If I had to name just one buzz
word phrase in the health-mosphere of 2017 it would be “GUT HEALTH.” It’s HOT, sexy, cool, trendy…but with just cause too! So today we’re chatting about why and how you can eat your way to a healthier gut.
Unlike some other nutrition trends (*cough* gluten free *cough*) the topic of gut health isn’t going anywhere. It isn’t a fad, and it is only going to get MORE important as time goes on (I suspect!). Gut health has become SO popular because many medical conditions and symptoms are thought to be related to an unhealthy gut.
But what is your gut?! Why should you care? And what can you do about the current state of your gut?
For this 5th week of my 52 Weeks to See Your Life Nutritionally series I’m explaining why your gut is so important, how it relates to your health and a few tips on how you can eat your way to a healthier gut.
So let’s jump right in…
What is GUT HEALTH and Why Should You Care?
As gross as it sounds, you’re crawling with tiny little guys — aka your microbiome. Humans are “colonized” by various microbiota all over: your skin, reproductive tract, lungs, saliva, and yes, your GUT. This is NORMAL. Currently, researchers think that the average human gut contains 300 to 1,000 different species in this microbiome, but that the majority of this bacteria in our gut is from just 30 to 40 of these species.
Now just like we have the white hat microbiome ((anyone else excited that Scandal is back?!)), our gut can also be overrun by devilish bacteria that may cause gut dysbiosis. Gut dysbiosis is an imbalance of bacteria in the gut that may be caused by a poor diet or perhaps [necessary] antibiotic use. After all, antibiotics not only kill the bad bacteria you’re fighting off, but also the good.
So why does it matter? Recent research links gut health to everything from inflammatory diseases like heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, inflammatory bowel disease and obesity to irritable bowel syndrome, psychiatric disorders, how we handle STRESS, and even our circadian rhythm (ie: SLEEP!)! I mean if you can just get that gut in check, your appetite, hormones and metabolism may jump into high gear! Plus, if you’re of childbearing age, having a healthy gut contributes to passing good health to your [future] baby!
Even more…. Our gut is connected to our brain…you know that queasy feeling you get when you’re nervous/anxious/elated/excited??? There’s something called the gut-brain axis that is wildly fascinating.
And did you know that 60 to 80% of our immune system is in our gut???
YUP, catching the flu may very well be dependent on how healthy you keep your gut.
Promoting gut health, therefore, isn’t just trendy, but it is important in keeping you in a healthy, energized, disease-preventing state. And what’s better than feeling GOOD?!
Why Don’t I Have a Healthy Gut?
If you constantly feel bloated or sluggish, have food sensitivities and eczema or mood swings (ya know, outside of the ‘normal’ realm), your gut made need a little bit of extra TLC.
Even if you haven’t been on antibiotics (ever, or in a while), your gut may not be as healthy as you think because the SAD [Standard American Diet], Western diet that is high in saturated fat, refined sugar and processed food that is no bueno for your gut health. Studies have even shown that individuals who live in less developed countries and eat closer to nature or a more plant-based diet have drastically different [and healthier] gut microbiomes. WOAH! #nerdalert
So how can you eat your way to a healthier gut??
There is so much fascinating research and tons of resources out there about gut health (and more and more research is emerging DAILY!), but now that you briefly know why optimal gut health is so important, how are you going to work to get your gut healthy?
While you could pop a pill (if you know me, you know I do everyday since I was treated with antibiotics for an extended period of time), it is also important to include sources of prebiotics and probiotics in your diet. When we eat pre- and probiotics we’re likely absorbing them better than we do from pill popping.
What are PREBIOTICS and PROBIOTICS?
PREBIOTICS are essentially food for your microbiome. The good bacteria in your gut eat up the prebiotics and flourish.
Some examples of prebiotics include…
- Whole grains
On the flip side, PROBIOTICS are the good bacteria you want in your gut. They’re “live cultures.” Eating probiotic-rich foods helps populate your gut with the good guys, which promotes optimal gut health. Probiotics have been a HOT topic for some time now, so you’ve probably heard of foods like yogurt and kefir containing probiotics or “live active cultures,” but there are also lesser known foods that contain these beneficial cultures such as…
- Kombucha tea
The KEY to eating probiotics is to make sure the product contains enough to make a difference and that they’re stored properly, not destroyed during cooking or packaging.
Even MORE, you want to eat BOTH prebiotics and probiotics to promote a healthy gut community. (Yes, you want your gut to sing kumbayah.)
Here are some meal and snack ideas that can help you eat your way to a healthier gut (with prebiotics AND probiotics):
- Greek yogurt with sliced banana
- Vegetable stir fry (made with onions, garlic and asparagus) with tempeh and miso paste like this recipe.
- Kimchi quinoa bowls
- Prebiotic snack mix — like my Nut Free Snack Mix [I shared over on The Balanced Kitchen] that contains crispy roasted edamame and popcorn (a whole grain!).
As always, if you’ve been experiencing distressing tummy troubles and think you could use a gut health check, please consult with your personal physician and dietitian before making any drastic dietary changes or taking ANY supplements!
And FYI — this was a super fast 1,000 word overview on gut health. There is SO much more out there so please make sure to consult LEGITIMATE, science-based, peer-reviewed published resources, or feel free to reach out for more info!