“Gut Instinct” – Best foods for digestive health
The concept of countless bacteria living within the body might strike some as disturbing. Yet, the truth is that every one of us has trillions of microbes in our intestinal tracts - a population so large that it accounts for between two and four pounds of total body weight. And this community of bacteria - also known as the gut microbiome - is beneficial and essential to health.
Let's take a closer look at the gut microbiome - and some specific foods that encourage microbial balance and help keep the "good bugs" happy.
The microbiome influences immunity, metabolism, and mood
Research has shown that the microbiome plays an indispensable role in overall health. Beneficial gut bacteria help to absorb nutrients, boost the immune system, facilitate hormone function, promote efficient digestion, reduce inflammation, help to prevent obesity, and even influence cognition and mood.
But, for the microbiome to function correctly, a healthy balance between "friendly" bacteria (which include Lactobacillus and Bifidobacteria) and "unfriendly" bacteria (such as E. coli and Pseudomonas) must be maintained. The microbiome's imbalance, also known as dysbiosis, can trigger a litany of unwanted health conditions - including obesity, autism, "leaky gut," autoimmune diseases, and inflammatory conditions such as arthritis.
Incidentally, when it comes to having different strains of gut bacteria, it's a case of "the more, the merrier." When microbiome diversity falls too low, the risk of conditions like metabolic syndrome, diabetes, and obesity rises. Eating an assortment of pro- and prebiotic foods can help ensure the survival of a wide range of helpful bacteria.
Support the microbiome with probiotics and fermented foods
Simply put, probiotic foods contain living bacteria that improve microbial balance and encourage the presence of "friendly" gut bacteria. In one recent study, a diet high in probiotic fermented foods was more effective than a diet rich in high-fiber foods in improving microbial diversity and reducing inflammatory molecules. This isn't to say that high-fiber foods aren't beneficial to the microbiome - just that the potent effects of fermented foods outweigh them.
To up your intake of beneficial probiotics, reach for the sauerkraut (fresh, not canned), kimchi (pickled cabbage), yogurt with live active cultures, kefir, miso soup, aged cheeses, and kombucha tea. You can also take probiotics in supplementary form, but check with your integrative healthcare provider first.
Prebiotic foods provide valuable fuel for gut bacteria
While probiotic nutrients encourage the presence of friendly bacteria, prebiotic foods directly feed these helpful microorganisms. All prebiotic foods contain indigestible fiber that - while the body can't digest it - still provides nourishment for "good" bacteria in the intestinal tract.
Jerusalem artichokes, also known as sunchokes, are believed to be among the best prebiotic foods on the planet due to their inulin content. This indigestible fiber nourishes desirable Bifidobacteria and Lactobacillus. Raw garlic, another inulin-rich food, also feeds friendly bacteria while simultaneously killing off harmful bacteria and yeasts. If the strong taste of raw garlic just isn't for you, you can get prebiotic benefits with garlic's milder-tasting "cousins," such as onions, leeks, shallots, and chives. And remember the cruciferous vegetables, which include kale, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, and arugula. These "superfoods" contain a prebiotic fiber known as indole-3-carbinol, which is particularly supportive of Lactobacillus.
Other good prebiotic foods include bananas, raw asparagus, tart green apples, berries, oatmeal, and flaxseed.
Hummus Kimchi Wrap offers a jackpot of pro-and prebiotic nutrients
The following recipe offers up an extravaganza of gut-friendly ingredients.
- In a bowl, mix together 1/4 cup hummus and 1/4 cup drained kimchi until well combined.
- Lay an organic whole wheat tortilla flat and layer with organic, fresh spinach, cucumber and the hummus kimchi mix. Roll the wrap tightly and enjoy!
Your taste buds – and your gut microbiome – will thank you.
Sources for this article include: