Gut health, probiotics, prebiotics, fermented foods, etc. These are all such hot buzzwords lately, but so many are confused about what good gut health is and why it’s something we should be paying attention to. With all this marketing and talk about our gut health, why is this something we should care about?
Why Gut Health is Important
Our guts are fantastic at what they do, and the action of taking food and turning this into usable energy to keep us alive every day is nothing short of magnificent. Sometimes referred to as the "second brain" with over 100 million neurons, our digestive system has a powerful influence on our overall health. Not only does it play a crucial role in the digestion of food and removal of waste, but research has shown that our gut health and microbiome has an effect on our immune system, mental health status, weight, and more.
There isn’t any objective way to measure proper gut health scientifically speaking, and there is still much to learn and understand about our guts and what makes them function well. In general, though, having regular digestion, proper absorption of food, and normal/stable intestinal microbiota are 3 really key areas to pay attention to when assessing how your gut is doing.
Digestion and What to Pay Attention to
This is really the window into how your gut and digestion are performing on a day to day basis, and there are a few key players that show you how regular healthy digestion looks like:
The frequency, shape, and look of your bowel movements can tell you a lot about what’s going on with your body. Generally, stool passed with minimal straining, is medium to dark brown in color, and is passed in one single piece or a few smaller pieces is healthy. Keeping an eye on your bowel movements and any variation in color, size, consistency, and frequency can help keep you aware of how your gut is doing.
Regular bathroom times
A healthy gut usually has a pattern when it comes to digestion, so while normal bathroom habits can occur as frequently as 3 times per day, or as few as 3 times a week having consistency with this schedule is key. Keep an eye on this pattern to see what changes in your diet and other health habits may be affecting this!
Nutrition Habits to Support a Healthy Gut
A healthy gut digests, absorbs, and eliminate with ease and free of illness. So what are some ways you can help promote this nutritionally?
Fiber is essential for bulking up stool and maintaining regular bowel movements. Most Americans don’t consume enough, and in fact, a majority of folks are only eating about 40-50% enough fiber in their daily diets! Try to aim for 25-35g per day. Fiber-rich foods to try including more into your diet are whole grains, legumes, and a variety of fruits and vegetables.
Drinking enough water is crucial to support the digestive process, especially if you increase your fiber intake. Hydration needs vary from person to person, but generally aiming for about 2-3 L per day will promote proper hydration.
Foods such as sauerkraut, kombucha, pickled cucumber, yogurt, and kefir are rich in probiotics. The most studied good bacteria which can be found in these foods are Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium which have been shown to improve digestion, support immune health, and minimize gastrointestinal distress and discomfort. Taking probiotics in pill form can potentially have the same benefit, but its best to get these helpful bacteria from our foods if possible. There is no recommended probiotic intake, so try playing around with what probiotic-rich foods and see which are easiest to incorporate into your diet!