Probiotics are live microorganisms, typically bacteria, which are believed to provide health benefits when consumed. The gut bacteria refers to the trillions of microbes that live in our digestive tracts, and the microbiome is the genetic material of all these microbes. Brooke Delfino, a dietitian and editor for HFG, discusses the latest breakthroughs in health science and provides easy steps to a healthier gut.
For decades, being thin was seen as the key to good health, and losing weight was often the main focus for improving health. However, as many people are aware, the situation is much more complicated than that.
Gut bacteria is now becoming a mainstream health concern for people who experience bloating and constipation. The trillions of bacteria that live in the gut are now considered the foundation for good health.
Around 1000 to 1500 different types of bacteria live in our gut microbiota, which is the term given to the bacteria, yeasts, and fungi that inhabit our digestive tract.
The balance of our gut microbiota may be linked to a number of other health concerns beyond gut health, such as immunity, IBS, IBD, heart disease, kidney disease, skin conditions, and mental health issues like anxiety and depression.
The goal of scientists is to make their latest research available to the public. :
- Eat a plant-based diet
- Consume probiotics and prebiotics
- Reduce stress
- Avoid processed foods
1. Think Diversity, Not ‘Good’ or ‘Bad’ Bacteria
Consuming a variety of plant-based foods will help to ensure optimal health.
Even if you eat the same thing every day for breakfast and lunch, that leaves you with 14 opportunities to try something new every week. A goal of 30 different plant-based foods a week is a good idea.
If you want a strong microbial diversity, you should have at least 10 plant-based foods per week, according to research. To maintain a healthy diet, it is important to switch up the foods you eat on a weekly basis and to be willing to try new things.
This week, choose three new plant-based foods to buy that you don’t usually eat. For example, swap your usual zucchini for eggplant. Or if you always eat almonds, try Brazil nuts. For greater variety, it is better to choose a mixed nut blend.
2. Eat Fiber-Rich Foods
The prebiotics in some high-fiber foods nourish the beneficial bacteria in your gut. There are many foods that contain prebiotics, which are very beneficial. Some examples of these foods include beans, legumes, artichokes, and Brussels sprouts.
Fiber is the holy grail nutrient. If you eat more, it will improve your overall health, including your heart.
Current guidelines recommend that we eat 30g of fiber a day, but most of us are only eating 19g. Start by slowly increasing the amount of food you eat to give your body time to get used to it.
Need another reason to eat more plant foods? Fiber is a type of carbohydrate that is found in plants. It is made up of molecules like cellulose.
The two categories of fiber are soluble and insoluble. Humans and intestinal bacteria cannot digest fiber. Yet fiber serves important purposes during digestion.
Soluble fiber, found in oats, apples, beans, and barley, combines with water to form a gel-like substance. Soluble fiber works to lower cholesterol and blood sugar levels.
Fiber that cannot be dissolved in water helps add volume to stool, which decreases the likelihood of constipation. This nutrient can be found in many different types of food, including whole wheat, beans, nuts, fruits, and vegetables. The daily recommended amount of fiber for men is 38 grams, and for women it is 25 grams.
Look at the nutrition information on your cereal boxes to see how much fiber is in each one. If a cereal product has more than 5g of fiber per 100g, then it is a good choice. However, try to choose cereal products that have at least 10g of fiber per 100g the next time you go shopping.
3. Try Healthy Fermented Foods
Foods that have undergone fermentation with bacteria or yeast are known as fermented foods. Examples of fermented foods include yoghurt, kefir (fermented milk) and kombucha (fermented tea). Foods that contain a variety of different types of bacteria are generally considered good for gut health.
Kefir is the most scientifically backed probiotic. Kefir contains a wide variety of yeast and bacteria, which is much greater than what is found in yoghurt. I drink 100ml kefir a day. You can now buy kits with the kefir grain — you just add milk and keep it on your kitchen bench to ferment for a few hours, then it’s ready to drink.
