5 Ways to a Happy, Healthy Gut
Creating a healthy, happy gut is simpler than you think. It’s really about jettisoning the junk, chemicals and mysterious, unpronounceable ingredients and adding more foods that are as close to the vine as possible. Farm-to-table and artisanal are more than just cute marketing phrases, they’re lifestyle choices that put you, the consumer, in closer touch with the plants and creatures who nourish you and the people who raise them. Here are the 5 essentials, or the “5 F’s” to help you feel better and more vibrant there:
1) FIBER: Fiber is the super food substance to nourish your microbiota (the bacteria that live in your gut) that literally gives them something to chew on, which in turn helps keep your gut and the rest of you well. The fiber in vegetables, fruits and legumes feed friendly bacteria in the gut, like lactobacilli and bifidobacteria, which help maintain the integrity of the gut wall and tamp down inflammation. That’s good news for your belly. It also explains why it’s so important to have fiber at every meal. Vegetables should, ideally, take up about half your plate.
2) FREE: By free, I’m talking about food that is free of toxic ingredients and less likely to cause adverse reactions. These are nature’s gifts you should be feeding your body with. Gut-loving ‘free’ foods haven’t been processed on the way to your table. Washed, perhaps, but not mixed, injected or interfered with – and still quite close to the original vine. For example, a bowl of steel cut oats will contain just oats, whereas a bowl full of “unlucky charms” will have countless difficult-to-identify ingredients, any one of which could mean trouble for your gut, particularly if yours is prone to misbehavior.
3) FLEXITARIAN: When it comes to a happy gut, I vote for the ‘flexitarian’ approach. It’s really the best of all worlds, featuring a diet that is plant-centric but also includes some sustainable fish, high-quality lean meats and poultry for a diversity of flavors and nutrients. The key for a lot of people with belly issues is to make the transition from the protein-as-main-event mentality to a plate that’s made up of only about 25% protein, both animal and vegetable. What many people don’t realize until they make the switch is that too much animal protein contributes to gut and overall health problems (sorry Paleo-fans!).
4) FORAGED: ‘Forage’ at your local farmer’s market – go farther afield, cast a wider nutrient net and try out vegetables and fruits you’re not familiar with, whose names you might not even know. Scout some “wild foods” and “weeds” that are close to the ancestral vine to populate your plate. The broader the range of fibers we consume, the broader the range of bacteria will be fed. In our inner ecology, just as in the ecology of the planet, diversity equals resilience. The more types of friendly gut bacteria we harbor, the better job of digestion the gut does, the less chance that a particular food or food component will cause localized gut upset or trigger a harmful inflammatory response.
5) FERMENTED: Fermented foods are back in a big way because they do so much good for your gut – and they taste great too. I recommend that everyone reinoculate their guts regularly with fermented foods to help the microbiota stay on top of their game. By eating foods like sauerkraut, kimchi and tempeh, we provide fiber for our resident gut bacteria as well as a fresh shipment of transient bacteria just passing through. What does that mean for you? Better digestion, immunity and elimination – the gut-health triple crown! And, it’s so easy to ferment your favorite veggies – here’s my post on how to do it at home: How to Ferment Your Way to a Healthy Belly.
For more ideas on how to create a vibrant diet, and a healthy gut and microbiota, check out my book The Swift Diet: 4 Weeks to Mend the Belly, Lose the Weight and Get Rid of the Bloat.