Gut health has gotten an abundance of attention in recent years, and for good reason. Experts in medicine have long suspected the gastrointestinal tract plays a larger role in our health beyond digestion alone, and studies have confirmed this belief over time.

Today, we know that there are trillions of microorganisms living in both the small and large intestines. When these “bugs” are maintained in a healthy balance, they help the rest of the body function well. For instance, 80% of immune-producing cells are housed in the gut microbiome, aiding in the reduction of our risk for chronic illnesses, plus everyday sicknesses like the common cold. An unhealthy gut microbiome, on the other hand, is associated with symptoms like bloating, constipation, and fatigue, and even more serious conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and diabetes.

Experts are still investigating just how far-reaching the impact of your gut microbiome may be. What we do know for now is that there are ways you can promote gastrointestinal health to boost your overall wellness. Here are a few to consider.

Load Up on Fiber

Several factors determine the overall composition of your gut microbiota, including your genetics, life environment, and the medications you take. But your daily nutrition also plays an important role. A high-fiber diet, for example, is particularly powerful in terms of promoting gut health. Excellent sources of this healthy dietary fiber include legumes like navy and white beans, lentils, chickpeas, and kidney beans, as well as whole steel-cut oats.

Some fibrous foods also feed your body’s beneficial microbes ahead of digestion — known as prebiotics. These are mostly highly concentrated in foods including raw garlic, onions, leeks, asparagus, seaweed, and bananas. 

Eat a Variety of Produce

A healthy gut is one that has a large variety of microbes. And the best way to achieve this is to eat a variety of fresh foods. Aim to “eat the rainbow” by enjoying fruits and vegetables of different colors: leafy greens, bright and bold peppers, purple or red fruits and berries, plus yellow foods like bananas and potatoes.

You don’t have to eat all these foods raw to enjoy their benefits, however. In fact, you may find it’s easiest to add them cooked into foods you already love. For example: cut up some fresh peppers for an omelet or pasta dish, and have a variety of berries with your yogurt or oatmeal. Soups, stir frys, and stews also make excellent bases for adding lots of colorful veggies.

Try Fermented Foods

Fermented foods such as yogurt, kimchi, kefir, and kombucha tea allow microbiota to flourish in your intestines. A diet rich in fermentation can improve gut bacteria and immunity while decreasing inflammatory proteins. They work by introducing healthy bacteria to the gut and regulating its pH levels. So consider making kombucha your go-to beverage when you’re craving something other than water, and have yogurt or pickles on hand for a quick snack.

Be Mindful of Medications

While antibiotics fight off infection-causing bacteria, they may also eliminate some good bacteria in the process. If you’ve been prescribed antibiotics, talk to your doctor about taking probiotics or prebiotics once you’ve finished out your medications to restore a healthy gut bacteria balance. Also use antacids sparingly during this time, as these medications can alter the pH in your stomach while negatively affecting healthy bacteria.

Stay Hydrated

A final but simple way to promote gut health is to keep your digestive tract moving by staying hydrated. Most people need about eight 8-ounce glasses of water each day. Also limit or avoid alcohol, which has a dehydrating effect.

At University Health Alliance, our comprehensive team understands that stomach troubles can develop even when you prioritize your gut health. If you’re experiencing any lasting signs of gastrointestinal distress, our providers are here to help. See which of our office locations is closest to you, or schedule an appointment by calling 762-356-4933.