Keeping a Fit Gut
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Our gastrointestinal tract is a fascinating organ system with diverse roles such as digestion, nutrient absorption and production and immune system regulation. With such vital tasks at hand, it’s important to keep your gut healthy and thriving.
Cooper Clinic Nutrition Services shares how consuming probiotic and prebiotic foods and adding exercise and stress management techniques to your daily life can contribute to overall gut health.
With the buzz around good bugs in our gut and their health benefits, more and more people have sought out foods containing probiotics.
Probiotics are bacteria and live microorganisms that help our bodies function properly. In fact, bacteria normally found in our intestines help us digest food and destroy disease-causing microorganisms.
Consuming probiotic-containing fermented foods can help maintain a desirable community of the “good” microorganisms and stabilize the digestive tract. Foods rich in probiotics include:
- Miso soup
- Dark chocolate
While it is trendy to make your own fermented foods, foodborne illnesses with these methods can be a concern. For this reason, it is best to purchase commercially.
It is important to know that researchers are still in the early stages of probiotic science and the current options for probiotic supplementation are far from ideal. Each individual has a unique gut signature and matching that with any probiotic is unlikely.
Probiotics, like all living things, need a food source and prebiotics, which are essentially fiber, are that food source. The average American does not consume enough dietary fiber, averaging only 13 grams a day, falling short of the recommended 25-38 grams a day.
While fiber and prebiotic supplements are an option, they are not meant to replace whole food sources. Multiple types of fiber, nutrients, phytonutrients and antioxidants occur naturally in whole foods and cannot be replicated in a supplement. Rich dietary fiber sources include:
- Berries, 4-8 g per cup
- Beans and lentils, cooked, 5-8 g per 1/2 cup
- Chia seeds, 5 g per Tablespoon
Certain gut bacteria, viruses and yeast are native to the digestive organ and help promote good health. Diversity of these different microbes is thought to be a key component in supporting vitality.
Studies have linked regular exercise with an increase in the diversity of these elements within our gut. To help diversify your microbes, try exercising 30 minutes most days of the week. Exercises can include:
- A brisk walk
- Swimming or biking (a great option for those with joint pain)
- Group exercise class (provides variety and fun)
Research shows the microbial composition within our digestive tract may contribute to health and disease prevention. High numbers and diversity of microbes seem to correlate with better health.
This may even extend to mental health, as there is a direct line of communication between the gut and brain, dubbed the “gut-brain axis.” This axis is not fully understood; however, imbalances in the gut environment could play a role in our stress response through poor signaling between the two organs.
Relaxation techniques can counter stress and using daily stress-relieving practices may help improve communication between the gut and brain. Practice these relaxation techniques throughout the week:
- Get adequate sleep (7-8 hours per night)
- Try yoga or deep breathing
- Treat yourself to a massage
- Listen to calming music to unwind
As Chinese philosopher Lin Yutang once said, “Happiness for me is largely a matter of digestion.” Show your gut some love and reap the health benefits along the way.
To schedule a one-on-one consultation with a registered dietitian nutritionist or for information on Cooper Clinic Nutrition Services, visit cooperclinicnutrition.com or call 972.560.2655.
Article provided by Gillian Gatewood, RDN, LD, CNSC, and Cooper Clinic Nutrition Services.