When you're hard on your digestive system whether by chasing down a burger with a fistful of fries or by overindulging in a pint of ice cream your gut may let you know with heartburn, stomach pain, gas or diarrhea. Being good to your gut, however, can prevent these dishy comforts and do much more. A healthy gut enables many parts of the body to run smoothly, especially the kidneys, liver and other organs of the excretory system.
The human gut is home to trillions of microorganisms, known as the gut microbiota. Many of these bacteria are helpful, others not so much. A recent study published by the American Society for Microbiology found that people with an abundance of beneficial bacteria in their guts tend to live a longer, healthier life. That's because good bacteria help process nutrients in food and filter out toxins that can lead to disease. The bad bacteria interfere with these processes, which may cause toxins to build up in the body.
Though scientists are far from understanding exactly how the gut works and influences health, evidence indicates that your diet may have a profound impact on which bacteria thrive in your gut. This means making changes to your eating habits can support the guts good bacteria and thwart the bad.
To improve gut health, try these steps.
Get your fiber fix
Fiber feeds the good bacteria that may ward off inflammation in the digestive tract. Fiber also helps food move through your gut, preventing constipation. Fruits, vegetables, beans and legumes are the best sources of fiber. Aim to get 25 grams of fiber daily if you're female, 38 grams if you're male. Just be sure to increase fiber intake gradually, and drink plenty of water to avoid cramping and gas.
Choose carbs wisely
Some carbohydrates, including whole grains, seeds, chickpeas, lentils and under-ripe bananas, contain resistant starch that fuels the growth of probiotics or good bacteria in the gut. These foods are often called prebiotics, and eating them can help control blood sugar and improve your body's ability to burn fat, according toConsumer Reports Health.
Eat fermented foods
Foods that are fermented contain probiotic bacteria that may improve the bacterial balance in your microbiota. There is also evidence that probiotics boost immunity and fight both constipation and some types of diarrhea. Plain yogurt with live cultures is one of the best fermented foods to add to your diet, even if you're lactose-intolerant or have irritable bowel syndrome. Sauerkraut, tempeh, kefir and foods made from fermented soybeans like miso are also good sources of probiotics.
Diversify your diet
The more species of bacteria in your gut, the healthier you are likely to be since different bacteria play different roles in metabolism. Eating a plant-based diet supplies a wide variety of nutrients to the microorganisms that contribute to good health, which can slow or prevent the growth of disease-causing bacteria. So, skip the processed foods and fill up on fresh foods like apples, berries, nuts and beans.