Gut health has been at the center of my food choices since I started having gastrointestinal issues a few years ago. In fact, my decision to turn to a plant-based diet was heavily influenced by my desperate need to improve my digestive system.
It’s fascinating how we take our bodies for granted sometimes, especially when it comes to our digestive health. It really isn’t until something stops working that we realize just how vital it is.
Now, I believe that beyond listing the hows, we need to understand the whys. It’s easier to make improvements when we’re able to deeply understand why a particular change is beneficial, and not just something we think is right for us. When it comes to our health, it’s crucial to get information from trusted sources.
We drink more water to stay hydrated, we have a skincare routine to maintain healthy and glowing skin, but why do we need to care about the bacteria in our guts?
Why is gut health important?
Having optimal gut health means that the trillions of microorganisms in our gut ecosystem are in balance. Without the right balance, the gut is unable to perform properly, triggering gastrointestinal symptoms like bloating, acid reflux, IBS, constipation, and a weak immune system, as well as moodiness, anxiety, and depression. An unbalanced gut affects our physical and mental health.
If you’re wondering how important our gut health is, 70% of our immune system lives in our gut, and 90% of serotonin (the happy hormone) is produced in our gut.
How to keep a healthy gut?
1. Diversify your diet
Different types of foods improve the diversity of microbes in your gut, keeping the gut balanced and the body and brain healthy. A diet high in plant-based foods is also high in fiber, which is great for gut health. Expand your food choices to different vegetables, fruits, legumes, grains, healthy fats, and nuts and seeds.
2. Consume prebiotics & probiotics
*Probiotics: These are live bacteria found in fermented foods like kombucha, miso, kimchi, tempeh, and sauerkraut.
*Prebiotics: These are fibers that feed friendly bacteria. Some examples include bananas, oats, garlic, leek, onions, and Jerusalem artichokes.
*Probiotic supplements: An easy way to incorporate good bacteria in your gut is to take daily probiotics. Look for brands that offer probiotics and prebiotics in one supplement to increase efficiency. Probiotics relieve digestive issues like bloating, diarrhea, and stomach pain.
3. Avoid unnecessary use of antibiotics
Besides the potential risk of creating antibiotic resistance in our bodies, the overuse, or improper use, of antibiotics kills not only the bad bacteria but also the good bacteria, creating an unhealthy imbalance in our guts. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), doctors in the United States prescribe around 30% of antibiotics unnecessarily. As a result, the CDC recommends that people discuss antibiotics and alternative options with their doctor before use.
4. Identify food allergies and food intolerance
If left ignored, food allergies could be harmful to your gut health and gut bacteria. If you think you may be allergic or intolerant to certain foods, consult this with your primary physician. A gastroenterologist is best equipped to review your symptoms and test for food allergies. Removing these foods from your diet can reduce pain, bloating, and other gastrointestinal symptoms.
Gut health is one of the multiple benefits of exercising. Exercising helps to maintain regular bowel movements and healthy gut flora.
6. Reduce stress
A huge part of keeping a healthy gut is to maintain a healthy mind. Since the brain and gut are interconnected, taking care of our mental health will consequently improve our gut health. Reducing stress with techniques like deep breathing and meditation are among the most popular ways to do that.
7. Get enough sleep
To the point above, getting enough sleep is key to our mental well-being. Try to prioritize getting at least 7 - 8 hours of sleep per night.
The moral of this story is simple, when we feed the good bacteria in our gut, we prevent harmful bacteria from growing, allowing our bodies and minds to become stronger and healthier. Recent studies suggest that besides improving our physical health, a healthy gut microbiome can influence our basic emotions, our pain sensitivity, our social interactions, and even guide many of our decisions. As I learned in the Mind-Gut Connection.
Now, is that a good enough reason to take care of your gut health? I think so!
Have you tried any of these tips to keep a healthy gut? Share in the comments below!