisms that enter our body are harmful, many are essential for our health.
When we say ‘gut health,’ we’re actually talking about the swinging, harmonious good time of the gut microbiome, i.e. all the little bacteria and critters living in our lower intestine. Let’s be clear: The bacteria are in there, shimmying away, aren’t going anywhere. The question is, what kind of bacteria is in your gut? How many of a given kind? In other words: What kind of party are we going to have?
The connections between gut health and the health of the brain, heart, and the endocrine system are still being studied. The general consensus is that, all else being equal, a healthy gut means a healthy you.
There is also some evidence that the gut microbiome plays a role in promoting good cholesterol and reducing bad cholesterol. Evidence also suggests that good gut health helps control blood sugar, regulate the central nervous system (therefore promoting a healthy brain), regulate weight, and promote the health of the intestine itself.
Fun fact: 90% of your body’s serotonin is produced in your lower intestine. This suggests that a healthy gut might, for example, reduce symptoms of depression and help determine our risk for certain cancers. Even though the jury is still out on the specifics, the broad strokes are pretty clear: Healthy gut = healthy you. And that also means that a decrease in good gut bacteria can cause digestive issues, sugar cravings, poor sleep, and more …
How to promote gut health
Now that you’re convinced that gut health is a thing and it actually matters, you might be wondering what to do about it. How does one, exactly, throw a healthy gut party?
Many of the choices that positively impact our overall health also naturally improve our gut health. For example, reducing stress, getting enough rest, and drinking plenty of water all help contribute to your gut health. The idea is to eat and drink things that regulate and promote healthy levels of all the different microorganisms that are already in there. Here are the VIPs you need to invite to keep the good gut party raging.
Gut health regulators
“Who let that guy in?” Admit it, it was you. He texted, you answered, and now he’s flipped over the punch bowl and broken mom’s Hummels.
We’re talking about sugar, highly processed snacks, and artificial sweeteners (Hello!? 1994 called and wants their fake sweets back). These ‘foods’ are like fertilizer for bad gut bacteria. And sometimes we just can’t say no. But that’s why we need to keep fermented foods like kefir, yogurt, kimchi and sauerkraut within reach. They contain lactobacilli -- good ‘bouncer’ bacteria that will reduce levels of bad bacteria. And for those of us who forget to remember these goldstar items at the grocery, subscribing to Good Gut is a really good, and easy way to keep important gut health regulators on hand.
Probiotics are good for gut health
Probiotics — you’ve seen them in little glass jars at Whole Foods and now, at last, you can pretend to know what they are! Now, the good bacteria living in your gut are like the besties at the party. They are your ride-or-dies and stay by your side all throughout the night, no matter how terrible your punchlines are. Probiotics on the other hand, are just passing through. They are also good bacteria, but they only show up for guest appearances.
There is evidence to suggest that the addition of probiotics to our diet may help with heart, skin and mental health conditions. You should know that probiotic supplements do vary in effectiveness, and people with some medical conditions should not take them. Make sure to always consult your doctor before implementing a regimen of any sort, and always be sure to read the fine print on those wholesome-looking bottles at the health food store.
You can get a healthy dose of probiotics from our Good Gut shot and you can also get them from foods.
Foods to improve your gut health
- Sourdough bread
- Cottage cheese
- Miso Soup
We can also get them from some foods (including many of the aforementioned lactobaciili laden fermented foods) like yogurt, buttermilk, sourdough bread, cottage cheese, kombucha, tempeh, kimchi, sauerkraut, and miso soup.
Assuming you are an ice cold scientist-bouncer, it’s probably safe to say that you have admitted only the chicest bacteria to your party. The real designer stuff. This is where prebiotics come in. Prebiotics are like the $100,000 a night Vegas DJ that keeps the club packed…but with health!
Prebiotics are like food for the good bacteria in your gut. This mostly includes fibers that you (your human-celled human intestine) cannot digest, but which your gut bacteria can. This good bacteria fuel can be found in many foods that you should already be eating, such as beans, whole grains, fruits and garlic.
Incorporating both probiotics and prebiotics into your diet is a recipe for really good gut health.
Mixing up the gut health guest list
A happy gathering includes and accommodates diverse personalities for a healthy mix. Same goes for your microbiome if you want to keep it happy. Add a supplement. Drink a daily shot. And eat things that promote a diverse and healthy population of bacteria.
Foods that promote diverse gut health
- Fiber-rich legumes
- Many fruits
- Whole grains — these also contain beta-glucan which is a prebiotic!
The party in your gut never stops
Like Studio 54, the party in your gut never stops. Unlike Studio 54, the party in your gut will be wholesome and beneficial to your health if you feed it good stuff.Just remember— eat fermented and probiotic foods, drink water, and get 8 hours of good sleep each night. And for good measure, go ahead and add Good Gut to your routine. Then? Party on, tiny dancer. You earned it.