The Secret to a Healthy, Happy Gut

In the latest newsletter from a favorite site, Food Revolution ( I found some terrific information on gut health (the gut being where the digestive process takes place). This process breaks down food and beverage particles so that the body can absorb the nutrients it wants and excrete the rest. Trillions of organisms (aka microbes, gut bacteria, or probiotics) join in the effort.

A healthy gut should be a main focus when planning our diet because these microbes play a critical role in shaping appetite, allergies, metabolism, neurological function; they determine mood; and they factor into risk of developing neuropsychiatric illnesses like schizophrenia, ADHD, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and chronic fatigue syndrome. In other words, our gut bacteria have a huge impact on the way we feel.

And like any bacteria, it needs feeding. We should understand then, that every time we eat, we’re feeding somebody. For simplicity’s sake, I’ll spare you the scientific blah blah and just say that the gut is home to good and bad bacteria. It stands to reason that depending on which bacteria we feed determines how good or bad we feel. Unfortunately, the modern industrialized diet we like so much is all too often feeding the bad guys and, just as important, starving the good.

The “bad” bacteria tend to feed on sugar and unhealthy fats (aka junk food!), and good bacteria thrive on fiber (25 to 30 grams per day is the recommendation). That said, here’s a fun fact to know and tell at the dinner table: The average American gets less than 15 grams/day!

Most of us are literally starving the good bacteria that are crucial to digestion and to making the brain-boosting chemicals we need to thrive.

So what’s the in-a-nutshell advice to nurturing the good guys and thus supporting our gut health?

First and foremost, don’t kill the good ones (avoid unnecessary antibiotics, glyphosate, and environmental toxins). And many researchers say we should choose organic foods. I’ve talked a lot about that. My concern on this is that many folks can’t afford organic. Does that mean they’re doomed to gut catastrophe? Nope. Appealing to a higher power will protect the body from whatever chemical(s), etc., may be tainting the food. I tell ya, whether you’re Baptist, Buddhist, or Bingo Player, blessing the food works!

Second, don’t feed the bad ones. A diet high in sugar, unhealthy fat, and processed food feeds the very kinds of flora that cause gas, discomfort, bloating, and chronic inflammation.

Third, FEED THE GOOD ONES—the key to keeping a healthy gut healthy. Probiotics are the so-called “good” bacteria inside your gastrointestinal tract. They’re the big digestion-helpers that keep the tummy happy. But like all living things, probiotics must be fed in order to remain active and vibrant.

And what do they like best? PRE-BIOTICS (indigestible fiber). The more prebiotics we feed our probiotics, the more efficiently our probiotics can work. And of course, whole plant foods (especially fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains), are the source.

Plants, plants, plants; am I boring you to death? Can’t help it; the research is clear. Sickness and health both start in the gut, so if you want strong gut health, seriously consider shifting from a diet heavily based on meats, simple carbohydrates, and processed foods to one that emphasizes plants. Prebiotics are the secret to a healthy, happy gut, and the best ones are:

  • Dandelion greens

  • Garlic

  • Leeks

  • Onions

  • Asparagus

  • Wheat bran

  • Bananas

  • Jicama

  • Apples

  • Barley

  • Oats

  • Flaxseed

  • Seaweed

  • Fermented foods (kimchi; sauerkraut; yogurt made from cow, soy, coconut, or almond milk; kefir; miso; natto, made by boiling and fermenting soybeans with bacteria; beet kvass, a fermented beet drink; vinegar with the “mother;” and kombucha.

Finally, listen to your gut. Pay close attention to how you feel after you eat. When you’re in a symbiotic relationship with the community of critters inside you, your immune system is strengthened, your mood is up, and your overall energy is enhanced!


    Alice Osborne
    Weekly Newsletter Contributor since 2006
    Email the author!

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