Being conscious about gut health is not just a trend or a fad. Good gut health is important to your physical wellbeing, and may also impact your mental wellness in the long run. However, this should not pose a problem as there are a lot of choices of foods for a healthy gut.
But why do some people still develop a “leaky” gut? Let’s first get to know the gut a little better.
What is gut and gut flora?
The gut is another word for the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. It is the long passageway for food which includes all the systems necessary for digestion, starting from the mouth to the anus.
The gut flora or gut microbiota, on the other hand, is the collection of both good and bad bacteria living in the digestive tract. The gut flora must keep a healthy balance between beneficial and harmful bacteria to maintain good health.
The balance ratio should be at least 85% good bacteria and 15% bad bacteria. Otherwise, a higher percentage of bad gut bacteria may cause the body to develop digestive disorders, autoimmune diseases, and in worst cases, cancer.
Why is gut health important?
A healthy GI tract strengthens the immune system. Consequently, a robust immune system is a key to preventing various diseases and infections.
Moreover, good gut health helps keep the heart and brain in great shape. It is for this reason that a happy gut often results in a happy mind. Subsequently, a happy mind improves your mood, supports mental health, and creates a good overall sense of wellbeing. (See Related: How Probiotics Help Your Body)
Hence, it is vital to retain a thriving beneficial bacteria population in the digestive tract.
What feeds the bad gut bacteria?
- Eating quickly
- Not chewing the food well before swallowing
- Not eating on a regular schedule
- Insufficient water or fluid intake
- Intake of sugary and fatty foods
- Eating high amounts of animal-based protein
- Consumption of processed foods
- Excessive intake of alcohol, caffeine, and carbonated drinks
- Sleep deprivation
- Lack of exercise
The standard American diet (SAD)
Evidence shows that the SAD or the Western pattern diet (WPD) is low in fiber, high in calories, saturated fats, sugar, and sodium content. Moreover, the diet is mainly characterized by high consumption of processed meats, fried foods, and high-fat dairy products.
How do I increase the good bacteria in my gut flora to restore its health?
- Stop the growth of harmful gut bacteria by avoiding the lifestyle and dietary patterns that feed it, as mentioned above.
- Avoid SAD at all costs.
- Opt for a probiotic supplement; ask your doctor about it.
- Eat food types that improve gut health:
Below are 12 foods and drinks that boost the population of beneficial bacteria and hinder the growth of harmful ones in the gut microbiota. (See Related: 11 Weird Fruits That You Won’t Believe Exist)
Kefir is a cultured, fermented milk drink made of kefir grains. It is similar to yogurt and originated in the Caucasus Mountains.
Kefir is creamy and delicious with a slightly sour taste. Moreover, it is an excellent source of nutrients and probiotics.
Kombucha is a fermented drink made with tea which tastes sweet-and-sour and is fizzy. Moreover, it is a beverage cultured with SCOBY (Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast). Kombucha is abundant in antioxidants, B vitamins, and probiotics.
“Yogurt” comes from a Turkish word which means tart, thick milk. It has a distinctive taste caused by the lactic acid produced by the fermentation of the milk’s natural sugar. Nevertheless, it is a good source of calcium, protein, and potassium.
Apart from being nutritious, yogurt also helps regulate bowel movements.
Kimchi is a traditional Korean fermented vegetable dish, usually cabbages and radishes. Like other fermented foods, it has a prominent sour taste but has a spicy twist. Above all, kimchi is high in fiber and rich in probiotics.
Similar to kimchi, sauerkraut is also made from fermented cabbage. However, sauerkraut is German in origin and the cabbage is thinly shredded, salted, and left to ferment in its brine. It is loaded with vitamins and minerals and improves digestion.
Tempeh is a traditional Indonesian food composed of cooked and slightly fermented soybeans. It is shaped into a block or patty like tofu. Tempeh is a good source of vegan protein and is rich in prebiotics.
Like tempeh, natto is also made from fermented soybeans but is Japanese in origin. Natto has a sticky paste and is known to have a strong odor that is associated with better taste. Although not everyone may be fond of its flavor and smell, natto is packed with fiber, protein, and iron.
Lassi is a traditional yogurt-based milk drink in India. Moreover, it is always served cold which can be very refreshing during the hot weather. Lassi aids in good digestion and prevents bloating.
Miso is a superfood made from mashed cooked and fermented soybeans mixed with salt and rice koji. It is a savory paste usually added to soups, glazes, and marinades and has a tangy flavor. However, it is not recommended to boil dishes with miso as extreme heat may kill the good bacteria, reducing its beneficial effects.
Eating a handful of almonds a day already accounts for one-eighth of a person’s daily protein needs. Moreover, almonds are seeds (not nuts!) that may be consumed raw or toasted and can reduce the risk of heart and cholesterol problems. Above all, almonds increase the number of good bacteria in the gut.
11. Whole grains
Quinoa, oats, brown rice, buckwheat, rye, spelt, and barley are some of the whole grains that feed the beneficial bacteria in the GI tract. Moreover, consuming whole grains boosts healthy digestion and helps prevent constipation.
12. Non-starchy fruits and vegetables
Including at least one serving of fruits and vegetables in your meal is good for your gut as it is high in fiber content. However, you must pick non-starchy and low-fructose fruits as fructose is also a type of sugar. Moreover, plant-based foods contain polyphenols, which are small nutrients that stimulate the growth of good bacteria in the digestive tract.