SALT LAKE CITY — Kombucha, kimchi and probiotics are all growing in popularity because of the buzz around gut health, and it’s all with good reason. While research is showing us some pretty exciting things around gut health, it’s not as advanced as some headlines would have you believe. But let’s dive into what we do know.
Why the gut?
Your gut health and the bacteria it holds is linked to a number of different medical conditions. It has an impact on weight, mood, skin, mental health, immunity and digestive issues. By keeping your gut healthy, you can have greater control of your body's overall health.
How do you know if you have a healthy or unhealthy gut?
The absence of painful bloating and gas, diarrhea or constipation, is a good sign that your digestive system is in good working order. These symptoms, as a one-off, can also be a short-term response to something you ate. However, if you’re experiencing any of them long term, it’s a good idea to talk to a physician or registered dietitian.
Now, the answer to the question everyone wants to know but no one wants to ask: how much gas is too much gas? On average, a human will pass gas between 5-15 times a day. However, there are some non-gut health-related factors that can affect this number, like chewing gum or dramatically increasing your fiber intake. Other non-digestion-related symptoms that may point toward an unhealthy gut include a foggy brain, poor mood or skin issues.
One thing that is for certain, whether you have good gut health or not, is that there are things you can do to try to increase or maintain the overall health of your gut. They're things you can — and should — be doing daily, and they're not just food-related. Here are six steps to support your gut health.
As you might guess from their name, antibiotics kill bacteria. Which might be great when you’re ill and fighting something off, but it’s not so great for your gut health. Antibiotics can’t differentiate between good and bad bacteria, so while they are fighting away the bad bugs, they're also stripping you of the good for you bacteria, too. This can cause short and long term gut health issues if you don’t repopulate your gut and counteract the loss of the good bacteria.
While we’re talking medication, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID) such as ibuprofen can also cause the gut a lot of stress if taken frequently and in large amounts. To help, speak to your doctor about limiting your use of antibiotics and NSAID’s to only when necessary.
One of the biggest irritants for your gut is stress. It's been shown to negatively influence the integrity of your gut lining, the movement of your intestinal tract (essential for digestion) and also decreases necessary secretions that aid in the digestion process. Try to limit your stress by taking up a meditation practice or self-care that helps you be in a calm state at least once a day. Stress is inevitable in life, but finding ways to limit or decrease it where possible is going to be great for you and your gut.
A big area of research around gut health is how the environment can affect your microbiota or the balance of good and bad bacteria in your gut. Certain pollutants can decrease the presence of good bacteria which allows the bad bacteria to take over. There isn’t much you can do about the air around you that you live in, but you can limit the amount of chemicals in your home and make sure your food comes from good sources. A great place to start is with less pesticides on the produce you consume by buying organic or from smaller local farms, and also buying good quality animal products, meat and fish.
It's probably not a suprise that increasing your vegetable intake is high on the list. The nutrient boost from the added vitamins and minerals is going to support good gut health and they are also a great source of fiber.
Fiber is essential to a healthy gut and it's important to get a variety of fibrous foods in your diet. However, try to stick to a consistent intake of 25-35g a day or you’ll see some digestive issues if your intake fluctuates too much.
Preprobiotic and probiotic-rich foods are important for feeding and populating the good bacteria in your gut. For prebiotic foods, think onion, garlic, whole grains and vegetables. For probiotic foods, think fermented foods. Kimchi, sauerkraut, kefir and yogurt are all great options.
Although I’m a food-first dietitian, adding a probiotic supplement can be a good idea. Probiotics are going to help repopulate your gut with the beneficial good bacteria. There are lots of different probiotics on the market. My advice is to pick one that has multiple strains — about 50 billion or more CFUs — and make sure it's third-party tested.
One of the biggest influences in having a healthy gut is to eat a varied diet. Try to rotate the fruits, vegetables, whole grains, healthy fats and proteins that you eat. It's not necessary on a daily basis, but changing it up week to week is going to help keep your gut in a healthy state.
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