The Importance of Gut Health and Ways to Boost It

Sarah Schlichter
by Sarah Schlichter
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The Importance of Gut Health and Ways to Boost It

Gut health and probiotics topped some of the health trends in 2017 and don’t seem to be going anywhere in 2018. Probiotics are expected to continue to rise in popularity as more scientific evidence points to their benefits. Since 70–80% of our immune system resides in the digestive tract, ensuring a healthy digestive tract can improve our immunity.

Probiotics offer many benefits in addition to immunity — including improving digestion, managing anxiety and helping with overall mood as well as our health and well-being.  As scientific evidence continues to grow, the future may provide answers about specific strains that may help reduce cholesterol, prevent cancer and much more. The possibilities are promising.

HOW PREBIOTICS AND PROBIOTICS WORK TOGETHER

Though probiotics garner most of the attention, prebiotics are just as important — and you can’t have gut health without both.

Prebiotics are indigestible carbohydrate sources that resist digestion when traveling through the small intestine. They travel into the large intestine (colon), where the vast majority of microorganisms and probiotics in our bodies reside. Probiotics ferment them, extract nutrients and pass their benefits on to us. The extracted nutrients come in the form of short-chain fatty acids, such as butyrate, acetate and propionate, that provide nutrition for our colon cells and may also play a crucial role in our health and disease risk.

In other words, prebiotics are the “foods” that feed the probiotics. While probiotics refer to the beneficial bacteria throughout our gastrointestinal tract, prebiotics refer to the substances probiotics survive on, including many fruits and vegetables.


READ MORE > CAN YOU LOSE WEIGHT BY USING PROBIOTICS? 


There are also many ways to boost your gut health through diet alone. It may involve changing some of your typical choices or adding new foods to your routine, but, now more than ever, including gut-friendly foods in our diet is easy.

3 WAYS TO BOOST GUT HEALTH

Here are some ideas for starting:

1. OPT FOR READY-TO-EAT FOODS WITH PROBIOTICS

If you’re short on time, choose convenient, portable foods and drinks that offer probiotics. Single-serving yogurt, cottage cheese and kombucha drinks are no longer your only options. You can find kefir in individual dairy cups, protein smoothies, frozen pints and sparkling drinks. You can also snack on chips with probiotics and add probiotic packets into your water or drink probiotic juices.

2. EAT MORE PREBIOTIC FOODS

Remember, you can’t have gut health without prebiotics. Choosing good prebiotic foods also works to enhance your overall diet, since many provide ample fiber as well. Start small if you’re just starting to consume prebiotics to minimize bloating or gastrointestinal discomfort. Garlic, onions, leeks, artichokes, asparagus, bananas, apples, oats, barley, wheat bran and chicory root are great food sources of prebiotics. Try cooking with garlic or leeks to add additional flavor to your dishes or start small by eating an apple as a snack. Don’t be surprised if you see other health benefits by including these foods, too!

3. EXPERIMENT WITH FERMENTED FOODS

Fermented foods, like sauerkraut, kimchi, tempeh and miso all offer probiotic benefits and don’t have to be intimidating. If you’re unsure where to start, try adding sauerkraut to your salad or sandwich or have a cup of miso soup before dinner. Swap your meat once a week for tempeh (a great vegan alternative), which cooks quickly and takes on whatever flavor you marinade it with. A simple starter is soy sauce or sesame oil with some ginger and spices or a combination of balsamic vinegar, maple syrup, garlic and olive oil.

About the Author

Sarah Schlichter
Sarah Schlichter

Sarah is a registered dietitian based in Charlotte, N.C. She works with individuals to help improve and understand their relationships with food and health. She also works as a nutrition consultant and writes the blog, Bucket List Tummy, sharing nutrition posts, healthy recipes, running tips and everything on her bucket list.

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