What You Need to Know About Gut Health

Screen Shot 2016-01-27 at 6.30.46 PM
(Photo: iStock) 

It’s time to start thinking about your gut. Not how fit and toned it is, but what’s actually inside of it. Right now, your gastrointestinal system a.k.a. your gut is playing host to trillions of bacteria.  Thesemicroorganisms -- some “good”, some “bad” -- have a direct impact on your gut health, which in turn effects how the rest of your body operates. Everything from your mood, energy level and even emotional state is directly related to your gastrointestinal system.

Board-certified neurologist, American College of Nutrition (ACN) fellow and author, Dr. David Perlmutter spoke about the connection of brain to gut health explaining, "Gut bacteria are wielding this very powerful sword of Damocles, they determine whether we're going to have a healthy brain or not, whether our brain is going to function well or not, and whether our brain is going to become diseased or not. Who knew that we'd be referring back to the gut?"

So how do we take control and have a healthy gut, Womanistas? Bacteria. A healthy gut thrives off of good bacteria and helps your body digest food, make vitamins and fight off illness. On the flip side, if your gut is overrun with bad bacteria, this can lead to inflammation, chronic diseases, obesity—even depression.  

The good news is the types of foods you eat can greatly impact which kind of bacteria is living inside of you, getting you on the road to a healthier gut. 

Eat More

 

Probiotics

 

Probiotics are good bacteria, so it only makes sense that consuming them will contribute to a healthier gut. Greek yogurt and kefir (a pourable yogurt drink) both contain very high amounts of these live and active cultures. You can also get probiotics from fermented foods like sauerkraut, sourdough bread, miso soup and tempeh (a soy product similar to tofu). 

Prebiotics

The less well-known biotic, prebiotics are the food that fuels probiotics. They’re non-digestible carbs that can be found in asparagus, bananas and oatmeal. You can also get them from onions and garlic, so start seasoning! 

Eat Less

 

Refined Carbs

We know, you have heard it before, but go easy on desserts, white breads and pasta. That feeling you get after a delicious big piece of chocolate cake? Quickly euphoric and then quickly turning to the nearest couch for a nap? That is because refined carbs are full of sugar that bad bacteria feeds on and brings your body down. Instead, eat more complex carbohydrates like whole wheat bread or brown rice. They’re high in fiber which aids digestion and keeps you full longer. 

Animal Protein

Bilophilia, a type of bacteria that causes inflammation, thrives off of high-fat animal protein like red meat. Limit hamburgers and steak to once a week and try working more meatless meals into your menu rotation. Edamame, black beans, chickpeas and quinoa are all delicious, high-protein alternatives.

Artificial Sweeteners

According to new research, artificial sweeteners like saccharin may fuel the bacteria in your gut that takes calories away from food and stores it as excess fat. So your diet soda may not actually be helping your diet after all. Instead, choose a natural sugar substitute like Stevia or just use smaller amounts of real sugar or honey.