Love Your Gut: Tips for Optimal Digestive Health

IMG_5012.JPG

It can be said that good health begins in the gut; in fact, the health of our gut mirrors how we look and feel. A healthy gut provides energy, proper digestion, glowing skin, and more, while a compromised gut can lead to a host of problems. We’ve got ten tips to help you get your gut in gear.

 

Our physical and mental health is directly tied to the health of our gut. In fact, this “inner ecosystem” is the cornerstone of our health as it influences our immune system, hormone levels, brain health, mood, digestion and inflammation. An imbalance of gut flora can lead to problems such as poor digestion and nutrient absorption, obesity, depression, and a host of inflammatory-rooted diseases. The good news is that our microbiome (the community of bacteria in our gut) is responsive and changeable based upon lifestyle factors, particularly our diet, which gives us control in restoring gut health and overall wellness.

What is good gut health?

There are trillions of microbes in the gut (totaling three pounds!) including beneficial and harmful bacteria. In fact, they outnumber the cells in our body 10 to 1. Our gut puts in work; it has the important job of digesting our food, pulling out and assembling nutrients our bodies need while identifying and excreting harmful toxins, allergens and viruses. Our digestive health becomes compromised when there is an imbalance in this ecosystem—too many bad bugs or not enough of the good guys. This dysbiosis can lead to lowered immunity and chronic inflammation.

With over two-thirds of our immune system residing in our gut, it’s important that we supply our bodies with proper nutrition to support healthy bacteria and protect our intestinal integrity. Did you know that the lining of the gut is only one cell thick?! When an inflammatory response is triggered in the gut (due to food sensitivities, toxins, stress, etc.), it weakens this wall and increases intestinal permeability resulting in a “leaky gut.” Leaky gut syndrome—when small food particles and toxins pass through the gut wall and enter the bloodstream—triggers an immune response and leads to low-grade inflammation. Chronic inflammation is tied to heart disease, cancer, obesity, autoimmune diseases, allergies, joint pain, and more.

Healthy bugs, healthy weight

The health of your microbiome can also influence your weight. Researchers have found that obese individuals have a lower diversity of gut bacteria. A lower number of certain bacterial strains, such as Firmicutes, can also lead to weight loss resistance. Since your gut is involved in regulating blood sugar balance, hormones and the storage of fat, it’s understandable why good gut balance works in your weight-management favor. Unhealthy bacteria levels can lead to craving more inflammatory foods that can cause digestive upset (IBS, gas, bloating, etc.), hampering motivation for weight loss.

The brain-gut connection

If you’re still not convinced that our gut has an enormous impact on our overall wellbeing, hear this: your gut is considered your second brain. Did you know that there are more neurons within your gut than in your brain? Hence, why we get butterflies in the belly when nervous and excited, or why you have “gut feelings.” Messages travel back and forth from the gut to the brain and can be impacted by stress, anxiety, or digestion issues. What’s more, 95% of serotonin (the happy hormone) is actually produced in the gut not the brain. Poor digestive health and problems with the production of this neurotransmitter can lead to feeling anxious or blue.

Tips to improve your gut health

Certain lifestyle choices can increase the diversity of your gut bacteria, improving overall gut health. Our 10 tips to nourish your gut flora, include: 

  1. Reduce your intake of highly processed foods and added sugars.
  2. Lessen your intake of inflammatory foods (foods that cause allergies or sensitivities). These include GMO’s, hydrogenated oils, gluten, corn, and conventional dairy.
  3. Add probiotic rich foods to your diet. Examples of fermented and cultured foods containing good bacteria include kefir, coconut yogurt, cultured dairy products, kimchi, kombucha, switchel, sauerkraut, and fermented vegetables.
  4. Eat foods with prebiotic fiber. Prebiotics feed the growth of good bacteria, and contain an insoluble fiber called inulin. Examples include dandelion greens, asparagus, Jerusalem artichokes, raw onions, garlic, bananas, berries, leeks, and jicima.
  5. Eat good fats such as avocado, coconut oil, ghee, and chia seeds.
  6. Choose quality protein. Avoid meat from corn-fed cows/conventional farms as they may have their own host of gut issues and are often raised with antibiotics. Certain spices (garlic, ginger, cumin, black pepper) can aid the digestion of animal protein. Sipping on meat bone broth provides minerals and nutrients that are healing for the gut lining.
  7. Only take antibiotics when necessary.
  8. Consider a probiotic supplement, especially if you need a course of antibiotics.
  9. Drink filtered water.
  10. Stress less!

Nourish your microbiome, and it will love you back. Keep in mind it may take some time to heal the gut, but the benefits are vast.

 

Blogpost written by Ascend content expert, Ashley H