Let’s talk about your gut. No, not the gut that hangs over your pants when you’ve had too much to eat (totally what I thought my teacher was talking about the first time she mentioned “the gut” in class when I was in college), but another gut entirely.
I’m sure you’ve heard people talking about “the gut” recently – foods that are good for your gut, gut health, words like probiotics and microbiome. So, what are they really talking about? Well, your gut is actually just your entire digestive system, aka gastrointestinal system, gastrointestinal tract (GI tract). It is the system of your body that is responsible for digesting and eliminating food (from eating to pooping. Sorry I said pooping). It encompasses the path the food travels (mouth, esophagus, stomach, intestines), and the organs that help along the way (pancreas, liver, gall bladder).
Ok now you know what your gut actually is. Why is it so important and why is everyone talking about it? Well, your gut is where the majority of your immune system lives, which is a pretty big deal. Bacteria, the good kind, lives inside of your gut and makes up your gut flora. Everyone has a unique make-up of the bacteria in their gut, and science is just beginning to scratch the surface of what that really means and how it affects things like auto-immune disease, weight, digestion, diseases of the digestive tract, and much more.
So, we all have bacteria in our gut that controls our immune system. It’s a good kind of bacteria, when we are healthy, and it feeds off of foods we put into our bodies. Feed the bacteria healthy food and follow a healthy lifestyle, your gut bacteria will be happy, healthy and strong, and support a healthy immune system. Feed the bacteria unhealthy food, antibiotic filled foods, certain medications and supplements, and be barraged by environmental toxins, your gut bacteria will be unhealthy, unhappy, and have a harder time keeping your immune system strong.
If you get sick and have to take an antibiotic, the antibiotic’s job is to clear out any bad bacteria that has found its way into your body. The problem is, it clears out all of the good bacteria too. So your gut is in shambles, and you are likely to get diarrhea (sorry again for all the poop talk). If that happens, your Dr. probably tells you to eat yogurt. Why? Because it has probiotics.
Enter the next buzz word: Probiotics.
What are they? Probiotics are the good bacteria. They are found naturally in some foods and drinks, and can be taken in pill form as well. The best way to get probiotics and support your gut health? Eat or drink them. You can take them in pill form, the only problem is, you don’t know the make-up of your gut bacteria, so you don’t know the best kind and combination to take for your unique biology. Here are a few ways you can easily get them in your diet.
- Fermented foods: Kimchi, sauerkraut
- Apple cider vinegar
- Dairy: Plain greek yogurt, Kefir
- Kombucha: a fermented tea
Probiotic rich foods are an important addition to your diet. But, there is something else to consider that helps them do their job. Prebiotics. Probiotics are the good bacteria, prebiotics are their fuel. It’s important to eat prebiotic filled foods in conjunction with the probiotic rich foods. Here are some foods filled with prebiotics:
- Fiber: fibrous foods are a great source of prebiotics
- Raw garlic
- Onions and leeks
- Raw asparagus
- Raw wheat bran
- Potato starch
- Chicory root
To Summarize: Your gut is your digestive system, and that is where the majority of your immune system lives. It is filled with bacteria that feeds off of the foods you eat and can be affected by pretty much anything you are exposed to. Your gut health is important to your overall health and wellbeing. Eating probiotic rich foods and long with prebiotic rich foods is a great way to improve gut health and boost your immune system. Bring on the kimchi!