There are other healthy, fermented foods besides kimchi and sauerkraut that you can try.
When you’re next at the supermarket, have a look in the chilled dairy aisle and pick up one of the kefir products available. To make a morning smoothie that will help you start your day off right, mix the juice with a banana, some mixed berries, and either a spoonful of nut butter or a handful of oats.
4. Avoid Sweeteners
Artificial sweeteners may help you consume fewer kilojoules, but they can also damage the variety of microbes in your gut. Artificial sweeteners are not good for you.
There is no easy answer to whether it is better to have sugar or sweeteners. It depends on many factors, such as your weight and medical history. You should maintain a balance in your consumption of sweets; it’s okay to have a small chocolate bar every once in a while, but eating a large bag of candy on a regular basis is not advisable.
Some low-fat yoghurts contain artificial sweeteners rather than natural sugar. It is better to have plain yoghurt and add your own sweeteners such as fresh fruit or honey.
5. Always Buy ‘Live’ Yoghurt
There are a lot of different yogurts you can find at the grocery store, but not all of them have the beneficial gut bacteria that you might be looking for.
The best tubs of yogurt to choose are the ones that say they contain live cultures.
Milk is healthy. The truth is that all milks — no matter the fat content — are relatively similar in terms of healthfulness. It is not a big difference whether the milk is full-fat or made from skim milk. Both types of milk are healthy.
If you want to make sure you’re getting enough live cultures, choose yoghurts that have at least 100 million CFU (colony forming units or added probiotics).
6. Take Probiotics only after Antibiotics or if you have IBS
There is currently no scientific evidence that suggests probiotic supplements offer health benefits to healthy people. However, studies have shown that specific strains of bacteria can help treat certain conditions.
If you are taking antibiotics, you are half as likely to develop diarrhea, which affects around one third of antibiotic users.
Together with other probiotics, they can ease abdominal pain, bloating and diarrhea.
Probiotics, may be effective in reducing abdominal pain, bloating, and diarrhea. When researchers looked at the results of additional studies, they found that probiotics also reduced IBS symptoms by 20%.
You should always talk to your doctor about management strategies for your IBS. You may not see the benefits of taking probiotics for up to four weeks.
7. Swap Staple Foods Regularly
Even though it may be easy to eat the same thing every day, try to mix things up every once in a while to avoid getting bored with your diet.
Try incorporating wild rice, quinoa, buckwheat, or other ancient grains into your diet if you eat a lot of rice.
You can get more value for your money if you buy a can of four bean mix, butter beans, red kidney beans, and black beans instead of just chickpeas. Replace plain white pasta with wholegrain or legume varieties.
If your family is hesitant to try whole grains and legumes, try a mix of the two. One way to make your Bolognese healthier is to mix in some brown rice, or to halve the amount of mince and add a can of lentils. They won’t even notice!
8. Chew Your Food Well
We live in a fast-paced world where we often wolf down our food without taking the time to chew properly.
The benefits of chewing go beyond avoiding indigestion. Proper chewing:
- Allows salivary enzymes to mix with food, the first chemical process of digestion.
- Breaks down food and moistens it, decreasing stress on the esophagus.
- Decreases gas-related problems during digestion, including belching.
- Signals the pancreas to release enzymes and the stomach to make gastric juices.
- Increases the surface area of food so that the rest of the digestive system extracts nutrients more efficiently and possibly increases the value of what you’ve eaten.
You can’t necessarily measure adequate chewing by the number of times someone chews.
Instead of focusing on the time it takes to chew your food, pay attention to whether or not the food has lost its texture and is easy to break down in your mouth. The amount of chews required for different types of food can vary greatly. For example, a cooked carrot might only need 10 chews to be properly chewed, while a piece of jerky might need 40 chews.
You will feel fuller quicker if you chew your food properly, which can help you to maintain a healthy weight. The hormone leptin is released when the stomach is full, which signals to the brain that the person should stop eating.
