Graphic from Adobe Stock/tanyabosyk
Health buzzwords like “gut health” and “good bacteria” are thrown around all the time now, and for many, they often walk the line between seeming a little “out there” and overwhelming — a combination that can make you want to turn the page. But there’s legitimacy to maintaining a healthy gut, because it has a direct relationship to inflammation.
The Role of a Healthy Gut
Without sliding down a dark hole of complex microbe-gut talk, let me share the basics of the relationship. During digestion, foods are gradually broken down as they make their way through the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, with the goal being to dismantle the food into single nutrients or components small enough to be absorbed through the intestinal walls and into the body. It’s the variety of good bacteria that largely determine gut permeability — the level to which the nutrients in foods, as well as foreign bodies and irritants, can enter or “leak” into the bloodstream.
- An intestinal tract with a variety of plentiful good bacteria provides a strong, fairly impermeable barrier in the lining of the intestines.
- The strong microbe barrier allows digested nutrients to pass through, but prevents — or greatly limits — foreign compounds (toxins, chemicals, bad bacteria, etc.) and waste products from escaping into the rest of the body.
- An intestinal tract where the good bacteria have been reduced or the balance disrupted (a state called dysbiosis) provides a weakened, much more permeable barrier with holes or gaps in the intestinal lining.
- The weaker, fairly permeable microbe barrier allows digested nutrition to pass through, but also allows foreign bodies and waste components to cross the intestinal walls into the rest of the body as well.
- Research suggests that it’s “leaking” of foreign bodies and waste from the gut into the body that augments or encourages inflammation and initiates or worsens symptoms and diseases.
The Influence of Diet on Gut Health
While there are still many unknowns, research suggests that there are key components in the typical American diet—too many added sugars, saturated fats, and processed foods, and too little fiber — that are largely responsible for disrupting gut health. What appears to restore or maintain the gut is a diet consisting of less-processed, whole foods with plenty of fiber-rich fruits and vegetables, as well as foods that either contain “good” bacteria or support their growth.
Graphic from Adobe Stock/Yevhenii
Super Gut-Promoters: Probiotics and Prebiotics
Probiotic and prebiotic foods are those that offer additional support to maintain a healthy gut microbiome, and each plays a unique role:
- Probiotics actually contain live strains of good bacteria, and regular intake helps to re-inoculate the intestinal lining with microbes that may have been killed or significantly reduced in number. Probiotic foods include dairy foods such as yogurt and kefir labeled as having “live cultures,” as well as some aged cheese, and nondairy cultured yogurts. Fermented foods like sauerkraut, miso, tempeh, and kombucha are other probiotic sources.
- Prebiotics are nondigestible food components that serve as nourishment to the gut’s good bacteria and help them to thrive. Most fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains contain some prebiotics, but specific foods rich in them include onions, garlic, leeks, asparagus, barley, oats, bananas, apples, and whole wheat foods.
Graphic from Meals that Heal: 100+ Everyday Anti-Inflammatory Recipes in 30 Minutes or Less
Also from Meals that Heal: 100+ Everyday Anti-Inflammatory Recipes in 30 Minutes or Less:
Photo from Adobe Stock/MeganBetteridge
Curious about kombucha?
- Browse kombucha products, including starter kits, in the Fermentation store online.
- Kombucha for Health and Happiness: Learn about the origins of this popular probiotic beverage and how it could benefit your body, mind and budget.
- Home Brewing Kombucha: How to brew kombucha tea at home by the gallon.
- MOTHER EARTH NEWS Podcast: Kefir and Kombucha: Brewing with Bacteria
- Peach Kombucha Lassi Recipe: Combine two types of fermented components to make this fresh, delicately sweet drink that has double the probiotic power.
- Lavender-Mint Kombucha Recipe: These two edible herbs give your summer brew a fragrant, soothing effect and support a healthy digestive system.
Reprinted with permission from Meals that Heal: 100+ Everyday Anti-Inflammatory Recipes in 30 Minutes or Less by Carolyn Williams, PhD, RD and published by Tiller Press, 2019.