We all have our predilections towards certain types of foods. Some of us may have a sweet tooth, which makes us particularly susceptible to a sugary diet. Others are carnivorous in their dietary choices, resulting in an overabound leaning towards meats. But did you know that your gut (or digestive tract) may have something to say about those dietary choices? In fact, to maintain its own sanity, the gut craves a variety of foods – not just an overabundance of one food type.
Not listening to your guts’ feelings may result in longer-term health and wellness implications.
You’re Only as Healthy as Your Gut
Over many years of studying the gut, scientists, dieticians and clinicians have come to one conclusion: You are what you eat! Through intensive research experts determined that our digestive tracts are more than just food processing plants. What happens to, with and in our guts has a tremendous impact on our overall health.
Scientists confirm that everything, from birth1 through our early-infantile nurturing stages, and through stressful situations we encounter throughout our lives, impacts what happens in our guts. The state of our gut’s health may also be impacted by where we were born and live, and the type of lifestyle choices we make – e.g., not exercising enough.
It’s common knowledge that our bodies contain viruses, bacteria and fungi – trillions of them, in fact! Many of these entities reside in our large intestine, in a region called the Cecum. Collectively, the microsome of these microorganisms are known as the microbiome. What’s not so commonly realized is the fact that not everything residing in the microbiome is bad. Some of it is responsible for illnesses, while others promote immunity from diseases, help with weight management, determine cardiovascular fitness, and aid in maintaining overall health.
Because one very important factor, our dietary choices, has a significant impact on the health of our gut, it (our nutritional preferences) in turn impacts our overall health. In other words, through research and experimentation, the scientific community has confirmed that you’re only as healthy as your gut will allow you to be!
The Gut Connection – Microbiota and Health
There are clear links indicating that many chronic metabolic illnesses originate from the gut. Everything we eat ultimately ends up in our gut. The gut is instrumental in metabolizing our food, and then extracting the “good” and “disposing” the bad. When that function is compromised, primarily due to lack of healthy eating habits or overuse of pharmaceutical products, we tend to fall ill
Along with other factors, dietary choices determine the presence of endotoxins – toxic compounds inside gut bacteria that are released as cells degenerate – inside our gut. Studies point to a strong interconnection between the human immune system and the contents of our gut microbiome. Scientists believe that bacterial endotoxin-related inflammation2 in the gut, might be the key link to unhealthy dietary practices and serious health conditions such as obesity, diabetes and chronic metabolic diseases.
Scientists often inject endotoxins3 into the bloodstream during experiments to determine the connection between microbiota and health. The key findings point to a rapid resistance to insulin – a prominent feature characterizing Type II diabetes and metabolic syndrome. Many of these studies also show an elevated level of inflammatory responses in the gut – which prove that the body has triggered its autoimmune responses to these endotoxins.
Studies 4 have also shown that unhealthy nutrition, such as high-fat diets, induces unhealthy gut microbiota, which then exacerbates inflammation in the gut, that ultimately triggers conditions such as obesity. Other studies have proved that consistently sticking to high-fat, high-carbohydrate meals, such as creamy dairy and fatty meats, that typically contain an abundance of processed ingredients and refined carbs, leads to a spike in endotoxins in the blood (dietary endotoxemia 5).
Still other studies6 show unmistakable levels of increased endotoxin-producing bacteria in the gut as a result of embracing diets that are high in refined carbs. And, researchers have also concluded that gluten-heavy diets7 may also contribute to an imbalance in gut microbiota, that could ultimately result in conditions such as celiac disease.
Other research8 indicates that imbalances in microbiota may force hyper-activity within our guts, which challenge the body’s autoimmune to react. Such activity has been linked to many autoimmune diseases, cancers and diseases of the nervous system. The science is therefore irrefutable: There’s a strong connection between our overall health and the health of our gut.
Better Nutrition: The Key to Better Gut Health
Telltale signs of an unhealthy gut include:
- Upset tummy
- Weight changes
- Sleep disorders
- Skin irritation
- Autoimmune conditions
- Food allergies or intolerances
One way to restore balance to the gut’s microbiota is to embrace a healthy diet. Reducing the amount of high-sugary, processed foods, and cutting down on foods that are high in fats has proven to improve gut health. Health-conscious individuals are also turning to lean protein (white meat) and plant-based diets to help restore gut health. Switching to a high-fiber diet has also shown to improve gut health significantly.
So, what specifically might you include in a gut-healthy diet? Well, here are some things to consider:
- Foods high in fiber, including beans, legumes, berries and leeks
- Add more onion and garlic to your food prep
- Eat more fermented foods, such as yogurt, kimchi, kefir, sauerkraut and miso
- Try foods with collagen-boosting properties, such as salmon and bone broth9
- Include generous portions of fresh greens to your food, such as salads and leafy vegies
Because your gut takes its own health cues from your nutritional choices, the key to better gut health is in making healthier nutritional choices.
The gut craves a variety of food to maintain an equilibrium of healthy activity. Making unhealthy dietary choices, or the extreme choice of one food type (such as sugary treats or carb-heavy diets) may upset that equilibrium. And since what happens in the gut doesn’t always stay in the gut, an unhealthy gut could potentially mean an unhealthy body, mind and spirit. You cannot expect to have clear, healthy skin, hair, and overall healthy if you have gut issues.
While healthy eating habits may be the single most effective way to promote overall health, we can’t ignore other aspects of a healthy lifestyle, including regular exercise, appropriate amount of sleep and avoiding unnecessary stressful situations. Together, these practices will keep your gut happy and go a long way in maintaining overall health and wellness.