The health of your intestines effects, not only how you digest and absorb foods and nutrients, but also contributes to the health of your body and how your brain functions.
We still do not fully understand all the different links between our gut and the rest of our body, but we have enough research that links our gut health to the health of our body and risk for diseases.
Our goal should be to reduce inflammation and increase good bacteria in the large intestine.
How do you do this? There are multiple factors that contribute to gut health.
- Stress. Some individuals have intestines that are more sensitive to stress than others. I am one of those individuals. The combination of certain foods and a stressful situation can result in irritable bowels. Why does this happen? Stress slows down the digestion of food and as a result may cause abdominal pain and discomfort. Practicing stress management, taking time for you (doing non-food related activities) and using different types of psychotherapy such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Relaxation Therapy, or Hypnosis can all be beneficial.
- Be physical active! Activity is important and helpful for the movement of the intestines. The key is to be active regularly and throughout the day. If you have a sedentary job, try to stand every 20-30 minutes and move around. Optimally, walk around for 2-5 minutes. It is better to move and be active throughout the day than to have a 30 minute workout in the morning and then sitting all day long. Walking is one of the simplest and easiest forms of exercise as it can be done any time and does not require any special equipment except a good pair of shoes.
- Eat Fiber! It is reported that Americans consume less than half of the recommended amount of fiber per day. Fiber is found in all our plant foods including vegetables, fruits, beans, lentils, nuts, legumes, and whole grains*.*(check with your doctor before eliminating wheat/barley/rye as often it is not an issue with gluten but may be FODMAPS or other factors; some people may be gluten sensitive/gluten intolerant – but these do not cause damage to the intestines. Individuals with celiac disease must eliminate gluten completely – the body cannot handle it and as a result the body attacks the small intestine wall and destroys the villi which how nutrients are absorbed.)* Research on non-gluten diets for weight loss in those who do not need to eliminate gluten has been shown to not be effective.
- Eat whole foods. Make the majority of your diet whole foods, foods that have little to no processing. Limit and reduce packaged/processed foods and drinks. Prepare foods at home vs. eating out.
- Include Resistant Starch in your diet. If you are eating a variety of whole foods, than you are likely already getting resistant starch in your diet. Resistant starch is found in grains, seeds, legumes, cashews, raw oats, green (unripe) bananas, raw potato starch, cooked & cooled (retrogradation) potatoes, pastas and rice. Resistant starches are not digested in the small intestine, passing into the large intestine similar to soluble fermentable fibers. It feeds the good bacteria which then produces short chain fatty acids, specifically butyrate which fuels the cells that line the large intestine to maintain a strong intestine wall.
- Probiotics and Prebiotics. -Probiotics are good bacteria in foods or added to foods (yogurts, kefir, milk, cheeses). They work to inhibit the growth of bad bacteria, antigens, toxins and carcinogens.-Prebiotics are non-digestible foods that promote the growth of good bacteria in the large intestine found naturally in raw garlic, raw leeks, raw dandelion greens, raw onions, cooked onions, raw asparagus, raw wheat bran, baked wheat flour, raw banana.
Foods to limit and avoid
The following are foods that are known to destroy good gut bacteria and increase bad gut bacteria. A greater prevalence of bad bacteria has been linked to a number of diseases (heart disease, diabetes, obesity, etc).
- Non-nutritive sweeteners (NNS). Limited research (mostly done on saccharin), but so far it does not look good. Research shows that it alters the gut bacteria in just 5-7 days. They have observed that gut bacteria is negatively different in those individuals who consume NNS.
- Added sugars. Foods with added sugars, sweetened beverages, (including any NNS beverages), processed packaged foods.
- Fried Foods
- Long term antibiotic use – destroys the good bacteria – which can lead to weight gain as a result of higher rates of digestion.
To improve the health of your intestines, use a combination of all six factors discussed above.
We have been fermenting our own kefir. It requires daily processing, but can be done very quickly.
One of our favorite ways to use the kefir is to make overnight oats. I use Coach’s Oats, fresh strawberries and kefir. To me the strawberries are the perfect fruit to help mask the tartness of the kefir.
Our kids love to have kefir in smoothies. You can put anything you want in the smoothie. Our favorite combinations have been banana berries or tropical using mangos, banana and pineapple. Throw in some ice and it makes a nice frothy, thick smoothie!
References and Resources
- Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND) outright.org