Gut Nutrition for a Healthy You
A healthy gut is key for breaking down the food we eat and absorbing the nutrients to support our bodily functions. However, nutrient absorption is not the only role our gut plays. It plays a significant role in our organ health, our mental health and even our mood. Here, we will talk about how to improve the health of your gut naturally and get the most out of the food we eat!
“All disease begins in the gut.” – Hippocrates
Hippocrates laid the foundation of modern medicine underlining the role played by the gut in our overall health. For long, modern medicine has taken a modular approach in studying the human body. Finally in 2008, National Institutes of Health (NIH), a US government agency woke up to understand the role of the gut in our health.
It initiated a project named the Human Microbiome Project to collate and map data on micro-organism colonies of healthy human beings. What it found out is gradually changing the way we look at the human body.
The project established that our digestive tract contains 100 trillion microbes (the gut microbiome). These organisms, mainly bacteria but also including viruses and fungi, belong to more than 1,000 types of different species. But don’t be SCARED!!
Over 14.23 terabytes of data from this study illuminated the critical role played by these microbes in our overall health. It revealed a complex web of an interconnected system, much like our natural environment.
These microbes help in food digestion, making certain nutrients, and releasing chemicals that have far-reaching health effects.
On the other hand, an imbalance in the microbiota can have a negative impact on our health. When one of these ecosystems (gut microbiota) malfunctions, it compromises the entire system. These compromises can manifest through stress or neuro-degenerative conditions to organ failures (heart, kidney or liver) in the body.
Healthy gut, is it really that important?
There is a long list of vital actions performed by gut microbiome in our bodies:
- Living colonies inside our gut aid in the digestion of several nutrients, particularly complex carbohydrates and dietary fiber.
- Gut microbiota also produces vitamins (K, B-12, and biotin) and short-chain fatty acids, from the food we consume.
- This is not all, they also determine your mood. The gut microbiome also secretes chemical compounds like serotonin, GABA, dopamine, tryptophan, etc. These are utilized for nervous system signaling and mood-regulation functions. Our digestive tract synthesizes around 50 percent of dopamine and 90 percent of the body’s serotonin. Dopamine, serotonin, and GABA form a trio of neurotransmitters that are essential for regulating mood, including feelings of happiness, alertness, and satisfaction.
- More specifically, serotonin regulates our carbohydrate cravings, sleep cycles, pain management, digestion, and immune system function. In short, our weight management issues, sleep deprivation or overall pain and stress, all could be related to our gut.
- Some researchers believe as much as 70% of our immunity resides in our gut. Healthier gut microbiome leads to better intestinal health and an intact intestinal wall. Additionally, the intestinal wall prevents unwanted bacteria, pathogens, partly digested food compounds, metabolic wastes, and chemicals from entering into our bloodstream.
Naturally, the consequences of an unhealthy gut could be severe
- Inability to process several essential nutrients and micronutrients, leading to many complexities and diseases
- Indigestion leading to diarrhea or a lack of ability to pass stools adequately. This could lead to health issues such as migraine, heartburn, incontinence, chronic diseases like IBS, etc
- It could drastically increase your sugar and carb cravings, leading to obesity, diabetes, and even cardiovascular issues.
- Hormonal imbalance, which is the hotbed for the genesis of most chronic conditions.
- Stress, mood swings, anxiety and depression could be a result of an imbalanced release of serotonin, GABA, dopamine, tryptophan, etc. (as discussed above).
- Gradual decreases to a complete collapse of our immune system.
Fortunately, following a healthy diet and lifestyle can help maintain a healthy gut. It will not only boost the health of our gut but also help us in living a healthy life.
Thus, we come to the all-important question:
How to increase good bacteria in gut naturally?
Don’t stick to one; Try a variety of foods!
Hippocrates said, “Let thy food be thy medicine”. This couldn’t be truer if we try and understand health through the gut. Gut microbiota and health are closely interlinked. A diverse range of bacteria indicates a healthy gut. Each species play a different role and require different nutrients. Hence, eating more diverse food is one sure way to increase good bacteria in the gut naturally.
Our body requires various types of nutrients for a healthy gut microbiome and thus optimal health.
A healthy variety of micronutrients should do the trick
We can consume foods rich in minerals like manganese, copper, iron, and vitamins to have a healthy gut. Include dark leafy vegetables in the diet as they contain manganese which is responsible for bone strength development, stronger muscles, and better sleep. The low manganese content in the body can lead to muscle twitching, constipation, and sore muscles.
Protein helps in maintaining the health of the intestinal lining
As a matter of fact, protein-rich foods like meat and seafood contain L-glutamine which prevents the permeability of the intestinal wall lining. When the lining of the intestine becomes permeable, toxins and unwanted pathogens enter the bloodstream. This condition is known as leaky gut syndrome. Consuming L-glutamine rich foods can prevent leaky gut syndrome.
Fiber and whole grains are best buddies of the gut!
Foods that are high in fiber keep the gut healthy. Foods such as broccoli, artichokes, raspberries, lentils, beans, and whole grains are high on fiber. If the body is low in fiber, the microbes start to feed on the protective mucous lining in the intestine. If this lining wears down, it can cause infections and various diseases.
Whole grains are one of the best foods to maintain a healthy gut as they contain lots of fiber and non-digestible carbs like beta-glucans. These do not break down in the smaller intestine. Rather, they pass on to the larger intestine, where the microbiota further breaks it down. This stimulates the growth of beneficial bacteria such as bifidobacteria, lactobacilli, and bacteroidetes.
Probiotics boost healthy bacteria colonies in the gut
Eating foods that are probiotic can improve the health of our gut. Probiotics are healthy bacteria that keep the gut healthy. These play a key role in maintaining the immune system and also in synthesizing B vitamins. Probiotics to improve our gut include fermented foods, yogurt, and sauerkraut.
Worst Foods for our Gut
Avoid processed foods as much as you can. It is often said that “if nature did not make it, don’t take it”. These contain ingredients that increase the growth of harmful bacteria in your gut. Recent research has revealed that artificial sweeteners like aspartame can negatively affect the gut bacteria balance. These sweeteners increase the risk of obesity, stroke and type 2 diabetes.
Lower your stress levels!
The gut is very sensitive to stress and behavioral changes. High levels of stress put pressure not only on your gut but on your whole body. The level of stress can negatively affect the functioning of the gut which in turn affects your overall health and wellbeing. Some studies have also shown that emotions affect the functioning of the gut and how it performs digestion. For example, it has been seen that negative emotions like fear causes indigestion.
Stress can trigger symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), which include chronic abdominal pain, discomfort, bloating, diarrhea and/or constipation. Being stressed can result in the food staying longer in the stomach creating gas, indigestion and bloating. Studies have shown that stress may disrupt the delicate balance of gut bacteria. Thus, increasing intestinal permeability and even causing inflammation.
Thus, to maintain a healthy gut, one needs to relax and take the stress off. Some of the ways to lower stress may include:
- spending time with friends and family
- having a pet
- outdoor activities
Thus, diet and lifestyle can have a major role in maintaining a healthier gut. Eating a variety of foods, staying hydrated, managing stress and maintaining a good sleep routine are essential elements for improving the health of your gut.