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Our gut health impacts so much more than just our gut. It has been linked with mood, immunity, and even chronic disease. Many things outside our control affect our gut health, such as the environment and our genetics. But, there are some things we can control, like our diet! Read on for how a diverse diet can keep your gut healthy.
The human body’s GI tract is full of trillions of bacteria, most of which are very helpful. They help to create short chain fatty acids which can be used all over the body. They also create vitamin K which is used in blood clotting, bone metabolism, and blood calcium regulation.
For optimal health, we want to feed the helpful bacteria and keep their numbers up. They help to prevent the less helpful bacteria from taking over. While scientists are still trying to figure out the optimal makeup of bacteria in the gut, they do know that diversity is important. One way to foster this diversity is to eat a diverse diet. All the different foods that we eat will help feed different bacteria.
So how does this translate into real life? We have found two main groups of foods that support gut health: probiotics and prebiotics.
Probiotics are foods that contain beneficial bacteria intended to populate the small intestine. There is still a large need for research regarding probiotics, but currently the best food sources of probiotics come from fermented dairy, like yogurt or kefir, usually with added bacteria, because most naturally fermented foods don’t have adequate bacteria levels to survive the gut and reach the intestine. Other options are foods like kimchi, sauerkraut, and tempeh.
While some supplements have been shown to have benefits for specific diseases like inflammatory bowel disease, there hasn’t been research to show a benefit for widespread use.
Prebiotics are a food source for the bacteria that live in our gut. They are carbohydrates that our body is unable to break down completely, but the bacteria can. The most common ones are oligosaccharides, inulin, and lactulose. Having a variety of prebiotic foods in our diet can make a big difference in our overall gut health.
Try to eat a variety of foods with prebiotics. These foods will also contain vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients which may have a synergistic effect not usually replicated in supplements. When increasing fiber intake through an increase in prebiotics, it is important to do so gradually and to drink plenty of water to prevent any gastrointestinal symptoms. As the bacteria break down these fibers, they create gas which can cause discomfort to some people.
Fruits: apples, bananas (higher when they’re still green), berries
Vegetables: artichokes, asparagus, greens, leeks, legumes, onions, tomatoes
Whole Grains: barley, oats, wheat
Other: chicory, cocoa, flaxseed, garlic, soybeans
Do your best to offer prebiotic foods every day. You may already be doing this without even realizing it! Generally, what we think of as a healthy diet will also be a diverse diet. A diet with a variety of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains will have a diverse range of prebiotics in it. There’s no need to come up with a complicated spreadsheet, just do your best to offer variety when you can.
Want to add some more prebiotics to foods you already eat? Try Begin Growing up Prebiotics.
This overnight oats recipe is a quick and easy way to get more prebiotics in your breakfast.
½ cup milk or milk alternative
½ cup oats
¼ cup yogurt
1 tsp chia seed
1 tsp flaxseed (optional – added prebiotics)
½ banana, mashed
Krystyn Parks is a Registered Dietitian practicing in Southern California. She has personal and professional experience in feeding kids. Check out her private practice Feeding Made Easy.
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