Fact-Checked By : Dr. Tara Scott, OB-GYN
Heartburn, gas, the occasional runs… our bodies make us deal with some strange annoyances from time to time, but if you’re anything like us, you’re probably brushing it all off as ‘something you ate’ or just a ‘bloated day,’ right?
Well, the next time you feel a little bloat on your belly, consider being a little kinder to your gut instead of ignoring the issue! After all, how healthy do you think your gut is? Or, wait, what really is gut health, to begin with?
Well, “gut health” refers specifically to the function and balance of bacteria in your gastrointestinal tract—which, if you didn’t already know, is home to some of your most important organs.
A Healthy Gut Needs Bacteria
That’s right, your stomach, your esophagus, your intestines—they all work in tandem when you eat something, and how well (or not!) your body can digest it after. A lot of this has to do with the gut microbiome (like viruses, fungi, and bacteria) in your body.
Yes, that’s right, you just read bacteria! Bacteria isn’t always a bad thing, and when it comes to your gut, a balance of good microbes like bacteria actually helps keep it healthy. Unfortunately, our guts may not be super healthy, thanks to our
fast-paced lifestyles, ready-meals, and diet culture. Bad gut health can lead to inflammation, diarrhea, and ailments like ulcerative colitis and irritable bowel syndrome.
Pick Good Bacteria Foods For Your Gut
Some of the worst foods for gut health may, unfortunately, include some of your favorites. Cookies, cakes, candy, hot dogs, that delightfully sloppy burger—anything with refined sugar, trans fats, or refined flour are “no-nos” for good gut health. And, before you replace that mountain of sugar in your coffee with artificial sweetener, remember that all those seemingly healthy sweeteners aren’t doing your gut any good either.
With close to 70 million people in the United States affected by digestive diseases caused by poor gut health, it’s about time we started focusing more on what we ingest, right? A good way to do this is to include both prebiotics and probiotics in your diet. They’re pretty similar, but there are some key differences between the two. While probiotics are living bacteria that add to good bacteria in your system, prebiotics are actually fiber from your food that these good bacteria can feed on. This is why you obviously need both to promote good gut health.
Here’s a quick way to get started; simply replace the processed foods in your diet with some of these to enhance gut health.
Start Strong With Some Probiotics!
Did you know that some of the beneficial gut bacteria we talked about earlier are actually called probiotics? There are many, many health benefits to adding probiotics to your diet, and among the most important are their ability to aid in healthy digestion. And, we know that healthy digestion is basically what you need to make sure your gut is functioning well. When you consume probiotics, you’re helping to add more good bacteria to your system, helping your body eliminate the bad easier.
Some of the best probiotics are fermented food—yes, there is actually something to the kefir, kombucha craze, after all! Fermented foods (including fermented vegetables and food like miso and sauerkraut) and drinks help healthy bacteria thrive and release a byproduct called short-chain fatty acids, which protect your system against inflammation.
Add fermented soybeans, kefir (a yogurt-based drink), kimchi (pickled cabbage), cheeses like tempeh and gouda, and good old yogurt to your diet to get the benefits of fermented foods.
Bunches Of Gut Health With Bananas
There’s been a lot said about whether bananas are fattening, but if you’re worried—don’t be. Bananas contain fats, but they’re not actually fattening. They do make you feel full for longer, which is excellent, and it’s because they have a lot of fiber that, among other health benefits, encourages good gut bacteria to grow.
Leafing Through The Good Stuff
Yes, add some green, leafy vegetables to your diet. Microgreens, kale, collard greens, and spinach are some of the healthiest (and tastiest!) leafy vegetables, and they’re all high in fiber. These vegetables also contain prebiotic fiber, and more importantly, a carbohydrate called sulfoquinovose that encourages good gut health.
No Vampires—Or Bacteria—Can Fight This Garlic!
Garlic may be a little stinky, but it’s delicious, and what’s even better is that it’s power-packed with all sorts of nutrients that your body needs. It’s a prebiotic food containing inulin and something called FOS (also known as fructooligosaccharides—try saying that out loud) and stimulates good gut bacteria while also preventing lousy gut bacteria from forming.
An Apple A Day…
There’s actually something to that old saying because apples really are a power-packed food. They don’t get enough attention, but when it comes to your gut, an apple a day can keep the doctor away alright. In addition to all the great antioxidants they contain, they also have prebiotic fibers like pectin, which, like most probiotics, help increase good bacteria in your gut.
Why Have Half When You Can Have The Whole?
Yes, we’re talking about whole grains. The significant thing about whole grains is that they have those short-chain fatty acids we talked about earlier. They also increase the gut microbiome that your body needs to stay healthy.
Say 'Ah' For Avocado
Not just a millennial favorite, there’s a lot more to this superfood than the oft-hyped avocado toast. Avocados aren’t low-fat, so you may not want to go overboard, but they are definitely healthy. And there’s more than one reason to include these nutrient-dense fruits in your diet, including that they contain fiber and potassium. And, you guessed it, both these things help your gut!
Remember—while all these changes are a great way to improve things, they’re not the only change you need to make to ensure overall gut health. Also consider lowering daily stressors, practicing mindfulness, and getting enough exercise and sleep to make sure your lifestyle isn’t getting in the way of your health. An overall healthy system is one of the easiest ways to start on your journey towards a healthier gut!