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Growing Your Internal Garden – A Guide to Good Gut Health

If you’re interested in health, you’ve probably heard about ensuring a flourishing gut microbiome, but what exactly does that mean? How do you do it? Let’s dive in!

“Gut” is another term for your digestive tract—the amazing system your body uses to digest and absorb nutrients—which runs from your mouth where you take food in, to your anus where unneeded products of digestion are eliminated. Current research suggests that this system is far more complex than previously thought, keeping it healthy affects every aspect of how our body functions and even how we function mentally and feel emotionally.

This system is filled with trillions of bacteria, viruses and fungi (about three to five pounds!) that live within us and can either keep us healthy or lead to illness. Additionally, the lining of the gut contains millions of neurons that run from the esophagus to the rectum via the vagus nerve that allow this flora to communicate with the central nervous system. This is why the gut is sometimes referred to as the “second brain” or the “gut/brain axis.” These little guys should almost be thought of as pets that keep us healthy and happy.

What we know for sure is that roughly 70-80% of both immunity and serotonin production occur in the gut. Not to mention digestion, metabolism, inflammation control and production of certain vitamins—this is one important system!

SO, HOW DO WE KEEP OUR FLORA FLOURISHING?

Probiotics are the beneficial bacteria that live in the gut. We add to them by including foods that contain similar healthy varieties and strains. Our best choices are fermented foods like plant-based yogurt with live active cultures (choose plain to avoid added sugar and include some fresh fruit),) kimchi, sauerkraut, kombucha and miso. Basically, we’re adding to what’s already there to create a more abundant microbiome. If these foods are not appealing, or if you’re not regularly consuming them, you may consider taking a probiotic supplement. Look for a product that contains approximately 10 billion live cultures at the time of purchase and once opened, store the bottle in a cool dark place. Also, look for bacterial strains including Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium.

THE IMPORTANCE OF PREBIOTICS

Prebiotics are what out gut flora need to “eat” to thrive. We can provide our internal garden with what it needs by adding foods to our diet that contain resistant starch (aka fermentable fibers.) These are found in foods like garlic, onions, artichokes, raw asparagus, slightly green bananas and cooked and cooled oats.

A FEW TIPS FOR A HAPPY GUT

As always, there are a few simple, common “rules” for optimal health and these apply to gut health too! Stick to a plant-based food philosophy; make sure you’re getting lots of fiber from vegetables, fruits and whole grains; avoid refined sugar; use antibiotics unless absolutely medically necessary; exercise regularly and get your beauty sleep.

 

Barbie Boules is a registered dietitian and certified health coach in private practice for 17 years. She works with individuals, families, brands and corporate wellness programs. Her approach is personalized to each client – one size never fits all. She is passionate about the concepts of mindful and intuitive eating, with a focus on anti-inflammatory and pro-gut health foods. You can reach her at bboules@nyoutrition.com or by calling 312-607-6689.

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