Whether it’s eating too many slices of pizza or constantly getting takeout, most of us have slipped on our good eating habits at one time or another. But is avoiding unhealthy foods enough to keep our bodies in top shape? While gut health is not something many people consider, Mayo Clinic experts agree that it is important to pay attention to as it can affect your overall well-being. Here’s what you need to know about your gut and how it concerns your health.
Hundreds of different bacteria species live in your gut. The lining of your gut is covered in bacteria, and these organisms create a micro-ecosystem called the microbiome. Before you stare at your stomach in horror, know that many of these bacteria species are good for you and should be nurtured with specialized plant fibers called prebiotics.
Prebiotics encourage healthy bacteria growth and can be easily incorporated into your diet, as they are found in many fruits and vegetables. Look for foods containing complex carbohydrates, which can’t be digested by the body and instead become food for the healthy bacteria living in your gut.
Probiotics offer another way to help maintain a healthy balance of good bacteria living in the gut. The difference with probiotics is that they contain live organisms. Instead of nurturing healthy bacteria, probiotics add specific strains of healthy bacteria to your microbiome. Probiotics can be found in foods like yogurt, kimchi and sauerkraut. Kombucha is also a good source of probiotics.
You can also find prebiotic and probiotic supplements designed to help with specific conditions. Consult your doctor before adding supplements to your diet.
A healthy gut may be connected to weight loss. The benefits of a healthy gut are still being studied, and more research is needed to confirm how a healthy gut contributes to weight loss. In a preliminary study, Mayo Clinic collected and analyzed gut bacteria samples from a group of 26 participants enrolled in the Mayo Clinic Obesity Treatment Research Program. The research team found that those who did not lose weight had different gut bacteria than those who did. Dr. Purna Kashyap, a Mayo Clinic gastroenterologist and co-author of the study, says that these findings “suggested to us that gut bacteria may possibly be an important determinant of weight loss in response to diet and lifestyle changes.”
Poor gut health can exacerbate certain autoimmune disorders. While there are species of healthy bacteria living in your gut, some species in the microbiome are not helpful. Having an imbalance of the two can lead to poor gut health, which can then exacerbate certain autoimmune disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome, celiac disease and rheumatoid arthritis.
Improving your diet is the best way to foster healthy gut bacteria. Along with eating more fruits and vegetables, eliminate as much processed foods and added sugar as possible. It’s also a good idea to reduce meat consumption and to incorporate alternative proteins such as legumes, tofu and nuts into your diet.
By improving your gut health, you have the potential to boost your overall well-being.