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Maintaining a Healthy and Happy Gut

Recent research has revealed the gut’s potential role in overall health and longevity. Getting to know more about our digestive system has revolutionized medicine’s understanding of the links between digestion, mood, health, and even the way we think, some even consider it a “second brain”. 

So let’s take a look at some ways to keep our gut happy and healthy, as well as our brain!

What does gut health really entail?
A healthy gut means our GI tract has a good balance of gut bacteria and is able to properly digest and absorb nutrients. When our gut is imbalanced we start to trigger unwanted gastrointestinal symptoms, like diarrhea, as well as mental health issues.  
Let’s go through some of the basics of gut health – and what you can do to improve yours. 

What foods can affect gut health negatively or positively?
Studies have shown that eating a large amount of sugar daily is linked to an overgrowth of bad bacteria in our gut causing unwarranted discomfort. Processed foods, as well as alcohol, can also negatively impact gut health causing further irritation.

Prebiotic and probiotic foods like whole grains, onions, garlic, fermented foods, miso, and yogurt feed the good bacteria in our gut and help us flourish. A diet rich with fiber and prebiotics ensures that the good bacteria grows and probiotics help maintain this healthy balance in our gut. 

If completely cutting out things like sugar, alcohol or artificial sweeteners is out of the question for you, moderation becomes key. What we really want to emphasize is eating a diet full of color and variety, really feeding the microbiome with all of the nutrients it needs to stay happy and healthy. 

The connection between gut health and mental health
There is a reason that your gut is called your “second brain”, as there is a significant connection between your gut and your brain through the nerve that connects them. This little brain in our gut is otherwise known as the enteric nervous system (ENS). The ENS is two thin layers of more than 100 million nerve cells lining your gastrointestinal tract. This system is responsible for triggering the big emotional shifts experienced by people coping with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and functional bowel problems such as constipation, diarrhea, bloating, pain, and stomach upset. 

Recent evidence reveals how irritation in the GI system sends signals to the central nervous system (CNS) to trigger these mood changes, like brain fog and irritability. Therefore, having an imbalance in gut bacteria can have a negative impact on our overall health.

What can you do to support the good bacteria in your gut?
There are multiple things we can do to maintain a healthy and healthy gut including eating a more plant-based diet that includes fermented foods and plenty of fiber from colorful fruits and vegetables, getting an ample amount of sleep at night, and even managing our levels of stress.

By starting easy with small changes in our diet and lifestyle, we can not only build a healthier gut but a better version of ourselves as well. One of the first steps we take to build a healthier gut is as simple as eating more foods that are readily available to us during different seasons. Fruits and vegetables that are in season are not only tastier but often have more nutrients as they are in the peak of their season and fresh.  

Signs or symptoms that may indicate a problem within our gut include: constipation, weight gain, diarrhea, bloating, and gas (sometimes even bad breath or skin irritation). These symptoms can easily affect one’s quality of life and impact our day-to-day activities.

Digestion starts in the mouth with chewing and saliva, breaking down nutrients within the stomach and absorption in the small intestine. However, if our bodies are having trouble breaking down what we eat, we will be unable to properly absorb them. 

The first step in preventing this trickle effect from occurring is to chew your food thoroughly to optimize the digestive process. Another aspect we can be mindful of is being aware of our bowel movements. If we are having trouble on the toilet, this can reveal a lot about the status of our gut health. If your bowel habits have been abnormal for a few weeks to a month, be sure to talk with your doctor. 

Importance of gut health
Healthy bacteria already exist in your gut, but it’s up to our diet and lifestyle to help positively impact the environment of our microbiome for it to grow and flourish. To keep our microbiome happy, feed it with the rainbow. Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables of varying colors, consume fiber-rich whole grains, and integrate probiotic foods like Greek yogurt to ensure proper nourishment of our gut. 

By maintaining a happy & healthy gut, we can help support our brain health too. Our mind and body crave balance to work efficiently and keep us feeling happy and healthy in our own skin. For more help on what to eat to ensure a happy microbiome, come see us at AFE. 

Erika Richter, MS


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