Our bodies contain trillions of beneficial bacteria, a majority of them living within the digestive system, also known as the “gut.” This is sometimes referred to as our gut microbiome.
The gut microbiome affects our body’s ability to absorb and use nutrients from food. Gut bacteria also assist in the production of vitamins and acts as a barrier against pathogens, which are any organisms that can cause illness, enhancing the body’s immune response.
Good gut health is important for your overall health and well-being. And most people can enhance their gut health naturally through diet.
Probiotics and Prebiotics
Consuming both probiotics and prebiotics encourages healthful gut function. Probiotics are living microorganisms that can colonize, or grow, in the gut and work together with the body. On the other hand, prebiotics are nondigestible fibers that act as the food for the bacteria within the digestive tract.
Try these five simple ways to improve your gut health through your diet:
Eat Prebiotic-Rich Foods
Prebiotic foods promote the growth of beneficial bacteria in your gut. Prebiotic-rich foods include:
- Leafy greens
- Legumes, including beans, lentils and peas
Enjoy Whole Foods, Herbs and Spices in Different Colors
Choosing a variety of different colors of plant foods can ensure a wider array of nutrients and support an assortment of gut bacteria. Foods you might choose include:
- Deep purple cabbage
- Red beets
- Dark leafy greens
- Golden turmeric
- Fragrant cinnamon
Eat a Plant-Based Diet
Placing an emphasis on vegetables, fruits, beans and legumes helps promote high-fiber intake that is gut friendly. This type of diet promotes the growth of helpful bacteria.
Include Fermented Foods
Fermented foods contain live bacteria that can support gut function. You can boost your intake of probiotics by eating more probiotic-rich foods, such as:
- Plain yogurt or kefir
- Kimchi or sauerkraut
- Miso paste or tempeh
Limit Sugar, Grains, Sweeteners and Saturated Fat
Highly processed foods and foods with excess sugars, fat and sweeteners can negatively affect your health in a variety of ways, including:
- Refined Sugar: Eating too much sugar can inhibit healthy gut bacteria function and contribute to excess inflammation in the body.
- Refined Grains: Simple, processed carbohydrates, such as white flour, white bread, white rice pastries and pastas made with white flour, have been stripped of beneficial fiber as well as most of their vitamins and minerals. These foods can cause blood sugar levels to quickly rise, leaving nothing for most of the gut microbes to eat.
- Artificial sweeteners: According to several studies, artificial sweeteners can alter gut bacteria and can potentially raise the risk of both inflammation and glucose intolerance.
- Excess saturated fat: High intake of fats from animal sources, such as bacon, ribs and salami, can cause the bacteria within the gut to change.
Try experimenting with these nourishing pre- and probiotic powerhouse foods to enjoy the many health benefits of a diverse and thriving gut microbiome.
Lauren DeWolf, MS, RD, is a wellness education specialist with the Sharp Rees-Stealy Center for Health Management.