The health of our gut plays a critical role in our overall health. Every day researchers are learning more about the importance of gut health, especially the important role that beneficial bacteria play in our well-being. If you don’t tend to these gut microbes, or consider them in your dietary choices, it may lead to negative health consequences down the line.
Why Is Gut Health Important?
Within your gut there are trillions of microorganisms that collectively make up what is known as your “gut microbiome.” These small creatures perform many important tasks, such as helping us break down and digest food, supporting the health of our immune system, assisting in the production of important hormones, and even influencing our mood and feelings of happiness.
Ideally, we have a ratio of about 90% “good” bacteria and 10% “bad” bacteria in the gut. This balance is critical for our gut health and for carrying out the necessary roles of the gut microbiome. Unfortunately, however, the average person is closer to the inverse of this ratio, and has about 10% “good” bacteria and 90% “bad” bacteria.
A gut overrun with harmful bacteria and other microorganisms such as parasites, Candida, or harmful gut pathogens, can lead to some serious health issues such as leaky gut syndrome, gut inflammation, small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), and much more. These health issues are often at the root of many other chronic conditions, and if we don’t bring our gut back into balance, we are bound to suffer ill health.
A healthy gut will digest and absorb the foods you consume so that the body can use all of these important nutrients for functioning. An unhealthy gut has difficulty breaking down and absorbing nutrients from food, and can lead to malnutrition and a range of other problems.
The lining of your gut is critical to the proper absorption of these nutrients, as well as the efficient removal of waste and protection from harmful pathogens. When the gut lining becomes permeable, food particles and toxins may leak out from the gut into the bloodstream and can trigger an inflammatory response in the body.
This inflammatory response can cause gas and bloating, brain fog, fatigue, acid reflux, joint pain, irregular bowel movements, insomnia, skin issues like eczema and psoriasis, and even mood disorders like anxiety and depression. Many modern diseases have been associated with poor digestive function and leaky gut, including inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), obesity, autoimmune disorders, heart disease and diabetes.
As you can see, the health of your gut is critical. Gut health lies at the root of our health, and if your gut is out of balance, it can quickly lead to many other more serious health concerns. To understand what heals and maintains gut health, it is helpful to first know what harms it.
What Causes Poor Gut Health?
Your gut microbiome is highly sensitive. It is a living community of bacteria that is constantly changing. Important factors like diet, lifestyle, and stress levels play a major role in the state of your gut and your gut health. There are also many factors that can worsen your gut health, and its important to be aware of them.
Some of the biggest causes of poor gut health include:
- Cigarette smoke
- Processed foods
- Lack of Prebiotics in the Diet
- Not eating a diverse range of foods
- Lack of regular physical activity
- Not getting enough sleep
- Too much stress
- Parasitic infections
- Candida overgrowth
You may have noticed that a lot of the causes of poor gut health are things that the majority of people do or experience every day. Cigarettes and alcohol are common substances used recreationally, antibiotics are commonly prescribed pharmaceuticals, processed foods are eaten in abundance, stress and poor sleep quality are regular occurrences for many, and a lack of physical exercise is certainly common.
Along with this trend in lifestyle and dietary habits, there is a dramatic increase in various digestive disorders in the United States and other western countries. Diseases like Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), Leaky Gut, Crohn’s, Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO), Candidiasis, and others are on the rise.
It is so important that we take good care of our gut health—especially if you follow or have followed any of the things in the list above.
What Causes Good Gut Health?
There are many factors that determine your gut health. Some of the key factors include:
- Stress levels
- Exposure to pathogens
Among these, diet is among the most critical, and among one of the factors that we are constantly influencing with every meal. It is worth mentioning that there is no “perfect diet.” Everyone has different dietary needs based on a number of things, such as their current state of health, their food sensitivities, level of activity, genetics, lifestyle, environment, etc. Because of these differences, each of us also has a gut microbiome that is unique to us. Your microbiome is like a bacterial fingerprint that is specific to you and you alone.
For this reason, and also because there is so much about our gut microbiome that we have yet to fully understand, it’s difficult to say exactly what makes up a healthy gut microbiome. Generally speaking, however, a healthy gut itself has a barrier that is effective at keeping the contents of the gut, such as its community of bacteria, undigested food particles and toxins, from escaping into the bloodstream. A healthy gut has several other important jobs, including helping to fight off infection, as well as performing all of its usual digestive and regulatory functions, like absorbing and synthesizing nutrients that are essential to keeping your body running at its best.
Simply put, gut health isn’t so simple. However, the general attributes of a healthy gut involve a healthy intestinal barrier (gut lining), a diverse community of microorganisms with the presence of significantly more beneficial bacteria than harmful bacteria, low levels of toxins and inflammation, and no issues with regular digestive functions.
How Do You Improve Gut Health?
