Go With Your Gut: The Best Food To Promote Gut Health
The phrase “you are what you eat” may conjure humorous images in your head, but there is an element of truth to the old saying. The foods that you eat can directly influence the makeup of the bacteria in your stomach and intestines. These bacteria are known as the “microbiome” of your gut and can have direct positive and negative effects on your overall health.
According to County Health Rankings, the obesity rate of Hendricks County falls just below the Indiana average of 33%, with 32% of Hendricks County residents falling under the classification of obese. Maintaining a healthy weight can have innumerous positive impacts on your overall health and well-being, and a good place to start is by making sure that your gut microbiome is thriving.
A healthy gut can help prevent certain chronic illnesses, reduce inflammation, keep your brain function sharp, and help you maintain a healthy weight. It is never too late to help promote a better microbiome in your gut, and it is one of the easiest ways to positively affect your overall health.
Probiotics, prebiotics, fiber, polyphenols, and fermented products have been scientifically proven to promote healthy gut microbiome. We’ve outlined these categories and what makes them important to gut health below:
Probiotics: Best Foods for Gut Health
The term “probiotics” refers to the “good bacteria” present in certain foods that helps promote a healthy gut biome. You may have heard this term in advertisements or commercials for yogurt. While yogurt is rich in probiotics, there are many other foods that contain these essential bacteria as well. The most common of these probiotic bacteria are lactobacillus and bifidobacterium and are crucial in maintaining a healthy gut.
Probiotics are present in fermented foods such as sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha, and yogurt. We’ve outlined some of these products and their individual health benefits below:
Sauerkraut is made with only three ingredients: cabbage, salt, and time. Over time, the fermentation process runs its course as bacteria starts to eat the sugar that is present in the cabbage, producing acids and carbon dioxide as byproducts. The probiotics produced by the fermentation process are helpful in aiding digestion and regulating the microbiome of your gut.
The Korean cousin of sauerkraut, kimchi is also made from cabbage and has all the same health benefits listed above. It often has radishes, scallions, or shrimp added for extra flavor on top of its already spice-heavy profile.
Early research indicates kimchi may be able to strengthen your immune system. The bacteria that help ferment kimchi have been connected to improved immune function and lower levels of inflammation triggered by disease. The vitamin C found in kimchi can also help boost your immune health.
Kombucha is a fermented tea that has started to gain widespread popularity over the last decade or so. It is a tart, carbonated beverage that is created by adding a SCOBY (symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast) and sugar to green or black tea. The fermentation creates carbon dioxide, leading to the fizziness of kombucha. This process also creates alcohol, although commercially available kombuchas typically contain less than 0.5% alcohol by volume.
The fermentation process of kombucha produces lactic acid bacteria which is a known probiotic. In addition, you’ll receive all the antioxidant properties that you would from tea alone. Some kombucha made from black tea does contain caffeine, so it’s important to be aware and read labels.
Yogurt is easily the most popular probiotic on the market, and with good cause. The process of making yogurt entails introducing beneficial bacteria to milk and heating the mix. When choosing a yogurt with the best beneficial bacteria, look for the official “Live & Active Cultures” seal which guarantees that the yogurt contains 100 million probiotic cultures per gram.
Yogurt may even be helpful for those that are lactose-intolerant, as many of probiotics in yogurt may help in the digestion of lactose. On top of this, many companies are now making dairy-free and vegan yogurts that contain probiotics as well.
Once the probiotic bacteria are present in the microbiome of your gut, like anything else, they’ll require food to stay alive and healthy. Prebiotics are just that: the fibers that feed the probiotic bacteria in your gut. These fibrous ingredients include: galactooligosaccharides, fructooligosaccharides, oligofructose, chicory fiber, fructans, cellulose, and inulin.
There’s no need to memorize some of the silly names of these prebiotics as they are mostly present in unlabeled foods such as fresh fruits and vegetables. The key to prebiotics is to consume a very diverse variety of plant-based foods while achieving the goal of 30 grams of fiber per day.
The following are some prebiotic-rich foods to add to your diet:
Raspberries are one of the most fiber-rich foods there is, containing an impressive eight grams of fiber per cup of raw raspberries. They are also a great source of polyphenols which are potent antioxidants that help to feed your gut microbes.
Raspberries can be eaten fresh but are just as nutritious when bought frozen and thrown into a smoothie, making them the perfect prebiotic food regardless of season.
Legumes and Beans
Black beans, peas, lentils, chickpeas, and other types of beans are all fantastic sources of fiber that act as food for the microbes in your gut. When beans reach your large intestine, they begin to be eaten by the microbes in your gut. This is fermentation occurring inside your body, and while it produces the unfortunate side effect of gassiness, it means that your gut biome is healthy.
