Top 3 ways to use nutrition to support a healthy gut
In Functional Medicine, we talk about the gut often. As we take our view into the gut, the land of trillions of bacteria, we are looking at the landscape (gut lining) as well as “who” lives there (bacteria) and more importantly how they are fed (fermentation). A healthy gut has a beautiful balance of beneficial bacteria living in a vital landscape. The specific assessment of your gut guides us to getting to the root causes of most of the imbalances in your body. Nutritionally speaking, that means first looking at what we feed our bodies which ultimately impacts our gut bugs. You are in the driver’s seat when it comes to making choices to support your gut.
Here are some ways to use your food for a healthy gut:
Focus on fiber - this is KEY!
You may have heard that fiber is important to gut health but it’s amazing to learn how our body uses fiber to create healthy bacteria.
There are 2 main types of fiber:
Soluble is the type of fiber that dissolves in water. It has been shown to both slow the uptake of glucose into the bloodstream reducing risk for Type 2 diabetes and lower blood cholesterol. Good food sources of soluble fiber include apples, artichokes, asparagus, beans, berries, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, dark leafy greens, legumes, lentils, nuts, oats, pears, peppers, and squash. Fiber food supplements focus on psyllium, acacia, inulin, ground flax seeds and oat bran. Plant foods are rich in this type of fiber. Because these fibers stimulate the growth of beneficial bacteria, they are also called prebiotics.
Insoluble fiber absorbs water throughout the digestive system, helping to promote regular, healthy bowel movements by adding bulk to stool for complete elimination. Insoluble fiber is beneficial in preventing constipation, hemorrhoids, and diverticula. Good food sources of insoluble fiber include wheat bran, whole grains, legumes, fruits, and vegetables.
Your gut ferments fibers to make good bacteria as something called short-chain fatty acids (1). Soluble fiber plays a large role in that healthy bug production. Insoluble is a supportive partner as it is partially digested by beneficial bacteria in the gut, helping to ferment them into short-chain fatty acids as well. When we include both in our daily diet, we directly support a healthy gut.
It is recommended that the adults eat at least 30-45 grams of fiber each day with most Americans eating barely 10-15 grams. The more we add plants to our diet, the more we increase our fiber. It’s that easy! As an example, the Tsimane tribe in Bolivia eats about 70% of their diet as high fiber foods. Their outcomes show a sharp reduction in rates of chronic diseases.
Polyphenols are plant compounds found in green tea, berries, artichoke, olives and asparagus to name a few. They number more than 500 and are also known as phytochemicals residing in the many-colored pigments of plants. Colorful plant compounds have multiple healing properties. Natural plant antioxidants have been shown to support blood sugar balance, improve cardiovascular health and reduce inflammation. When it comes to the gut, these have been shown to actually promote the production of certain healthy bugs (2). Higher fiber foods are often high in polyphenols which is a bonus for a healthy gut.
Steer away from Sweeteners
Our mouth enjoys the taste of sweet but if your gut got to vote, it would veto excessive sugars especially artificial sweeteners. Some examples include aspartame as in Nutrasweet, saccharin as in Sweet’n’ Low and sucralose as in Splenda. Marketing of these sweeteners is often centered on them being a healthier, sugar free choice. The reverse is actually true. Since they are not foods but rather chemicals, your body has to work to process or manage their effects. Artificial sweeteners can disrupt your gut bugs by increasing the number of unhealthy bacteria (3). Research shows that these sweeteners alter overall healthy gut bacteria and can turn on pro-inflammatory genes.
Real whole foods come with such a wide array of benefits from fiber to phytochemicals. The next time you sit to eat a meal, take note of how your gut might be impacted by what’s on your plate. The good news is that improvements or changes in your gut microbes can happen in a matter of days. A focus on including fiber rich and colorful plant foods while avoiding chemical sweeteners is the path to a healthy gut. At Index Health, we support you in building health on the foundation of personalized nutrition.
(1) Rowland, I. Gibson, G. Heinken, A. Scott, K. Swann, J. Thiele, I. Tuohy, K. (2018) “Gut microbiota functions: metabolism of nutrients and other food Components”. Eur J Nutr (57), pages 1–24
(2) Ana M Valdes and colleagues (2018). “Role of the gut microbiota in nutrition and health”. Journal of Science and Nutrition, page 3
(3) ibid, page 2