Popular books like Wheat Belly and quantified selfers like Ben Greenfield are drawing more and more attention to gut health and the different factors that impact it. Why? Because the health of your gut is critical to maintaining more than just gastrointestinal function.
When it comes to being a healthy and functioning individual and the food we eat, how does this impact your quest for optimal health and being your best self?
What’s in my gut?
Before we get into the science, let’s start with food. Food is a key player in feeding the bacteria that reside in your intestine, because your digestive system is teeming with them.
Now let’s talk about your small intestine: This area of your body breaks down the food and absorbs much of its nutrients. Inside your small intestines is a combination of good and potentially harmful bacteria. When it comes to creating a healthy gut, the goal is for these two to stay balanced – balance is key because the wall lining of your small intestines is a thin (very thin) layer that acts as a protective barrier as bacteria passes through it. Too much bad bacteria can compromise this thin lining. Once compromised, bad bacteria will be absorbed, thus allowing non nutritive materials to slip into your bloodstream, infecting your sensitive intestine.
Unfortunately, daily nutrition is often simplified to just math, with the emphasis on calories in = calories out.
How is it all connected, you ask?
4 Consequences of an Unhealthy Gut
1. It impacts absorption. A balanced diet – for balanced bacteria – is necessary for proper absorption of nutrients. Without proper nutrient absorption, your body can become deficient. Minerals like zinc and magnesium play an important role in keeping your body healthy and functioning. Possible signs that you’re deficient range from weakness and fatigue to muscle cramps and constipation – click here to read about “7 Minerals and Signs You Could Be Deficient.”
2. It lowers your immune system. Almost 70 percent of the immune system is regulated in your gut. As mentioned, when the small intestine lining is compromised, the non nutritive materials can slip into your bloodstream. The end result of this is your immune system launches a response, resulting in inflammation. Inflammation is the underlying theme in preventable chronic conditions such as diabetes, heart diseases, and autoimmune diseases.
3. It impacts your digestive health. As mentioned in livestrong.com, your digestive tract relies on a variety of foods moving through the intestines for nutrient absorption. For example, eating high amounts of fat can slow digestive system function. Not getting enough insoluble fiber–we’ve added a sample list below–can increase constipation.
4. It may control your weight. As featured by the Mayo Clinic, studies are connecting bacteria to its effect on energy absorption. “Researchers have identified a difference in the types of bacteria found in a lean person’s gut versus those that live in the gut of someone who is obese. The amount of energy is small, but researchers wonder if over time this could be a factor in weight maintenance.”
How to eat for a healthier gut
Eat the foods that promote good gut health
Two key words to help you here: “Fiber” and “Fermented”
- Fiber: As mentioned in LiveStrong.com, good gut health is associated with adequate fiber and micronutrients, found in foods such as dry beans (cooked soybeans, lentils, split peas and kidney, pinto, black, lima, garbanzo, navy and Great Northern bean), and vegetables and fruits (cooked spinach, artichokes, collard greens, broccoli, cauliflower, pears, raspberries and strawberries, brussels sprouts, asparagus, cabbage. Note: The types of fruits and vegetables will vary, depending on whether or not you’re FODMAP-sensitive.
- Fermented: Specifically, foods with probiotics. Probiotics are live bacteria and yeasts aka “the good” microorganisms. Probiotics already exist naturally in your gut. According to the Cleveland Clinic, probiotics assist in decreasing the number of “bad” bacteria in your gut that can cause infections or inflammation, replacing the body’s “good” bacteria, and restoring the body’s “good” versus “bad” bacterial balance, which then helps to keep your body functioning properly. Some foods with probiotics include kombucha, miso, tempeh, kefir, kimchi, sauerkraut, and pickles. The most well known food product that contains probiotics is probably yogurt. Or you could try making your own probiotics.
It’s valuable to know that some probiotics actually replace bacteria (kefir), while others encourage their growth (yogurt), because there are thousands of different strains of this bacteria. You can read more in-depth about the different types here.
According to Harvard Health, interest in probiotic supplements is on the rise. Since the health benefits are strain-specific, and not all strains are necessarily useful, you may want to consult a practitioner familiar with probiotics to discuss your options and to be sure supplementing is right for you. Some common strains associated with gut health include:
- Lactobacillus acidophilus: The most well known probiotic and one of the most important for the health of the small intestine.
- Bifidobacteria bifidum: prevents pathogenic bacteria and yeast from invading.
FYI: You can purchase Thorne supplements directly through your WellnessFX membership – when you log in to your WellnessFX account, you’ll see an option to Buy Supplements up at the top to get you started.
Avoid the foods that damage the intestinal lining
Avoid highly processed and refined foods, as these contain chemicals from manufacturers that are often not absorbed well, such as the sweetener high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). The Children’s Hospital Oakland Research Institute even did a study on just how damaging HFCS is to your intestinal lining.
Long story short: Stick to whole foods in their natural form.
Water naturally improves digestion. As detailed by the Mayo Clinic, water helps break down food so that your body can absorb the nutrients. Water also softens stools, which helps prevent constipation.
Need help making it a habit? Try our free Watermind Me mobile app – it will help you monitor, track, and improve your consumption.
Talk with your doctor, or a WellnessFX practitioner
A WellnessFX practitioner can provide you with a customized action plan based on your health profile.
Want to learn more about how your food can affect your body? Try “How Food Affects Your Mood in 4 Simple Steps.”
The posts on this blog are for information only, and are not intended to substitute for a doctor-patient or other healthcare professional-patient relationship nor do they constitute medical or healthcare advice of any kind. Any information in these posts should not be acted upon without consideration of primary source material and professional input from one's own healthcare professionals.