How to Improve Your Gut Health
Are you trying to increase your gut health? In this post we take a look at 6 ways you can start improving your gut health today!
Recent findings are suggesting that gut health might be the key to overall health and vitality in the body. The digestive system plays a huge role in maintaining the body. Being home to almost 80% of the body’s immune system – it also functions to ward off disease and pathogens.
What Makes Up the Gut
When we think of the digestive tract what comes into mind is the stomach and intestines. The ‘hardware’ of the gut. Besides this structure however, there is another element to the system – and that is the microbes which inhabit the gut. These guys are like the software of the digestive tract. They facilitate the uptake of nutrients into body, and work to fight harmful bacteria which might be ingested.
What Constitutes a Healthy Gut
For the gut to be healthy and in tip top condition – both the tract and the populations of beneficial microbes need to be in good shape. While one’s stomach and intestinal walls might be healthy, nowadays, it is not uncommon for one’s digestive microbes and probiotic bacteria to be compromised.
The gut is home to up to 1 000 different types of bacteria. They are naturally occurring and are seeded there in infancy via breast milk and the ingestion of plants. If your gut contains most of the different species of probiotic bacteria and other microbes, and there are sufficient quantities of them, then your digestive system will be operating at full power.
However, if these microbial populations have been diminished by drugs, illness, wrong eating or other factors, then the digestive tract will not be in a state of full health.
What Can Damage Gut Health
There are a few factors which can seriously impact gut health in a negative way by reducing its microbial populations. Let’s take a quick look at some of these.
Factors Which Can Reduce Microbial Populations Within the Gut
- Drinking chlorinated water
- Taking contraceptive tablets
- Artificial sweeteners
- Foods containing high quantities of preservatives and other chemicals
- Food allergies
- Diets low in plant based foods and whole grains
If you are exposed to any of the above, it might be a good idea to take some steps to improve the health of your gut and its probiotic populations of bacteria.
5 Ways to Improve Gut Health
As you can see, there many areas of modern lifestyles which can negatively affect your gut health. On the other hand, there are also quite a few things which you can do to improve the health of your digestive system once more.
# 1 Drink Pure Water
One of the first things you can do is examine the water which you are drinking. Water can carry with it invisible elements such chlorine and BPAs. Treated municipal water will contain chlorine and as well as other chemicals. Bottled water can contain BPAs if it is in plastic bottles.
Sources of Pure Water
In these days of freely available water in the developed world, clean and pure water can be surprisingly hard to come by! Here are some sources of pure water which will not negatively impact your gut flora in the long term:
- Clean rain water in areas which do not have air pollution.
- Store bought filtered water in glass bottles.
- Water filtered at home, and stored in glass containers.
- Clean underground water
If you do not have access to clean rain, spring, river or underground water, then a good option is filtering water at home. For this you will need to invest in a good quality water filter. Effective water filters can be costly, but the outlay can be very worthwhile, as it means that you and your family will be drinking clean water in plenty.
# 2 Include Fermented Foods Into Your Diet
This is perhaps the top strategy you can implement to boost your gut health. No wonder we have a whole site devoted to making fermented foods!
Fermented foods are packed with probiotic microbes. If you ingest these, they can recolonize your gut, and enhance and enrich the probiotic flora there.
The best strategy is to incorporate a variety of fermented products into your diet. Eating them on an ongoing basis will ensure that you are combating any negative impact that the modern environment and lifestyle is having on your gut.
Fermented Foods to Consume for Gut Health
One of the best things about probiotic foods is that there is a large variety to choose from. So if yogurt is not your thing, you have got many other options which you might enjoy more. Here is a list of some of the most common types of fermented products. If you are interested in making any of these yourself, click on the links to access our guides.
- Greek yogurt
- Water kefir
- Jun Tea
- Spinach kraut
- Other lacto fermented pickles
- Unpasteurized alcoholic drinks
- Cultured cream
- Cottage cheese
The exact species of probiotic organisms present vary from each type of fermented food. Lacto fermented pickles have a higher proportion of lactic acid bacteria. And ferments such as kombucha and unpasteurized beers contain higher quantities of probiotic yeasts.
Milk kefir is considered to be a source of the most diverse range of probiotic microbes, containing 30-50 different possible strains of probiotics. As opposed to water kefir, which contains roughly 10-15. However all fermented products are beneficial, and whichever ones you choose to incorporate into your diet will assist the gut. Generally it is a good idea to find a fermented product to consume which you really enjoy. This way you are sure to consistently eat it. You might gain more benefits over time time, than if you try to consume a ferment which you struggle to incorporate into your diet.
