Having a healthy gut might seem like a nitpicky concept that's being sprung upon you because of the current popularity of probiotics. But considering how your gut affects different aspects of your health, including your immune system and balancing your hormones, it's important to keep it in good health.
Read on for six ways to keep your gut healthy.
1. Eat More Fiber
As we all learned early on, fiber is an important component in keeping digested foods moving through our bodies. Making sure you're eating enough fibrous foods ensures healthy movement, which means your body isn't holding onto any toxins. Skip the inulin supplements, as they can make irritable bowel symptoms worse.
2. Take a Probiotic
Taking a probiotic is highly beneficial to your health because it can be engineered to contain potent strains of bacteria that can help balance and restore the good bacteria in your gut. With the popularity of probiotics supplements, however, it seems that every brand is different with a different regimen. Many probiotics come with prebiotics, which is fiber built into the capsule or powder to serve as food for the probiotic strains. If you plan on taking your probiotics on an empty stomach, this is fine. However, because the pH in the stomach is so acidic, it could destroy the supplement’s bacteria. Eating food increases the pH and decreases the acidity. A 2011 study tested taking probiotics with oatmeal and milk found that taking the probiotic 30 minutes before or when eating increased probiotic absorption. Another thing the study noted was that absorption also improved when the meal contained some fats, so be sure to include healthy fats.
If you choose to take your probiotic with your meal, opt for a supplement without prebiotics, as the fiber in the food you eat is actually more beneficial to your gut than synthetic add-ins.
Not sure of your dosage? Start out small and build your way up. Your first bottle should measure 5 to 10 billion CFUs (colony-forming units). After you finish that bottle without GI upset, buy a stronger probiotic up to 25 billion CFUs. Move up as you feel your best. If you struggle with consistency, watch the expiration date and continue the same strength until you feel your body has adapted.
Another fact about probiotics that you should keep in mind: Some probiotic properties are strain-specific. This means that the effects of one probiotic could be different than the effects of others. For example, Saccharomyces boulardii is a yeast that is marketed as able to treat diarrhea, while species that fall under the Bifidobacterium genus are said to be able to treat constipation. Both are considered to have probiotic properties.
Going into stress mode affects our health as much as it does our mental well-being. There's a reason why many of us experience stomach upset when we're stressed or anxious — when the principal stress hormone called cortisol is released, it can cause an inflammatory response in your gut that makes it a less than ideal place for good bacteria to thrive.
4. Avoid Antibiotics
Because antibiotics can’t always tell the good bacteria from the bad, they sometimes end up wiping both out, leaving your colonies of good bacteria depleted and disrupting the ecosystem in your gut. When antibiotics disturb your gut, some of your body’s crucial processes go haywire, including your body’s ability to produce some vitamins such as vitamin K. Antibiotics can also disrupt your microbes’ ability to regulate their own behavior and production, which can make you susceptible to over- or underproduction of candida.
5. Avoid the Fake Sugar
Qualitative studies have associated sugar substitutes to lower microbiome counts. Also, sugar alcohols in particular, can cause gas, bloating, diarrhea in some people. This additional irritability can inflame your gut even more, making it a worse environment for your good bacteria. Be sure to read your food labels as well as your supplements and medications for “Sucralose,” “aspartame,” “malitol,” and “saccharine.” While stevia is the new kid in candy town, research is too new to determine is the microbiome is affected.
6. Eat the pickle
Fermented foods such as pickles, sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha, kefir, yogurt, and traditional sushi have beneficial bacteria from the fermentation process. There’s a reason why so many cultures throughout human history have developed fermented dishes. We figured out centuries ago that the bacteria in fermented foods make us feel good. Researchers are beginning to confirm this by linking these tiny creatures to all sorts of health conditions from obesity to neurodegenerative diseases.
Aim to eat at least one fermented food every day, but read your food labels. The jars of pickles you can buy off the shelf at the supermarket are sometimes pickled using vinegar and not the natural fermentation process using live organisms, which means they don’t contain as many probiotics. To ensure the fermented foods you choose do contain probiotics, look for the words “naturally fermented” on the label, and when you open the jar look for telltale bubbles in the liquid, which signal that live organisms are inside the jar.
Taking a probiotic supplement can be very helpful. However, research is in its infancy. Be sure to eat real, whole foods with plenty of fiber. When you have a salty craving, grab a pickle or kimchi instead of potato chips. With consistency, you will help your gut reach homeostasis.
Women's Health & Fitness Specialist.