The Path to Better Health Is Through the Gut!

By Sara Hodson

You have probably heard a lot about the gut, the microbiome, and probiotics in the news over the past few years. What do all of these things mean to a person living with chronic disease and trying to maintain a healthy lifestyle? 

The Facts

Gut and Stress: Did you know our gut responds to physical, psychological and emotional stress? Stress can increase fluids in our gut, leading to diarrhea and depletion of nutrients.

The Gut is Huge: If the human intestines were stretched out they would be 25 feet long. Considering the average American is less than 6 feet in height, 25 feet worth of guts is quite astonishing.

Lots of Bacteria: Not only is there 25 feet worth of guts inside, but there are also trillions of bacteria cells in our body.

Exercise and Your Gut: Caring for our gut is interwoven with the medications we take, the diet we consume, our environment, and many other factors including exercise. That’s right - exercise can boost our gut’s health by diversifying the bacteria.

A healthy gut is important. Not only is it important to look at what we put in our bodies, but we need to look at how we take care of our bodies. If we needed another reason to exercise, diversifying our gut could be added to the list.

Diversifying Your Gut

A healthy gut is a diverse gut - the diversity in your gut helps fight infections, promotes disease prevention, and boosts your immune system. Knowing that a diverse gut helps maintain a healthy lifestyle, the goal is to keep a healthy variety of bacteria in your gut.

 Reduction of the good bacteria normally found in the gut can happen easily in a Western diet which is low in fiber and high in sugars and fats. This list includes some healthy foods that can be beneficial to help increase gut bacteria diversity:

  1. Chocolate: Specifically, dark chocolate and unsweetened cocoa powder can be beneficial to gut health. This is not a chocolate bar found with fats and sugars in large amounts - instead, it would be a small piece of dark chocolate or dark chocolate cocoa milk. It is the cocoa in the chocolate that is beneficial not only for gut health but also for the antioxidants it provides.
  2. Leafy greens: Kale and spinach are two great sources of leafy greens that can help the growth of bacteria in your gut. Leafy greens are full of vitamins, fiber, and nutrients that can help you keep a balanced diet.
  3. PREbiotics: You have certainly heard of PRObiotic supplements, but have you ever heard the term PREbiotic? Prebiotics are the fibers in foods that are non-digestible and aid in your intestine’s fermentation process. Foods that are rich in prebiotics are those with pectins such as apples, chicory root, and beans.
  4. Yogurt: Yogurts naturally contain probiotics which can contribute to gut diversity. There are certain types of yogurts that have naturally occurring probiotics plus additionally added strains, such as Greek yogurt varieties.
  5. Water: Your body is made up of about 60% water. This simple drink is important for so many parts of your complicated body. With regards to gut health, water will help hydrate the mucosal linings of the intestines and promote bacterial diversity.

Foods to Avoid

It is also important to know what foods to avoid that may hinder gut bacterial diversity. You can see below what foods may be detrimental to your gut diversity and overall gut health:

  1. Sugar-Free Gum: This may come as a surprise, especially when you are trying to keep those pearly whites free from cavities, but chewing sugar-free gum too often can lead to bloating and stomach cramping.
  2. Fast-Food Meals: Fast food can be an easy fix when you are on the go, but when you eat fast food and processed meat too often, it can lead to inflammation in your gut due to the overgrowth of bad bacteria.
  3. Fatty-Rich Foods: Foods that are high in fats can lead to inflammation and malabsorption. These foods can lead to poor gut diversity. Read food labels and check for saturated fats - avoiding these foods will also help you avoid bad cholesterol.
  4. Soda & Juice: Sugary drinks can change the critical balance of bacteria in your gut. Your gut needs diversity to maintain overall health and when you overdrink and overeat sugars such as sodas and sugary fruit juice, you are unbalancing this bacterial growth.
  5. Pantry vs. Fridge: Grabbing a bag of processed chips from your pantry over the chilled carrots or other vegetables in your refrigerator can be gratifying when you are looking for a quick snack. This is okay in moderation, but remember that processed foods often have little nutritional value. Foods that are processed frequently lead to gut inflammation and reduce your gut diversity.

Having a healthy gut with a diverse diet will protect you from chronic diseases, prevent infections, and keep your immune system boosted. The foods listed above can affect that fine balance.

Exercise and Your GI System

Exercise is important for your health - we’ve all heard this. What you may not know is that even your gut benefits from regular exercise. If you have been working hard to maintain a healthy diet, you will be happy to learn how exercise can positively boost your gut diversity.

  1. Endurance: Endurance exercise has been noted to change the gut diversity and improve overall gut health.
  2. Gut Inflammation: Exercise can help your gut by reducing inflammation. When you have lower gut inflammation, you have healthier bowel movements and better nutrition absorption. Less inflammation will also help in the prevention of stomach illnesses and stomach discomfort.
  3. Consistency: Studies have shown that it takes 6 weeks of exercise to change your gut bacteria. The benefits to your body and your health will come if you are consistently sticking to your goals.
  4. Lowers Risk of Chronic Disease: Exercise can increase certain fatty acids in your gut that can help reduce the risk of chronic health conditions such as diabetes and heart disease.
  5. Energy: Your body can produce energy during and after exercise to help you feel refreshed and ready to tackle your day. The production of certain fatty acids such as butyrate aid in the energy boosts you feel while exercising by increasing their production in the gut.

Knowing how your body is being positively affected by exercise can be refreshing and motivating. You can use the nutrition and exercise tips in this article to take control of your gut health!

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