Gut health is becoming more and more popular these days, but, what really is it?
The gut is referring to the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. This tract starts at the mouth and ends at the…other end. So, it includes the mouth, esophagus, stomach, small intestine, large intestine, rectum, and anus.
The main function of the gut is to absorb nutrients from the food we consume while ridding the body of solid waste. Yet, it has many other important functions like keeping harmful substances out of our bodies and cultivating a bounty of useful bacteria. If it does these things well, then it is healthy. If it does not do these things well…illness ensues.
Bacteria is normally thought of in a negative manner, but a healthy gut is filled with millions of different types of healthy bacteria. This bacteria can aid with the digestion of nutrients, support a healthy immune system, and even stimulate the nervous system to function properly.
Negative bacteria does find its way into the gut and when it does, it cause some major symptoms…diarrhea/constipation, excessive gas, intestinal inflammation, and even acne. More and more research reveals a connection between negative bacteria in the gut and conditions such as depression, diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease, and obesity.
How to avoid negative bacteria in the gut
There are many causes of an imbalance between positive and negative gut bacteria. Some of them cannot be helped such as aging or being ill.
Stress, unhealthy dietary habits, and the use of antibiotics are among the causes that can be helped. Reducing and managing stress does wonders for gut health. Avoiding antibiotics unless absolutely necessary saves healthy bacteria from being wiped out for months to years. That’s right…one week-long treatment of antibiotics can clear out all the good going on in the intestine.
Healthy eating is key to good intestinal health. A variety of plant foods is necessary to have a variety of strains of health bacteria in the gut. Consuming prebiotics and probiotics promotes gut health too. Prebiotics are food components that promote bacterial growth. They are found in a lot of plant foods including asparagus, onions, garlic, and some legumes. Probiotics are foods that contain live bacteria such as yogurt and kefir.
More and more evidence indicates that a healthy body is dependent on a healthy gut which is dependent on a healthy diet. Eat well!
About the Author
Devon L. Golem, PhD, RD
Dr. Golem is the Professional Education Chair of the VAND. She has founded the Institute of Continuing Education for Nutrition Professionals this summer. She lives in Charlottesville, VA with her husband, Alex, and their dog, Lunch Lady Doris.