We all know that eating the right foods is necessary for maintaining a healthy weight and cardiovascular system, but your diet affects your body in many other ways as well. One of the other ways is by altering your intestine’s biome, which is all the bacteria (healthy or otherwise) that live in your intestines.
What is intestinal health?
Intestinal health depends largely on the balance of “good” and “bad” bacteria inside your digestive tract. Your body needs certain kinds of bacteria in order to aid in digestion, produce important chemicals that have wide-ranging effects throughout your body, and keep “bad” bacteria from negatively affecting you. Out-of-balance gut microbiomes can cause issues in the digestive system as well as in other parts of your body.
Why is intestinal health important?
- Aids in digestion – A healthy balance of “good” and “bad” bacteria helps your digestion system work to break down food and supply your body with nutrients.
- Links to mental health – Some studies link anxiety and depression to poor gut health due to the gut-brain connection.
- Intestinal illnesses – Conditions specific to the intestines can be the result of poor diet and intestinal biome such as IBS (irritable bowel syndrome), Inflammatory bowel syndrome, and colon cancer.
- Extra-intestinal illnesses – There is a very active body of research ongoing that is connecting our intestinal health with conditions far distant such as rheumatoid arthritis, depression or anxiety, and even heart disease.
How can you improve your intestinal health?
1. Eat fruits and vegetables
According to our current understanding, the most important step we can take to keep our intestines healthy is to eat foods high in fiber which encourages healthy bacterial growth. The indigestible fiber passes through your digestive system and aids in having regular bowel movements and preventing constipation.
Fruits and vegetables that are high in fiber include:
- White potatoes (with skin)
- Sweet potatoes
2. Eat fermented foods
Fermented foods contain live bacteria and probiotics that are helpful to your gut health. Even one serving a day of one of the following foods can improve intestinal health:
- Cottage cheese
- Fermented vegetables
- Sugar-free kombucha
Prebiotics help your intestine’s good bacteria grow and multiply. Here are some foods rich in prebiotics:
- Whole oats
While prebiotics help feed your intestinal bacteria, probiotics are the living microorganisms that live in your digestive tract and act as “good” bacteria. Probiotics can be found in fermented foods (as listed above), but some people enhance their gut health with probiotic supplements and there is evidence that it can be beneficial to do so. When choosing a probiotic supplement, be sure to find a brand with at least 5 billion CFUs (total bacteria) and has been independently tested for its effectiveness.
5. Avoid processed foods
Not only can a diet consisting of ultra-processed foods lead to health conditions such as heart disease, but it can also negatively affect your intestinal health. According to one study, there is a strong correlation between eating a diet with few unprocessed foods and having a healthy intestinal biome.
Foods to avoid:
- Processed meat such as bacon, sausage, and cured meats (cold cuts and deli meats)
- Fruit juices without the pulp
- White bread
- Sodas with sugar or high fructose corn syrup
- Frozen meals
- Packaged foods such as cookies and chips
6. Eat whole grains
Whole grains are a great source of carbohydrates that give your body energy but also provide your intestine’s bacteria with the essential fiber it needs to function properly.
- Whole grain bread
- Brown rice
Incorporating the right foods into your diet can help maintain a good intestinal microbiome to keep your digestive system, and the rest of your body, in a healthy state. Making changes to your diet to help your gut health may not happen instantly, but consistently applying these changes may lead to a happier intestine over time.