6 Ways to Improve Gut Health
By Elisabeth Almekinder, Health Journalist, Registered Nurse, and Diabetes Educator for the Manos Unidas North Carolina Farmworker Health Program
You can’t rely on expensive probiotic supplements to improve your gut health. As it turns out, you can get many of the good bacteria your gut needs to move things through properly by changing things in your environment.
For better digestion and increased metabolism, decreased inflammation and decreased risk of chronic disease, try our 6 easy ways to improve your gut health:
1. Eat more whole grains, nuts, load up on veggies, beans and fresh fruits.
Here is yet another reason to eat fresh, whole foods. Barley, oats, quinoa, bulger, and other whole grains have fiber that we need to bulk up our intestines and help things to move through.
Whole grains then become a type of feed for the bacteria inhabiting the microbiome. It may sound strange that we have all these minute bacteria floating around in there, but they keep things running smoothly.
Eating more whole grains has been shown to increase the types and numbers of bacteria in our gut. The same is true of nuts, so pick up a variety of walnuts, pecans, pistachios or almonds, remembering that a serving is what fits into the palm of your hand.
Whole, fresh vegetables, beans and legumes, and a variety of fresh fruits serve as nutrition for the bacteria in our gut. Shop your local farmers market for fresh, whole foods in season and prepare your microbiome for your locale.
2. The link between your teeth and your gut.
Brush and floss your teeth regularly. Having regular dental cleanings and check-ups may not seem to be important to a healthy microbiome, but studies at Cornell University and in Sweden have found that bacteria from your mouth can get into your stomach and cause problems.
Avoid the bad guys taking over the good guys in your tummy by taking care of your teeth.
“Limit sugary foods,” said Susan Mintz, RN, BSN, CDE, of Brunswick County Health Department in Bolivia, North Carolina. “In addition to being inflammatory to the system, sugar can cause yeast to grow and it can throw off delicate gut balances. In addition, avoid prepackaged foods and stay away from processed foods.”
“In addition to being inflammatory to the system, sugar can cause yeast to grow and it can throw off delicate gut balances.”
3. Eat fermented foods that have beneficial bacteria.
We’ve all heard about eating more yogurt for our gut health, but have we learned about eating more fermented foods?
These foods have more good bacteria to improve your belly. They contain a high count of lactobacilli bacteria, which are beneficial. They are also the ones that convert sugar to acids and alcohols:
- And finally, low sugar yogurt of the plain, natural variety
4. Eat more dark chocolate and foods with polyphenols.
This one is a favorite. Who needs a reason to eat more chocolate? I do.
Rich in fiber and plant-based molecules known as polyphenols, travel into your intestines where microbes use them for fuel. Foods that are rich in polyphenols, such as dark chocolate, have anti-inflammatory properties, decrease blood pressure and cholesterol levels and decrease cellular stress.
What are some other foods to improve your gut that are rich in polyphenols?
- Red grapes, wine made from red grapes
- Green tea
- Cocoa (4)
5. Blend in the spices.
It never hurts to scatter on the garlic, turmeric, ginger, and other favorite delicious spices. These spices help to rid your gut of harmful bacteria. They also won’t hurt the good bacteria.
6. Limit artificial sweeteners.
Research studies with animals have found artificial sweeteners to have a negative effect on the microbiome. Rats given aspartame had increased blood sugars and were unable to use the insulin their bodies made properly.
Another human trial showed the same blood sugar increase. For gut health, it may be best to avoid artificial sweeteners altogether.