Improving digestive health can take different meanings, we may seek to relieve symptoms of constipation, indigestion, or the goal may be to increase intake of vitamins through foods. A good place to start this journey of gut health is through increasing the diversity of our intestinal microbiota. In simple terms, it means consuming a wide variety of fresh foods that will promote the growth of “good bacteria” in the gut which aid in digestion.
Studies have found that the composition of these bacteria are different in persons with healthy gut function and those with digestive issues. For example, diets high in red meat, high sugar and low fiber food has been associated with an increased number of bacteria that have inflammatory effects (Bibbo et al, 2016). To support healthy digestion, the emphasis is largely placed on a diet of wide variety of foods and consuming plenty of fiber.
Increasing variety is easier said than done, here are some tips in making this dietary shift:
- Each time you shop for groceries, try a new vegetable or fruit you have not had before (can be as simple as trying a new kind of apple)
- Pick one vegetable per month that is in season
- Swap a dessert for frozen fruit once per week
- Visit reliable internet sources to learn about different kinds of vegetables: www.myplate.gov/eat-healthy/vegetables
Fiber Facts (MayoClinic)
- Fiber recommendations for men is 38 grams daily and for women it is 25 grams daily
- Dietary fiber increases the weight and size of your stool and softens it
- A high-fiber diet may lower your risk of developing hemorrhoids and small pouches in your colon (diverticular disease)
- A healthy diet that includes insoluble fiber may also reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
Gut health isn’t just about the foods we consume, our daily activities and stress levels play a greater role than we think. Various studies explore the ability of regular exercise to regulate our gut microbiome towards a healthy state. Exercise has been shown to increase our microbial diversity and promote growth of bacteria that can indirectly protect and strengthen our intestinal barriers (McBurney et al, 2019). Other ways to aid digestive health are to spend more time in nature by going on walks and gardening. Reducing stress through practicing yoga, meditation, prayer, and getting at least 8 hours of sleep each night.
Keep in mind that conditions of the bowel such as Crohn’s Disease, Ulcerative Colitis, and Celiac Disease might require a tailored approach to your nutrition in order to optimize the absorption of vitamins and minerals. It is always wise to speak with your primary medical provider before making adjustments to your diet if you have gut related conditions or are concerned about your nutrition.
Bibbò, S., Ianiro, G., Giorgio, V., Scaldaferri, F., Masucci, L., Gasbarrini, A., & Cammarota, G. (2016). The role of diet on gut microbiota composition. European review for medical and pharmacological sciences, 20(22), 4742–4749.
McBurney, M. I., Davis, C., Fraser, C. M., Schneeman, B. O., Huttenhower, C., Verbeke, K., Walter, J., & Latulippe, M. E. (2019). Establishing What Constitutes a Healthy Human Gut Microbiome: State of the Science, Regulatory Considerations, and Future Directions. The Journal of nutrition, 149(11), 1882–1895. https://doi.org/10.1093/jn/nxz154
This article reviewed by Dr. Jim Liu, MD and Ms. Deb Dooley, APRN.
There’s nothing more important than our good health – that’s our principal capital asset.
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