The best way to approve your gut health is to take a holistic approach. Start, first of all, by removing or limiting the factors that contribute to poor gut health—such as the factors listed above. Next, begin to incorporate a more well-rounded health routine into your daily life by focusing on healthy diet, exercise, sleep and low stress levels. Pay careful attention to your food choices and the quality and quantity of the food you eat and avoid common food allergens. You may want to try out an elimination diet to see if you have any food sensitivities. If so, you’ll want to keep these foods out of your diet. Lastly, aim to focus on incorporating more foods that are known to be good for gut health, such as high fiber foods and some of the gut healing foods that are mentioned in the following section.
Best Foods for Gut Health
Fermented foods can be some of the best foods for your gut. A fermented food is a food that goes through a natural process where its microorganisms like bacteria and yeast convert the sugar into acid. This process promotes the growth of probiotics, or good bacteria, in your gut. As mentioned earlier, keeping the right balance of good bacteria in your gut is essential to gut health. Probiotic rich foods help to restore the balance of bacteria in your gut, making them one of the best foods to eat for gut health.
Examples of fermented foods include sauerkraut, kimchi, miso, beet kvass, pickles, yogurt and kefir. Perhaps the easiest way to restore good gut bacteria is by supplementing with a good multi-strain probiotic as this will contain a balanced ration of bacteria strains known to benefit overall gut health.
Probiotics help with many functions in the body, including digestion and immune support, and they have even been shown to relieve symptoms in individuals with more serious gut issues like IBS, Crohn’s disease, and ulcerative colitis. It’s important to keep in mind that the benefits of fermentation disappear when the food is heated, so always be sure to eat these fermented foods raw to reap all of the health benefits.
- Chia Seeds
Fiber is essential to good gut health, and chia seeds are an excellent source of dietary fiber. In fact, chia seeds are 40% fiber by weight, making them one of the best source of fiber in the world. Fiber is an important part of a healthy diet and supports many different body systems. Dietary fiber is the part of plant-based food that mostly passes through your digestive system without breaking down or being digested. There are two types of fiber: soluble and insoluble fiber. Soluble fiber dissolves in water, and includes plant pectin and gums. Insoluble fiber doesn’t dissolve in water. It includes plant cellulose and hemicellulose.
Chia seeds are high in insoluble fiber. Insoluble fiber attracts water into your stool, making it softer and easier to pass with less strain on your bowel. Insoluble fiber can help promote bowel health and regularity. It also supports insulin sensitivity, and, like soluble fiber, may help reduce your risk for diabetes.
- Leafy Greens
Leafy greens are a wonderful food for gut health because they contain sulfoquinovose, a type of natural sugar molecule that has been shown to act as an energy source for good bacteria in your gut, fueling the growth of healthy microbes and creating the optimal conditions for your gut to thrive. They also have plenty of fiber and important minerals like magnesium, folate and vitamin C, which all contribute to a healthy digestive system.
Avocados are an amazing, nutrient-rich health food with many diverse benefits. They contain vitamins B-6, C, E, and K, as well as plenty of magnesium, and omega-3s. They also contain high amounts of potassium and fiber, both of which help to keep your digestive system moving, helping prevent bloating and constipation, and maintaining a healthy gut. Avocados are also low in fructose, a type of sugar that many people often have trouble digesting, which can lead to gas, bloating, and overall stomach discomfort.
Ginger is another excellent food for gut health. Ginger has long been praised as a potent carminative, a substance that is known to sooth the intestinal tract and promote the elimination of excess gas from the digestive system. Ginger helps prevent the buildup of gases in the gastrointestinal system and also breaks up and gets rid of the intestinal gases that can cause pressure, cramping, and the urge to vomit.
Ginger also helps food move through the digestive system, which further prevents the buildup of gas. Researchers theorize that the spice actually stimulates the digestive tract. Scientists aren’t exactly sure why, but in some studies, ginger is associated with an increase in the digestive enzymes trypsin and pancreatic lipase. Plus, ginger is linked to elevated saliva flow and improved gastric motility. Together, these factors keep food moving through the system so that problems like fermentation in the gut or gas buildup are less likely to occur.
Apples are great for gut health because they contain both soluble and insoluble fiber. Apples also contain pectin, a type of fiber that acts as a prebiotic. This means it feeds the good bacteria in your gut. Your small intestine doesn’t absorb fiber during digestion. Instead, it goes to your colon, where it can promote the growth of good bacteria. It also turns into other helpful compounds that circulate back through your body.
Papayas are a great food for digestion and gut health as they contain an enzyme called papain that is well known for its ability to aid digestion. Papaya is also high in fiber and water content, both of which help to prevent constipation and promote regularity and a healthy digestive tract.
Gut health is important for our overall health. Unfortunately, however, many people today suffer from poor gut health and numerous gut-related health issues. To remedy these issues, it’s important to know what may be contributing to poor gut health and to eliminate these factors immediately.
Next, it is critical that anyone interested in improving their gut health focuses heavily on their diet. The food you eat each day can either contribute to healing your gut or harming it. If you are looking to improve your gut health, try adding some or all of these foods into your daily routine to reap their gut healing benefits.