Gut health has been an increasingly popular topic in the health community. As more and more research emerges we realize that our gut is doing a lot more than just digesting and breaking down the food we eat. Our gut microbiome (trillions of microbes living within our gastrointestinal system) also plays a role in our weight, brain health, heart health, and immune function. This means that caring for our gut health is not only important for people with gastrointestinal disorders such as Inflammatory Bowel Disease or Irritable Bowel Syndrome but for all people as part of general health and wellness.
With further understanding of the roles the gut plays in our overall health, the question must be asked, what should we be doing to maintain or improve our gut health? As a Dietitian, I of course, like to talk about food. So here are 5 diet changes you can make to improve your overall gut health.
1. Increase Your Vegetable Intake
Vegetables are filled with fibre and phytonutrients which feed our gut bacteria. Well fed bacteria makes for a healthy overall gut.
Tip: Aim for 2 cups of vegetables with every lunch and supper.
2. Increase Variety in Your Diet
We have trillions of microbes in our gut and each of them has a different preferred fuel source. Therefore, if we eat the same foods all the time, we might be feeding some bacteria but neglecting others. A diverse diet ensures variety and abundance of gut bacteria.
Tip: Look at Pinterest for a new recipe idea. Pick out a new vegetable each week at the market and create a dish around it.
3. Go Meatless...At Least Once a Week
By swapping out meat for beans, chickpeas or lentils, we increase our overall fibre intake and reduce saturated fat.
Tip: Try meatless Mondays! Once a week, try a new meatless meal. Canned beans and chickpeas are affordable and very versatile. You can easily create casseroles, stews, or even tacos!
4. Eat Something Living
Fermented foods contain live active cultures which can help improve your overall gut health.
Tip: Add some new fermented foods to your diet such as yogurt, sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir, kombucha or tempeh. You don’t have to add all fermented foods into your diet but experiment by adding one new living thing to your grocery basket.
5. Eat More Whole Foods
Whole foods have limited to no processing. These foods retain their nutrient value that may be stripped from processing.
Tip: Try to swap one processed food for a whole food a week or try making something from scratch instead of buying it pre-made. For example, if a recipe calls for a can of soup, can you create your own whole food alternative from ingredients such as milk, yogurt, seasonings, etc. If you’re less creative in the kitchen, search for an alternative recipe without the canned soup.
There are multiple factors outside of food that can affect your overall gut health. Medication plays a large role. Antibiotics, while useful, for certain ailments can kill off good bacteria in your gut. Ensure you are only taking antibiotics when medically necessary. Additionally, talk with your doctor or pharmacist about the use of probiotics when taking antibiotics to maintain your gut microbiome.
Another factor that is often overlooked but hugely important for gut health is mindfulness and stress management. Our gut and brain are connected and high stress or anxiety can negatively impact gut functioning. Finding positive stress coping strategies can improve overall gut health.
Positive stress coping mechanisms:
- Take a walk
- Take 5 deep belly breaths
- Prepare and drink some tea
- Read a chapter of a book
- Find a quiet space and take a few minutes of alone time
Additionally, being mindful during your meal times and slowing down eating will help improve overall digestion.
Every day we are learning more about the role of the gut microbiome in our overall health. It’s an exciting area of research. It doesn’t take a lot of changes to improve your gut health. Start with a few small changes and notice the difference. If you’re noticing your digestion isn’t working properly, it’s time to speak with a Dietitian for more specific advice!
By Jen Rawson