You may not realize (or appreciate) it, but your gut is responsible for keeping your body in working order. Digesting the foods you eat and absorbing the available nutrients from that food, the gut has a critical job of supporting your body’s functions. This often forgotten organ even houses 70% of the immune system! Beyond digestive and immune functions, the gut also supports your energy production, metabolism, skin and mental health, hormone balance, and toxin elimination. And, what keeps your gut operational? Bacteria.
Trillions of both good and bad bacteria live throughout your body, but the ones in your gut may have the biggest impact on your health and well-being. These bacteria mostly live in your intestines and colon, lining the walls of your entire digestive system, which is about 30 feet long. Now that is a lot of ground to cover.
In your digestive system, your gut bacteria interacts with other organisms like viruses and fungi, which together creates your own special mix of bacteria. This bacteria is called your microbiota, which is unique like a fingerprint. Determined by your genetic history, diet and lifestyle, microbiota are linked to your probability of things like obesity, diabetes, depression, and colon cancer. Therefore, as your gut bacteria changes, so does your overall health. Since you can’t change your genetics, it’s probably best to start with your diet and lifestyle. Why? Because it is critical to your health and well-being.
Keep scrolling for foods that are bad (and good) for your gut health.
Emulsifiers are food additives such as lecithin, mono- and diglycerides, polysorbates, carrageenan, and the “gums” that are prevalent in processed foods. They keep ingredients (like oils and fats) from separating, improve the texture of certain food, and extend shelf life. Research shows that emulsifiers can affect your gut health, by increasing inflammation and developing signs of metabolic syndrome (conditions that includes obesity, high blood sugar and insulin resistance).
The nightshade family includes foods such as potatoes, peppers (both sweet and hot peppers), tomatoes, eggplant, and goji berries. What these foods have in common is that they produce glycoalkaloids, a natural insect repellent that can be toxic to humans in large amounts. Many other fruits and vegetables contain this chemical compound, but not enough to be toxic. However, people with inflammatory conditions (including irritable bowel syndrome, arthritic conditions, and autoimmune disorders) may be sensitive to even small amounts. There is not much research to support the claims of connection between glycoalkaloids and inflammation, but if you believe you have a sensitivity, cooking your nightshades can lower the glycoalkaloid content by 40 to 50 percent.
Sugar — it goes by many names. It includes refined sugars, low-calorie sugar substitutes, high fructose corn syrup, natural or artificial sweeteners. It is true that certain forms of sugar are better than others, however any derivative of sugar in excess can affect your gut health. For women, it is recommended to have no more than 25 grams of sugar per day; for men, 38 grams of sugar. Studies show that excess sugar can increase bad gut bacteria, cause dysbiosis and inflammation. Take a huge step in restoring your gut health by limiting your overall sugar intake, but that doesn’t mean you can not #treatyoself.
Prebiotics and Probiotics
Together, prebiotics and probiotics can help support digestive and immune system health. But, though they sound similar, prebiotics and probiotics have very different roles in the gut. Prebiotics are the non-digestible part of foods — the dietary fiber that acts as a fertilizer, remains undigested, and is fermented when it reaches the large colon. This fermentation process feeds good bacteria to your gut. Probiotics are the live bacteria that are found in fermented foods. They help balance your good and bad bacteria to keep your body working the way it should.
Fermented foods are probiotics that help your body digest, absorb, and get better use of the foods you are eating. It can be found in foods grow good bacteria during the fermentation process. Yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi, miso soup, and kombucha are great sources of this good bacteria.
Did you know only 3% of Americans are getting the recommended 40 grams of fiber they need per day? Data shows that the average American’s daily dietary fiber intake is 16 grams per day. That is less than half of the recommended intake. Why do we need to eat more fiber? Because new research shows that fiber encourages the growth of gut bacteria. The microbiota in the gut extracts nutrients, vitamins, and energy from the fiber. This is vital in reducing the symptoms of diabetes, decrease inflammation, improve immune function, and help with weight loss.
Concerned about your gut health? Try some of these tips! Making the right changes can make a world of difference for your gut bacteria and your overall health.