October 06, 2023
Gut health is a hot topic these days. It plays a key role in keeping your whole body healthy, so it’s important to understand how you can keep it functioning properly.
Your gut refers to your gastrointestinal tract, which extends from your mouth through various organs, including the esophagus and stomach, down to your intestines. The term “gut health” usually refers to the overall health of your gut microbiome, which consists of the bacteria and microorganisms that live in your gastrointestinal tract.
Gut health is important because of the central role your digestive system plays in how your body operates. It’s responsible for transforming the things you eat and drink into the energy and nutrients your body needs, as well as ridding your body of waste and toxins. If your body has trouble performing these functions, it can lead to chronic illnesses, chronic fatigue, and inflammation. Your gut also contains more than 70 percent of your immune system. As a result, problems with your gut microbiome can negatively affect your immune system.
There's a significant connection between your gut and brain, meaning your mental state can affect your digestive system and vice versa. For example, being stressed can lead to irritable bowel syndrome; and studies have linked the state of the gut microbiome to anxiety and depression.
There are many ways to improve, or maintain, your gut health. They include:
Taking care of your mental health
Addressing mental health issues, such as anxiety and depression, and reducing stress can have a positive effect on gut health because of the gut-brain connection.
Exercising boosts your gut microbiome’s health and diversity and increases your level of butyrate, a fatty acid that’s good for your colon.
Avoiding bad habits
Smoking and excessively drinking can damage your gut microbiome.
Making sleep a priority
Getting around eight hours of sleep a night, and sticking with a regular sleep schedule, may be good for your gut health. Research suggests that some gut bacteria can influence circadian rhythms, meaning that having a healthier gut microbiome may improve your sleep efficiency and total sleep time.
Establishing healthy eating habits
Maintaining a regular eating schedule is good for your gut health. So is limiting how much you eat after dark, as your gastrointestinal tract is most active during the daytime.
Processed foods can be bad for your gut health. Many contain additives called emulsifiers to improve their texture and lengthen their shelf lives. Those can hurt your gut biome and promote inflammatory diseases.
Other common processed food ingredients that can be detrimental to your gut include sugar, which has been linked to an increase of bad bacteria in your gut microbiome; artificial sweeteners; and salt.
Avoiding or cutting back on red meat can also positively impact your gut microbiome, as well as your overall health. Studies have shown that a byproduct formed by your gut microbes during red meat digestion can lead to heart attacks and strokes.
A plant-based diet that contains a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, can significantly improve your gut health. One example is the Mediterranean Diet, which also contains fish and nuts.
Whole foods, such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, provide complex fiber that benefits your gut microbiome. Try to aim for 20 to 40 grams of fiber per day, depending on your age and gender. If your diet currently doesn’t include much fiber, increase the amount you consume gradually to avoid digestive problems.
Some fermented foods also are good for your gut microbiome. That’s because they contain live microbes called probiotics, which help give it a healthy diversity. Fermented foods and beverages with live microbes include:
• Some pickles
Foods containing prebiotics also are good for you because they serve as a food source for the communities of microorganisms that live in your gut microbiome. Three of the most common prebiotics are found in foods that contain:
• Resistant starch, such as oats, rice, and beans.
• Inulin, such as asparagus, onions, and soybeans.
• Pectin, such as apples, tomatoes, and potatoes.
Your gut plays an important role in your mental and physical health. That’s why keeping it healthy is important. Fortunately, doing that isn’t very hard if you get enough sleep, exercise regularly, keep your stress levels low, and maintain a healthy diet made up of foods that are easy to digest.