Maintaining digestive health is often an overlooked piece of a healthy lifestyle, and many believe that adjusting your diet to include gut-friendly foods is a hassle. However, many of the foods you already enjoy are packed with nutrients that aid in a healthy colon and digestive tract. A January 24th article in Consumer Reports summarized that gut-friendly foods include three main aspects (Reports, 2021):
Fiber: Controls the speed at which consumed food moves through your gut.
Probiotics: Microorganisms that fight against bad bacteria that may be in things we eat or present when we are sick.
Prebiotics: Not to be confused with probiotics, prebiotics are essentially the “food” for probiotics. These plant fibers help ensure that probiotics can continue to thrive in your gut.
Here are five food and drink changes you can make to improve your gut health.
Add kale, spinach, and other greens
Linda Lee M.D. of Johns Hopkins Medicine explains how “leafy” greens, such as spinach and kale are high in vitamins such as A, vitamin K, and C, along with being a good source of fiber. Another green option is avocado. This fruit is also high in vitamins C, B9, K, E, and B5 (Avocado). Lee also advises that while avocados provide immense nutritional benefits, they are also high in fat, meaning they must be consumed in moderation.
Switch white bread for whole-grain options
White bread is a popular choice to go with sandwiches, burgers, hotdogs and more. You can make the simple choice of opting for whole-grain bread products over the traditional white bread to increase the intake of fiber in your diet.
Lee explains that, daily, one should ingest at least 25-grams of fiber. This fiber intake can play a large role in not only our gut health, but our general wellbeing.
“When gut bacteria ferment fiber, they produce short-chain fatty acids. These molecules encourage proper function in the cells lining the colon, where 70 percent of our immune cells live,” Lee says (Lee).
High prebiotic and probiotic foods
It’s well known that yogurt is a great option for digestive health, this is due to the high amount of prebiotics and probiotics. This also extends to other “fermented dairy foods,” according to Lee. Janet Colson, R.D., M.D., a professor of nutrition and food science at Middle Tennessee State University adds that these microorganisms (probiotics) and the food they consume (prebiotics) dissipate over time, including the longer the food is stored. Colson recommends that when you purchase yogurt, you should eat it quickly after purchase for maximum benefit.
Be careful when selecting red meats
Red meat can come in a variety of cuts, each with its specific fat content. Lee advises that those browsing the meat counter at their local supermarket should be considerate of these ratio’s and opt for a leaner cut.
According to Lee, the fats in these cuts can cause contractions in the colon and lead to increased risk for complications from clogged arteries (Lee).
Use in moderation (or avoid)
While there are several foods you can eat to aid in digestive health, there also items that provide the opposite effect. Consumer Reports suggested some foods and drinks you can limit or avoid altogether (Reports, 2021). These include:
- Alcohol and Caffeine: May lead to diarrhea.
- Sweetened Fruit Drinks: High Fructose corn syrup can cause gas and be difficult to digest.
- Red Marbled Meats and Deep-fried foods: (see above)
- Sugar-free candies and gums: Contain sweeteners which can cause gas if 10+ grams are consumed daily.
- Sodas and Seltzers: Can fill your stomach with gas.
There are several other steps you can take to aid in maintaining digestive health, but none more important or useful than consulting with your doctor. Along with dietary steps, be sure to schedule routine screenings such as colonoscopies, when advised.