by Emily Cooper, RDN
Many of us may know that gut health is important, but why? Aside from digestion, recent studies have suggested that gut health is closely tied to other aspects of health such as immunity, mental health, weight management, and overall mood and well-being.
Gut bacteria is more important, and prevalent in our bodies than we may think it is. In fact, the human body contains upwards of 10 times as many bacterial cells than human cells, greater supporting the importance of gut health.
Now that you know why it is important, here are 5 easy ways you can help to support gut health naturally.
Eat Fermented Foods
Many fermented foods contain beneficial bacteria, which are a natural part of the fermentation process. Including more of these foods in the diet can increase the amount of “good” bacteria in the gut, and lower the amount of “bad” bacteria. Some examples of fermented foods include yogurt, kimchi, sauerkraut, kefir, kombucha, and tempeh.
There is no standard recommendation for the quantity of fermented foods to include in the diet, but incorporating at least one or more types of fermented foods regularly can help to support gut health.
Include Prebiotic-Rich Foods in the Diet
The word “probiotic” may be synonymous with gut health, but one other word that should be a part of your digestive vocabulary is prebiotic. Probiotics are the bacteria themselves, but prebiotics are foods that help to promote the growth of good bacteria in the gut. These are often fibers, complex carbohydrates, and resistant starches that the body can’t breakdown, but is rather used by gut bacteria for fuel. Some prebiotic-rich foods include onions, garlic, oats, bananas, soybeans, asparagus, Jerusalem artichokes (sunchokes), and wheat.
While there is no set recommendation for prebiotic foods, try to include at least one prebiotic-rich food in your diet per day to help support the growth of beneficial bacteria in the gut.
Increase Fiber Intake
As a whole, adult Americans are not eating enough fiber. It is estimated that a mere 5% of Americans are meeting the daily recommendations for fiber intake. Dietary fiber helps to support gut health by not only increasing gut motility, or the rate at which waste moves through the digestive system, but also functioning in a similar fashion to prebiotics – by feeding beneficial gut bacteria.
The USDA’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends a daily fiber intake of 25 grams for women, and 38 grams for men under the age of 50. Women and men above the age of 50 should aim for 21 and 30 daily grams of fiber, respectively. Including a variety of fruits, vegetables, beans, whole grains, nuts, and seeds can help you reach your goals for daily fiber intake.
Hand in hand with increasing fiber intake comes hydration. Upping dietary fiber without increasing the amount of fluid intake can have the opposite effect, causing constipation, gas, bloating, and digestive discomfort. Staying hydrated can help to regulate digestion, as well as helping to balance the levels of beneficial bacteria in the gut.
How much water should you drink a day? The old adage of eight cups a day is no longer true. The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine determined that an adequate daily fluid intake is about 15.5 cups of fluids for men, and about 11.5 cups of fluids a day for women. You can contribute to your fluid intake in a number of ways, such as pure water, herbal teas, decaffeinated beverages, and water-rich fruits and vegetables like peppers, celery, cucumber, and watermelon.
Staying active regularly can support health in a number of ways including weight management, improving mood, and regulating digestion. Which every activities you enjoy doing is the best for your body. Pick things you look forward to, and that you can find yourself sticking to on a regular basis. This makes it easier to make a part of your everyday, and reap the benefits of.
Bonus: Take a Probiotic Supplement
While you can most definitely help support gut health without the use or need of supplements, they also can help to support gut health. Many different probiotic supplements are available, each containing different strains and amounts of bacteria. It is best to consult with a gastroenterologist, or your primary care physician if interested in including a probiotic supplement into your diet, to help determine which would be appropriate for your personal goals or gut symptoms.
Have more questions about gut health? Join Emily, your local in-store dietitian from the ShopRite of Essex Green for a talk all about Gut Health right at the Verona Yoga Studio! Contact the studio directly for more information.