The Invisible Power of Fermented Foods
According to Dr Mercola, eating one tablespoon of sauerkraut is the equivalent of taking 1 whole bottle of probiotics. Taken in conjunction with the costliness of over the counter probiotic supplements, it appears that the bacteria found in fermented foods are a preferable source of gut microbes than their bottled counterparts.
Fermented foods also come with their own compliment of already made enzymes which are an aid to digestion.
In addition, fermented products not only contain high levels of probiotics and enzymes, but good levels of vitamins and minerals as well as natural acids. Natural acids have an alkalizing effect on the body. High acidity levels are another symptom of modern western diets, and have been linked to numerous illnesses and ailments.
So all in all, adding in fermented foods to your diet is an all round plus!
If you want to know more about the health benefits of fermented foods, check out our post Health Benefits of Fermented Foods (And Why You Absolutely Should Eat Them).
For detailed info on kombucha, you can read Kombucha Health Benefits: The Facts, The Fiction, And The Science and What Are The (Real) Health Benefits Of Kombucha?.
# 3 Eat a Plant Based Diet
Besides eating fermented products, you can also focus on eating more plant based foods to improve your gut health. Plant based foods are not only high in fiber, but if fresh they also contain concentrations of probiotic bacteria!
If you have ever made lacto fermented vegetable pickles or sauerkraut, then you will most probably know that you do not need to necessarily add a starter or culture to the jars. If you submerge fresh vegetables in salt water – the lactic acid bacteria on the surface of the vegetables will multiply by themselves. The fresh vegetables themselves can act as the seed or culture, because they hold the species of bacteria on them already.
Remember, the fresher and more natural your vegetables are, the better. Vegetables which are old, have been in cold storage, or sprayed with pesticides, will only retain a fraction of their gut friendly bacteria coverings.
# 4 Avoid Artificial Sweeteners
Studies have shown artificial sweeteners to have a negative impact on gut bacteria. In fact, sweeteners such as sucralose directly kill off probiotic bacteria in your digestive tract. Not good!
Other studies have even shown evidence that artificial sweeteners can actually lead to weight gain and diabetes – the two things that artificial sweeteners are supposed to guard against! The reason for this is directly linked to the damage which the artificial sweetening chemicals have of the gut flora over time.
Considering all of the other health hazards associated by research to artificial sweeteners – it might be best to stay away from them all together. For all areas of health, specifically including gut health.
# 5 Take Antibiotics in Moderation
It is a well know fact that antibiotic medication has a negative impact on the probiotic flora within one’s digestive system. The aim of antibiotics is to kill off bacterial and viral infections. However – they do not practice discrimination, and so kill any bacteria within their path, good and pathogenic.
Studies have shown that antibiotics can severely impact the microbial communities within the gut. To the point that IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) and other serious gut issues (such as Salmonella infections) can develop.
This indicates that antibiotics should not be taken lightly.
However there are instances where taking antibiotics might be the best – or even the only – option. If this is the case, then you can use the above points to heal and support your gut during and after the course of medication.
It is also good to be aware that there are products on the market which are often prescribed that are antibiotic in nature, but are not marketed as such. Acne treatments are one such example.
With new forays into microbiological science and health there is more and more evidence to show that a healthy gut is a basis for all general health. The gut is responsible for absorbing nutrition to keep the body healthy and operating at peak performance. Additionally, the huge role that the gut flora plays in guarding the whole body from pathogens makes keeping that flora strong and active even more important.
Modern lifestyles can contain many elements which invisibly kill off gut bacteria. The decline of gut bacteria can become a vicious cycle. Weakened gut flora can mean infections and allergies. Infections can call for antibiotics to be prescribed which damages the probiotic bacteria in the gut further. Food allergies are also damaging to the digestive system.
If you have digestive issues, whether food allergies, constipation, candida etc, then taking measures to reintroduce populations of probiotic bacteria into your gut is vitally important.
However even if you do not have any specific complaints – boosting your gut microbe levels can only enhance your health. Because there are so many lifestyle hazards which can negatively impact gut flora, looking after your gut is never a bad idea. Even if you cannot avoid the main causes of microbial decline – such as chlorinated water, contraceptive pills or antibiotics- you can always supplement your diet with fermented foods. Fermented foods, which have taken a backseat during this period of artificial preservatives, are one of the simplest ways to fix a complex problem – gut health.