Gut health has been a major topic lately, and for many good reasons. But what does the term gut health really mean? And why should we care about it? Here are some basics to understand it better—and to make healthy choices for yourself.
What is gut health?
- The “gut” is another way to refer to our gastrointestinal tract (or GI tract, for short).
- It includes all parts of the body that we use to digest, absorb and process food.
- These body parts include: mouth, salivary glands, throat (pharynx), esophagus, stomach, liver, pancreas, gallbladder, small intestine, large intestine, rectum and anus.1
- Our gut microbiome refers to the vast collection of microorganisms living in our GI tract.2
- The gut microbiome balance is delicate and affected by many things. An imbalance can lead to changes in how your body regulates things like metabolism and inflammation.3
- While some bacteria are harmful and can trigger certain diseases, nearly all of the bacteria found in the gut microbiome are helpful and even necessary to live a healthy life.
Why is our gut health important?
Much of our body’s defense against illness and infections comes from our gut because of those healthy bacteria found in our gut microbiome. Our gut also communicates directly with our brain and can impact our mood and energy level.
The health of our gut plays a major role in our risk for diseases that may impact our:
- Immune system
- Cancer risk
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What causes problems for gut health?
Many things can impact our gut health, from diet and lifestyle to illness and medications.
How can I improve my gut health?
- Get enough good sleep.6
- Make efforts to relieve stress.
- Aim to eat a wide variety of fruits and veggies.
- Enjoy lots of fiber-rich foods, in addition to fruits and veggies like nuts, seeds and legumes (such as beans, peas and lentils).
- Choose whole grain foods (such as 100% whole grain bread, brown rice, whole rolled oats, millet and quinoa) over refined grains (like white rice, white pasta and bread made with enriched wheat flour).
- Get some physical activity that you enjoy. Do this most days of the week (if not every day).
- Only use antibiotics if your doctor prescribes them for a specific infection.
- Try to limit alcohol.
- If you’re thinking about using a dietary supplement, be sure to check with your doctor or a registered dietitian.
- Try to include foods with prebiotics and probiotics:
Prebiotics: Found in fiber-rich foods that feed the helpful probiotic organisms in our gut. Found in asparagus, citrus fruits, berries, bananas, apples, steel-cut oats, onions, garlic, almonds and more. 5
Probiotics: Foods that contain live microorganisms that boost the good bacteria in our gut. Found in fermented foods like yogurt, kefir, kimchi, sauerkraut, miso and kombucha. 4
Are you interested in incorporating more probiotics into your meals? Read on to reveal the ways in which probiotics may boost our health.
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Published April 28, 2016
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