Focus on fiber for a healthy gut
Your body cannot digest fiber, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t critical for health. In fact, certain bacteria in your gut can digest fiber, and this fiber is actually necessary to promote their growth. If you want a healthy gut, be sure to include lots of fiber-rich foods in your diet, such as beans and legumes, whole grains, raspberries, artichokes, broccoli, and green peas.
Of the two types of fiber—soluble and insoluble—the latter is more important for gut health. Insoluble fiber has a cleansing effect on your digestive system and is found in whole grains, beans, fruits, and vegetables. Soluble fiber, on the other hand, plays important roles in maintaining healthy levels of blood glucose and bad cholesterol. If is found in oatmeal, some fruits and vegetables, and legumes.
Diversify your diet to improve gut health naturally
To support and promote a healthy gut, mix it up. The hundreds of species of bacteria that live in your intestinal tract need a wide variety of nutrients to keep them viable and healthy. That’s because each species has a different task to perform and needs different nutrients to accomplish them. Therefore, your diet should be as diversified—and healthy—as possible, with an emphasis on different whole, natural plant foods.
In fact, a plant-based diet is highly recommended as a way to improve gut health naturally.
Feast on fermented foods to restore balance in your intestinal environment
Fermented foods contain healthy or beneficial bacteria (probiotics) that promote a balanced intestinal environment and support overall health. The process of fermentation typically involves the conversion of bacteria or yeasts in foods to organic acids or alcohol. Two genera of bacteria most associated with beneficial bacteria in the gut are Bifidobacteria and Lactobacilli. Look for words such as B. longum, B. infantis, L. acidophilus, and L. brevis, among others, on the labels.
Some common fermented foods include sauerkraut, miso, kefir, yogurt (plain, natural is best), kimchee, kombucha, pickles, and tempeh. However, not all fermented foods you buy in the supermarket will contain viable probiotics, so look for the words “naturally fermented” on the label or an assurance that the food contains viable bacteria. Foods that can increase levels of Bifidobacteria in your gut are almonds, apples, artichokes, blueberries, and pistachios. Also, although chomping on a fermented pickle occasionally may taste good, your gut will reap the most benefits from fermented foods if you eat them regularly.
Avoid artificial sweeteners for better gut health
Artificial sweeteners such as aspartame and saccharin have numerous negative health impacts, and gut health is one of them. Studies have shown that when you consume artificial sweeteners, they change your microbiota—in this case, the microorganisms in your gastrointestinal tract, or gut. This in turn has a negative impact on your blood sugar levels. So these chemical substances pack a lose-lose punch when it comes to your gut.
If you need some sweetness, choose all-natural sugars such as raw honey, stevia, or yacon. The best sweet foods are fresh and dried fruits (without sulfites).
Prebiotics play a big role in gut health
We’ve already talked about probiotics—those beneficial organisms that help keep your gut and entire body healthy. But those probiotics need nourishment so they can grow and flourish. Enter prebiotics, foods rich in complex carbohydrates or fiber that human cells cannot digest but that certain bacteria can utilize for fuel.
Prebiotics can enhance the growth of Bifidobacteria, one of the main genera of beneficial bacteria in the gut.
Prebiotic foods are easy to find in your grocery store or farmer’s market. Include one or more of the following in your diet on a regular basis: apples, asparagus, bananas, barley, dandelion greens, flaxseeds, garlic, Jerusalem artichokes, jicama, leeks, oats, onions, and seaweed. Prebiotic supplements are also available.
Turn to whole grains to support your gut health
Among the benefits of eating whole grains are the high fiber content and their non-digestible carbohydrates, including beta-glucans. Because beta-glucans are not absorbed in your small intestine, they travel to the large intestine intact, where they are welcomed by your microorganisms and support the growth of selected beneficial bacteria, including Bifidobacteria and Lactobacilli.
Choose organic whole grains, including oats, barley, rye, millet, and buckwheat. Sprouted grains are also recommended for better gut health.
Polyphenols feed beneficial bacteria in your gut
Polyphenols are micronutrients found in certain plants. They are potent antioxidants and perhaps best known for their ability to reduce inflammation, blood pressure, and cholesterol. However, they are also powerful forces if you want to improve gut health naturally. That means you need to eat foods that are great sources of polyphenols on a daily basis. That shouldn’t be difficult to do, since there are some fantastic options from which to choose. For example:
- Berries (blackberries, strawberries, blueberries)
- Black currants
- Dark chocolate and cocoa
- Green tea
Polyphenols are effectively digested by the good bacteria in your gut, providing with the nourishment they need to multiply.
Intermittent fasting can help your gut stay healthy
Did you know that when you eat could be just as important as what you eat? Research indicates that practicing intermittent fasting—abstaining from food for 14 to 16 hours out of 24—allows the bacteria in your gut to diversify while also putting the brakes on inflammation.
An example of intermittent fasting is to complete your last meal of the day by 7 PM and then not eating again until 9 or 11 AM the next day.
When you let your gut take time off from digesting food, it has more time to clean out the bad bacteria and increase the population of beneficial bacteria. Scientists also found that daily fasting can fortify the gut barrier against infiltration by damaging bacteria, which in turn stops the bad organisms from entering the bloodstream and potentially causing inflammation and other health challenges.
Practice stress reduction for better gut health
We know the brain-gut connection is real, so it make sense that living with chronic stress will have a negative impact on your digestive system, including the microorganisms in your gut. Unmanaged stress even affects how well you absorb nutrients from your food.
Therefore, it’s highly recommended you practice stress reduction techniques daily. Choose activities that you enjoy; we suggest you keep several go-to stress reducing activities up your sleeve so you keep motivated. Some suggestions include tai chi, meditation, visualization, massage, progressive relaxation, yoga, dance, any form of enjoyable exercise (with emphasis on “enjoyable”), deep breathing, laugh (try laughter yoga), or listen to soothing music.