Having a “gut feeling” goes well beyond the world of idioms. So many of us have no idea just how large a role our gut plays in our overall health.
We are what we eat and a lot of the time, physical symptoms are an indicator that there’s something going on internally in our bodies.
Our gut health is so much more than just digestion. Aside from breaking down the food we eat, our gut health can also play a role in regulating our weight, metabolism, and immune system.
Poor gut health has been linked as a contributing factor and underlying cause in a number of diseases and illnesses such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Leaky Gut Syndrome, and fatigue.
To understand how our gut health can have such an impact on our bodies, we need to know a little about how our gut functions.
What’s Up With Our Gut?
Our gut acts as a line of defense against toxins and unfamiliar substances. Think of it as a wall (it’s literally called the intestinal barrier). When we eat food anything that our body can’t digest passes back out.
We have tons (think trillions) of microorganisms living inside our gut. These are living organisms that help us break down and digest the food we eat.
When these microorganisms regulating our gut are unhealthy, they can’t properly perform their job. Makes sense, right? You don’t perform at 100% when you’re sick either.
So if our intestinal barrier is compromised, toxins and nondigestible food compounds can trickle out into our bloodstream. This is called Leaky Gut Syndrome.
Now, your bloodstream has been infiltrated by food components that definitely shouldn’t be there. So, your body releases an immune response which usually causes inflammation in the body.
Cue battle metaphor.
Poor gut health can not only cause its own slew of issues, but it can also exacerbate existing conditions from skin problems to heart disease.
Okay, okay, now you’re convinced to keep your gut happy. But how do you do it?
We’ve got you covered. Here are 6 Tips For Maintaining Gut Health.
Many foods that contain lots of natural fiber also contain prebiotics. Prebiotics are necessary for feeding the existing good bacteria in your gut. Note that this differs from probiotics which are actually living bacteria we consume back into our gut.
Fiber also takes longer to break down by the body because it isn’t digestible. If you’ve ever heard fiber keeps your fuller longer, this is why. Eating foods rich in fiber will kill two birds with one stone. You’ll feed your good bacteria while keeping yourself fuller, which can help manage weight.
Nosh on apples, whole oats, asparagus, onions, garlic, bananas, and flax seeds just to name a few.
Get Your Probiotic On
Now, speaking of our good friends: It’s long been known that probiotics are healthy for us. Probiotics are live bacteria that you ingest either from food or as a supplement.
They’re gut friendly because they can add to the existing bacteria in your gut or can help balance them out.
Balancing out the bacteria in your gut, or introducing new gut friendly cultures can help heal digestive issues and symptoms stemming from them.
There are a variety of different species of probiotics, but eating a balanced diet should expose you to most of them.
You’ve probably heard that a popular source of probiotics is yogurt. It’s good to note that dairy is tough on the digestive system, so if you’re having gut related symptoms, it might be a good idea to opt for a plant based source instead.
Which plant-based foods contain these elusive probiotics, you ask? Look to incorporate fermented foods such as sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha, tempeh (my personal fav), and sourdough.
Reduce Antibiotic Use
I’m by no means saying never medicate. If you have strep throat, then, by all means, take your antibiotic.
We’re prescribed medication so frequently that we often don’t even realize what each medication actually does.
Antibiotics kill bacteria—both the good and the bad. That’s great news for kicking your bacterial infection to the curb, but bad news for our friendly gut bacteria.
This is valid for medication and for foods like antibiotic meat and animal products.
Do a little research on your food and opt for antibiotic-free meat if you’re going to eat it, and if you have to take regular antibiotics, then remember to replenish the good bacteria in your gut by eating probiotics.
Ditch the Toxins
Eating a diet that is low in nutrients is a sure-fire way to cause your gut some damage. Processed foods containing chemicals and additives leave few nutrients for your body to absorb. Many chemicals like BPA can even contribute to leaky gut syndrome.
Reduce the toxins you ingest in favor of a nutrient rich diet. Limit your sugar intake and the amount of processed food you consume.
Put fewer toxins in your body and you’ll naturally strengthen your gut bacteria and limit the amount of toxic material that can enter your bloodstream should your intestinal wall become breached.
Cut Yourself Off
We can all enjoy a drink once in awhile, but consuming too much can be detrimental to our gut health. Alcohol kills off good bacteria and can alter the balance of the microorganisms in our gut.
Alcohol can also increase permeability in our intestinal barrier, which can lead to excess inflammation.
This is also why many people with Interstitial Cystitis experience flare ups due to inflammation when they consume alcohol.
Keep The Stress In Check
I always hate when people tell me not to stress when I’m trying to manage a condition or be healthy.
It feels like we can’t always be in control of our stress levels. But when we stress out, our body naturally sends our blood to other vital organs and away from our digestive system.
This is okay if you’re stressed in traffic for ten minutes, but long term stress equates to a shortage of blood supply to our digestive system.
This can weaken our gut and compromise its overall health.
Try to be aware of your stress. Since we can’t always prevent stress, being aware of it can also help you incorporate good gut behaviors when you’re feeling pressure.
If you’re stressed and can’t reduce it, make sure you’re eating your prebiotic and probiotic rich foods, avoiding alcohol and trying to slip in some relaxation whenever you can.
It's All About Balance
Our gut’s living organisms have a natural balance. So when we upset that balance, we compromise our overall health. The scariest part is, we don’t always know how that compromise will manifest.
That’s why incorporating these 6 tips for maintaining gut health into your lifestyle can be so beneficial.
Food can help heal you, and being aware of how integral your gut health is to your overall health can be a solid motivator for living a conscious lifestyle.
What’s your favorite gut friendly tip?