9. Reduce Stress Levels
You may have experienced stomach discomfort if you’ve ever been in a stressful situation after eating a large meal. It is common to have this response to the hormones that are released during periods of stress.
Your nervous system is always on the lookout for possible danger, which can result in slowed digestion. Scientists are studying the connection between the central nervous system and the enteric nervous system, which is known as the gut-brain axis.
A growing body of evidence suggests that people who experience chronic stress or anxiety are more likely to suffer from digestive problems. If stress seems to affect your digestion, behavioral therapies led by licensed practitioners have been shown to help, including:
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy to explore coping skills.
- Relaxation therapy including deep breathing, listening to music, and progressive muscle relaxation.
- Hypnotherapy focused on gastrointestinal function.
We are only just beginning to understand how important the microbiome is for our health. Some evidence suggests that it is not only important for digestive health, but also for mental health.
10. Eat a Wide Variety of Prebiotic, Plant-Based Foods
Plants are a great source of the micronutrients needed for a healthy digestive system, including fruits, vegetables, pulses, and whole grains. The gut microbiome is essential to health and prebiotics are essential to the gut microbiome.
Prebiotics are the substances in foods that nourish the good bacteria in our large intestine. We are just beginning to uncover how important the symbiotic relationship is between humans and these microbes.
We need to provide food for them so they can succeed. They also help keep our digestive systems running smoothly. A few foods have been clearly shown to be prebiotic.
There are special types of carbohydrates called microbial accessible carbohydrates (MACs) in these foods that we cannot digest but that our gut flora needs for fuel.
Each of these flora-healthy food feeds different strains of good bacteria:
- Vegetables: onions, garlic, leeks, Jerusalem artichokes, globe artichokes, asparagus, chicory root, burdock, jicama, dandelion greens, salsify, mushrooms.
- Fruit: apples, bananas.
- Pulses: legumes, beans, chickpeas.
- Whole Grains: whole wheat, barley, rye.
- For babies, the prebiotic oligosaccharides in breastmilk are essential for feeding a healthy gut microbiome right from the start.
Other foods that have not been researched yet may also help the gut microbiome thrive. It is important to remember that eating a variety of plant-based foods will help to keep the microorganisms in your gut healthy.
11. Get Routine Sleep
The Nobel Prize for Medicine was awarded in 2017 to Hall, Rosbash, and Young for their discovery of how the circadian rhythm is controlled. The work of these researchers has inspired a number of subsequent studies, including research into how sleep disturbances may lead to changes in the microbiome.
The study found that when people’s sleep patterns are disturbed, such as what happens with shift work, jet lag, and late bedtimes, the population of microbes in their gut is also disturbed. This increases the risk of developing diseases.
Other studies have found that having a healthier microbiome can lead to better sleep habits. These studies suggest that regular sleep patterns are linked with good digestive health.
12. Eat Foods that Aid Protein Digestion
Protein is a macronutrient that is essential for the creation of every cell in the body. Many of the proteins we consume are large molecules that take a long time for the digestive system to break down into the amino acids we can use.
If you eat protease enzymes with your protein-rich meal, it might help you digest your food better.
Fruits including kiwifruit, mangos, bananas, and pineapple contain an enzyme called actinidin which has been shown to help with the digestion of foods such as dairy, meat, eggs, and fish.
Mangos, bananas, and pineapple also contain actinidin. Pineapple and papaya contain enzymes that may help with protein digestion.
It is better to use fresh fruit rather than canned fruit because the heat from canning fruit will deactivate the enzymes. If you want to help your body break down protein, start your meal with a fresh fruit salad.
There are twelve habits that have been shown to improve the health of your digestive system. These include physical actions like chewing and reducing stress, as well as feeding your gut microbiome and avoiding damaging toxins.
It’s a good idea to talk to your doctor if you’re having digestive problems. But diet can help too. Putting these practices into your regular eating routine will help keep your gut in good shape, which is vital for having a healthy body.
It’s a great investment that will improve your quality of life for years to come.