Gut Health Tricks You Haven't Heard Before
Our resident nutritionist shares some lesser-known paths to good gut health.
Gut health continues to be one of the hottest health trends going. You may already be in-the-know about the powers of yogurt and kombucha, but there are a few paths to better gut health you may not know about.
Why Gut Health Matters
Research continues to support the benefit of the healthy bacteria in the digestive tract or the "gut." Since this area is susceptible to both healthy and unhealthy bacteria, eating healthy bacteria found in probiotic rich foods allows the body to better digest what you take in, leading to less inflammation, better immune function and possibly a reduced risk of chronic disease. To promote a more gracious gut, regular intake of probiotics is required. Reaching for daily doses of yogurt with live cultures, as well as classic fermented foods including kimchi, kefir and tempeh will help ensure the consistent influx of probiotics. But there are a few other gut-friendly foods that aren’t subject to fermentation that can also do a body good.
As simple as it sounds, drinking more water is a vital component to gut health. Fluid balance plays an important role in the way foods are digested and absorbed. Staying properly hydrated helps promote smooth and normal digestion while falling short can impact how the foods we eat are broken down and transported.
A flavorful yet somewhat underappreciated paste made from fermented soybeans is the star ingredient in miso soup but can also be used for a wide variety of other recipes. To impart more probiotics and umami goodness add miso to dips, salad dressings and marinades for fish and poultry.
Another lesser-known fermented food option, sourdough’s distinct flavor comes from fermenting the naturally existing yeast and lactic acid found in grains. Once active, this fermentation creates gases that have the power to leaven baked goods and can also help promote digestion. Sourdough starter is traditionally used for baking loaves of bread, but it can also be used for other grain-based favorites like pancakes, pretzels and biscuits.
Prebiotics don’t get the same admiration as probiotics, but they go hand-in-hand. Prebiotics are indigestible components of carbohydrate-rich foods that feed those coveted probiotic bacteria. Therefore, getting more prebiotics can further promote the healthy bacteria in your gut.
Gut health guru Kara Landau, Nutrition Advisor to the Global Prebiotic Association and founder at Uplift Food is an expert in the area of probiotics. "Although probiotic-enhanced foods have been all the rage in recent years, what so many people are missing in their diets is the vital fuel for these live cultures, called prebiotics. Prebiotics can be found as prebiotic fibers, such as inside organic Jerusalem artichokes, as well as resistant starch, found naturally inside green banana flour. These are essential for helping the probiotics inside of us thrive, and support a diverse and strong gut."
You may, in fact, be eating more prebiotics than you thought as it is also found in raw garlic, honey and dandelion greens.
Also see: Feed Your Probiotics
Skip the Alcohol
The pro-inflammatory effects of alcohol can aggravate the gut, plus can lead to an overflow of other unhealthy calories. Consider drinking fewer times per week and when you do toss back alcohol beverages, make sure to boost your water intake even higher.
Also see: Foods That Cause Inflammation
Stress can wreak havoc to all parts of your body, including your gut. Samantha Heller registered dietitian and author of The Only Cleanse explains the science behind this phenomenon.
"Ever had butterflies in your stomach?" she asks. "We all have. This is a perfect example of how our brain speaks with our gut microbiome called the gut-brain axis. When we are stressed our gut microbes react unfavorably, and this can result in gastrointestinal distress."
So, what’s the cure for a stressed-out digestive system? Heller’s solution: breathe. "A simple fix to a stressed-out moment, take several very slow, deep breaths. This activates the parasympathetic system and tells our brain and our gut critters that everything is ok and to chill out. Your tummy relaxes, your brain releases tension, and you feel better immediately."
Also see: Top 10 Foods for Stress Relief