Written by: Kimberly Roberto
Gut health is a hot topic in nutritional news lately for many reasons. One of them is that so many Americans suffer from digestive issues that they seek help to alleviate their symptoms. Gut health plays a much more significant role than most people realize.
Did you know?
- 70- 80% of the cells of your immune system are located in your digestive tract. (1)
- Your microbiome is home to about thirty-nine trillion bacteria and 500 different species. (2)
- Your gut and brain are connected through the gut-brain axis, both physically and biochemically. For instance, the feel-good hormone serotonin is made mainly in the gut. GABA, a neurotransmitter that reduces fear and anxiety, is also made primarily in the gut. (3)
- Your gut is the body’s largest endocrine organ and uses more than 30 hormones to function correctly. (4)
- The lining of your intestinal tract has more surface area than your skin. It is the largest interface with the outside world and is very susceptible to interference.
Test your digestive health
- Do you experience gas/bloating frequently?
- Do you experience heartburn or indigestion frequently?
- Do you experience high/low energy levels throughout the day or crave carbohydrates or sweets?
- Do you have a bowel movement less than once a day?
- Do you experience frequent constipation or diarrhea?
- Do you have skin issues like psoriasis, eczema, acne, or rashes?
- Have you taken antibiotics?
If you answered “yes” to any of the above…you need to take better care of your gut.
Top Gut Health Foods
Healthy fats like avocado and avocado oil, coconut oil, milk and meat, olive oil, nuts and seeds, fats from naturally raised animal products, and grass-fed butter are critical to good health and contribute to your gut health as well. Omega 3 fatty acids help support a diversity of the microbes in the gut, can help keep harmful bacteria at bay, and increase the production of anti-inflammatory compounds. (5) Good fats include avocados and avocado oil, coconut oil, flax seeds, walnuts, chia seeds, and wild-caught fatty fish (especially anchovies, sardines and mackerel).
Probiotic-Rich Foods/Fermented Foods
Naturally fermented foods are rich in probiotics which are incredibly beneficial to your gut. Fermented foods contain Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium, common types of good bacteria. They are a healthy addition to every diet. Healthy fats should be eaten with every meal to help digestion and absorption of vitamins and minerals from the food. These foods include sauerkraut, kimchi, miso, natto, tempeh, kefir, and kombucha. Beware of added sugar in kefir and kombucha.
Cultures worldwide and for many ages have turned to bone broths for optimal health. When it comes to gut health, bone broth packs a punch. Bone broth contains high levels of glycine, which helps heal the gut lining and reduces inflammation. The gelatin present in broth is a protein known to help digest food. Bone broth also contains high levels of glutamine, which helps prevent bacteria from making their way to the small intestine.
A simple way to prepare homemade bone broth and maximize the health benefits is to start with free-range chicken bones or grass-fed beef bones. They should be roasted in the oven, combined with filtered water, and simmered for 12-24 hours. The sign of a great bone broth is that it turns gelatinous when cooled. (6)
Polyphenols are present in many plants. They make their way to the digestive tract, where the gut bacteria can metabolize them into bioactive compounds that positively affect the gut and other mechanisms. “…the modes of action could be through modulation of intestinal barrier function, innate and adaptive immune response, signaling pathways, as well as the ability to modify gut microbiota composition.” (7) Polyphenols can be found in the highest concentrations in berries, cocoa powder, coffee and tea, spinach, onions, olives, nuts, and flaxseeds.
Worst Foods For your Gut
Sugar and Refined Carbohydrates
Sugar can not only cause gut issues, but it can also exacerbate existing sugar. For example, sugar feeds the “bad” or pathogenic bacteria and candida. Sugar also compromises the delicate mucus layer that lines the large intestine. According to a 2020 study done on mice, sugar “showed significant changes in the microbial population inside the gut.” (8)
Many people turn to artificial sweeteners like sucralose (Splenda) or aspartame (Nutrasweet/Equal) to avoid sugar. Unfortunately, this is a poor choice for your gut health. The title of a 2018 study was “Epidemiological studies indicate that the use of artificial sweeteners doubles the risk for Crohn’s disease.” Artificial sweeteners can decimate the good bacteria in your gut while allowing the proliferation of harmful bacteria, even with limited use. Artificial sweeteners should be avoided altogether.
Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) and Glyphosate (RoundUp)
Genetically modified organisms have become commonplace in America. One of the essential characteristics of GMO food is that it can withstand glyphosate spraying (RoundUp) without being killed. Glyphosate is a known toxin and has been the subject of lawsuits. Recently, a group of researchers studied the effect of glyphosate on the gut and found, “Both the glyphosate and the Roundup did have an effect on gut bacterial population composition.
We know that our gut is inhabited by thousands of different types of bacteria and a balance in their composition, and more important in their function, is crucial for our health. So anything that disturbs, negatively disturbs, the gut microbiome… has the potential of causing ill health because we go from balanced functioning that is conducive to health to imbalanced functioning that may lead to a whole spectrum of different diseases.