Are you suffering from digestive issues, fatigue, or unexplained weight gain? It could be your gut health that’s to blame. Learn why gut health is so important, and how to have a healthy gut.
What Affects Gut Health?
The health of your gut – or gastrointestinal tract – is not only affected by an unhealthy diet or some bad food you may have eaten. The gut is affected by much more than food.
For example, did you know that your mental health may affect your gut health? If you’re anxious, some of the stress chemicals released by the body might enter your digestive tract, where they upset your gut.1
Many things may be responsible for an upset stomach, including:
- A diet high in processed foods, fatty foods, sugar, caffeine, or alcohol
- The use of oral antibiotics
- Inadequate sleep
- Mental health and mood
- Lack of exercise2
Why Is Gut Health Important?
Gut health is important because the problems don’t stop at an upset digestive system. Gut health is a two-way street: Bad gut health may lead to even more issues within the body.
How? Well, bad gut health leads to an imbalance of bacteria in the gut. An imbalance means that there are more bad bacteria than good bacteria flourishing. And, scientists now know that this imbalance can have a huge influence on the health of many parts of the body.3
For example, an imbalance of bacteria in the gut may negatively:
- Affect the immune health
- Affect heart health
- Contribute to weight issues
- And more4
How is this possible? Scientists have discovered two key facts:
- Much of your immune system is actually based in your gut.
- Approximately 95 percent of your body’s serotonin (the happy hormone) is found in the gut. And, it’s released from good bacteria. So, your gut may affect your mood.5
As you can see, an unhealthy gut is something to be taken seriously.
Understanding Gut Bacteria
If you have an imbalance of bacteria in your gut, can you fix this balance? Thankfully, there are ways to bring back balance to the gut.
But first, let’s take a closer look at the incredible little world of friendly gut bacteria. The human body has about 100 trillion bacteria, viruses, and fungi (both good and bad) living in the gut. You may hear the term “gut flora” used to describe this colony.6
The good, or friendly, bacteria are also commonly known as probiotic bacteria. The World Health Organization (WHO) defines probiotic bacteria as: Live microorganisms which when administered in adequate amounts confer a health benefit on the host.7
So, probiotic bacteria are live microbes that may help transfer health benefits to their host – a.k.a you. Nurturing these friendly bacteria helps to keep their population high, and this may be beneficial to optimal human health.
Can probiotic gut bacteria really support your health?
Studies show that probiotic-rich foods and supplements might help to:
- Support digestion and intestinal health
- Support the immune system
- Help ease side effects of antibiotics (which unfortunately kill both good and bad bacteria)
- Support healthy skin
- Support positive mood
- Support a healthy balance of bacteria in the gut8,9,10
The Beginner’s Guide To Supported Gut Health: How To Restore Healthy Gut Flora
If you’d like to know how to have a healthy gut, here’s your cheat sheet. With a few lifestyle changes, you may be able to restore a gut imbalance.
1. Eat Fermented Foods That Have Beneficial Bacteria
Fermented foods are one of the biggest advantages you have for better gut health. You see, fermented foods are foods that have gone through a natural chemical process that results in the formation of probiotic bacteria.11
A great example is fermented cabbage, or what Germans call sauerkraut. Cabbage ferments in a simple mix of salt and water. Over time, it becomes rich in lactic acid-producing “probiotic” bacteria. This lactic acid produces a fizzy gas which also adds flavor and helps prevent the growth of bad bacteria.12
The best part of this natural process is that these probiotic bacteria encourage the growth of more friendly bacteria in your gut. They’re quintessential health food.
Which foods are fermented foods?
- Apple cider vinegar
- Certain aged cheeses
- Miso soup
- Beet kvass
- Some pickles (beware: some are only floating in vinegar)13
But it doesn’t stop there. You can ferment most fruits and vegetables by following a similar process to sauerkraut. There is a wealth of recipes all over the internet. You can even ferment your own dairy products, like yogurt or kefir.
2. Consider A Probiotic Supplement
A probiotic supplement is another way to get more friendly bacteria into your gut on a regular basis. Probiotic supplements are simply a pill (or powder or gummy) that you buy over the counter or online. Each supplement is packed with millions of friendly “live” bacteria.14
3. Only Take Antibiotics When Advised By A Medical Professional
When advised by a doctor, oral antibiotics can be life-saving – literally. This is because antibiotics are used to kill bacteria that may be making us seriously ill. However, antibiotics can’t tell the difference between good and bad bacteria. Unfortunately, they kill off all bacteria in your gut, potentially leading to an imbalanced gut.15
Therefore, you should only take antibiotics when told to do so by a medical professional. You can help counteract the imbalance in your gut by making sure to get plenty of probiotics in your diet during this time.16
4. Cut Out Processed Foods
Processed foods can lead to an unhealthy gut. They often contain loads of added sugar, fat, and salt. Plus, they’ve lost many of their original nutrients during the processing.17
Instead, you should aim to create a healthy diet based around plenty of whole foods and whole grains. That is, foods that are not processed but in their original form.
Try to also switch out sodas – that can contribute to high blood sugar – for green tea or water. These drinks will ensure that you’re properly hydrated and will do wonders for your overall health.18
5. Add Prebiotics To Your Diet
Prebiotics are a little different from probiotics, but they’re equally exciting. Prebiotics are basically “fuel” for friendly bacteria, helping them to multiply and grow. This means you can help your body to make its own probiotic bacteria by feeding it prebiotics. To be a prebiotic, a food is usually full of a certain type of fiber and must be able to be “fermented” by the gut flora. This stimulates the growth of good bacteria.19
To add prebiotics to your diet, consider these foods:
- Green bananas
- Chicory root (inulin)
- Jerusalem artichokes
- Vegetables from the allium family (garlic, onion, and leek)
- Rye bread
- Dark chocolate20
Dark chocolate makes the list here because research has suggested that beneficial bacteria ferment the fiber in cocoa.21
6. Consider Digestive Enzymes
You may have heard of a supplement called “digestive enzymes” to help support gut health. Digestive enzymes assist by helping the body break down proteins into amino acids, starches into glucose, and fats into fatty acids. For some people – such as those with food intolerances – they may assist in the digestion of problematic foods by helping to break them down.22
You can purchase digestive enzymes in the form of a supplement capsule or powder.
How To Have A Healthy Gut: Treat Your Gut Like A Friend
All of these ideas can help to contribute to a healthier gut. The best part is that a healthy gut doesn’t just make digestion feel better. It may also help support your energy and mood. Your gut really is at the epicenter of your health.
Whether you’re experiencing long-term issues or are simply interested in making changes to your diet to include more probiotics, always consult your doctor first.
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