Asparagus is a very good source of prebiotics but is also believed to be protective against certain types of cancer. Asparagus contains glutathione, a powerful antioxidant that is believed to fight off certain inflammatory compounds in the body.
Unripe, green bananas are best for your gut microbes because they contain a fiber called resistant starch. Microbes in your guts multiply when they feed on this type of fiber. Ripe bananas also contain fiber but to a lesser extent.
The bottom line when it comes to prebiotics is that most fresh and raw fruits or vegetables will provide some of the much-needed fiber that your gut bacteria thrive on. Now that we know which foods are good for your gut microbes, let’s talk about which foods to avoid.
The Worst Foods for Your Gut’s Health
While many foods can have positive effects on digestion and the gastrointestinal tract, there are certainly foods that can have the opposite effect. A healthy gut is the cornerstone of an overall healthy body. When your gut microbiome is balanced and diverse, it can be beneficial to every other system in your body. An unbalanced gut microbiome can have detrimental effects on everything from your mood to your metabolism. A gut that is out of sorts can lead to all sorts of digestive health issues including irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), Crohn’s Disease, irregularity, stomach pain, bloating, and even certain cancers.
The following are foods that should absolutely be avoided in order to maintain a healthy gut microbiome:
Artificial sweeteners are almost unavoidable at supermarkets nowadays. They can be deceptive as well, often sold under the pretense of being a “healthier alternative”. While this may be true in some respects, they can wreak havoc on the delicate balance of bacteria in your gut.
These sweeteners, including aspartame, saccharin, and sucralose, have zero calories and are sugar-free. Despite these positive-sounding characteristics, the body doesn’t digest these chemicals. This leaves them to have direct contact with the bacteria of the gut, negatively interacting with the balance of the bacteria. Studies show that a microbiome altered by artificial sweeteners can lead to conditions such as glucose intolerance and type II diabetes.
It is wise to limit the intake of these artificial sweeteners and also try gut-friendly low-calorie alternatives, like kombucha.
A compound found in red meat, called carnitine, interacts with gut bacteria to produce a compound called trimethylamine-N-oxide (TMAO). TMAO is associated buildup of plaque in the arteries. The link between red meat and heart disease is not just about the high levels of saturated fat and sodium. It may also be due to the way that carnitine interacted with the microbiome of the gut.
It would be wise to limit your intake of red meat and substitute white fish, fatty fish, chicken, or plant-based proteins like tempeh or tofu on a regular basis.
Refined and Processed Foods
Processed foods in general is a tough category to study as a whole because it covers such a broad range of products. That being said, the biggest issue with refined or processed foods is that they lack diversity in nutritional value and fiber, and are also often filled with added salts, sugars, artificial sweeteners, and preservatives. Your microbiome thrives on diverse fibers and polyphenols from a variety of fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Processed foods generally contain none of the compounds that help your microbiome thrive.
Research shows that the overconsumption of alcohol can have negative effects on the intestinal microbiome. While red wine is shown to contain polyphenols, there is not enough research to suggest that moderate consumption of alcohol has a positive effect on your gut. If you enjoy drinking, be sure to do so in moderation.
The Bottom Line for Digestive Health and a Healthy Body
To ensure that your gut is as healthy as it can be, be sure to eat lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts, whole grains, and seeds for prebiotic food for bacteria. Eat lots of fermented products like kombucha and yogurt for their probiotic bacteria. Avoid the overconsumption of processed foods with tons of added sugars, salt, artificial sweeteners, and alcohol in order to keep your gut bacteria flourishing, and lower your risk of developing chronic disease.
Hope Healthcare is offering various services in the office as well as drive-up services. If you’re struggling to find and afford medical care, we’re here to help. Take advantage of programs today to start feeling better without overpaying.
Give Hope Healthcare a call at 317-272-0708 to book an appointment today. If we do not answer, please leave a message, and we will call you back.
We’ve put together a list of frequently asked questions to help you better understand gut health:
What are the three worst foods for your gut?
The top three foods to avoid to ensure healthy gut bacteria are: red meat, processed foods, and alcohol. Processed foods are typically packed with added sugar, salt, and preservatives, all of which have negative effects on gut microbiome.
How can I improve my gut health?
To improve gut health, it is important to consume fermented foods such as yogurt and kombucha that contain good bacteria. In order to feed the good bacteria present in your gut, it is important to eat prebiotic foods such as fresh fruits and vegetables.