Food as Medicine: Five Ways to Maintain a Healthy Gut
Bastyr University adheres to a whole-food philosophy that guides all of its nutrition programs, emphasizing the consumption of a variety of foods in their least-processed forms. When assessing health and wellness, the university integrates mind, body, and spirit by drawing connections between whole food, exercise science and health psychology.
This month, Isabella Passentino, Kelly Redfield, and Kevin Canale from Bastyr's Department of Nutrition talk about how food can help you maintain a healthy gut.
Why Gut Health Matters
It is believed that Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine, once said that all health begins in the gut. Two-thousand years later and we’re just beginning to understand how right he was.
The gastrointestinal tract involves much more than digesting, absorbing, and eliminating food. Within our gut lies the microbiome, which consists of trillions of “good” bacteria, which can influence how the rest of the body functions.
A healthy microbiome can contribute to a healthy immune system, efficient metabolic processes, improved mood, and better hormone regulation.
Choosing the right foods can help to keep the “good” bacteria flourishing and the “bad” bacteria at bay.
Fiber-up Your Life
Humans do not absorb fiber, but the microbiome uses it as a source of fuel. When our gut bacteria attempt to breakdown fibrous foods, they produce short chain fatty acids and these compounds support the integrity of our gut lining by providing fuel for our good gut bacteria.
To keep our microbiome healthy we must regularly consume high fiber foods. High fiber foods include vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans, and legumes. Most adults should consume 25-38 grams of fiber per day. Add one fiber-rich food to every meal, like dates at breakfast, beans at lunchtime, and roasted broccoli or Brussels sprouts to your dinner routine.
Fermentation is your Friend
Fermented foods are foods that have undergone a process of lacto-fermentation where strains of good bacteria (probiotics) called Lactobacillus break down the natural sugars in the food. Eating them means you are eating the live cultures of Lactobacillius bacteria, which can support your intestinal flora, which in turn, may help the body digest food more efficiently.
These days fermented foods are trending and you probably have a container of sauerkraut or a bottle of kombucha sitting in your refrigerator at home right now. If sauerkraut and kombucha aren't your cup of tea, try adding kimchi, miso, yogurt, or tempeh into your meal plan.
Eat the Rainbow
Consuming at least 5 to 9 combined servings of fruits and vegetables each day lowers our risk for many chronic diseases, but adding not just volume but variety supports a diverse gut microbiome.
The distinct colors of fruits and vegetables provide clues to the different micronutrients, phytonutrients, and prebiotics they contain. So, just follow this simple rule: the more colors on your plate, the better.
The lining of our gut should be healthy and tight, with closely packed cells. Chronic stress can lead to a separation of these cells, which may affect digestion and absorption. Implementing effective coping methods can help reduce stress and protect gut health.
Researchers are finding that some of the most effective stress reducers include meditation, exercise, laughter, and deep breathing, Check out Lisa Ormsby's articles on creative ways to approach wellness in San Diego for inspiration.
Hydrate for Health
Water helps nearly every cell in the body function at its best. The cells of the intestines are no exception. Within the gut, water allows for food particles to move along the gastrointestinal tract. A lack of water slows this movement and can lead to constipation.
Consuming 8 to 9 cups (64 to 72 fl. oz.) of water each day is a good starting point. If you're not crazy about plain water, try adding slices of fruit and herbs to your bottle.