The Importance of Gut Health

December 5, 2018

Image via Shutterstock.

As 2018 comes to a close, it’s important to check in with yourself. Have you had any health concerns or struggles this year that deserve a little extra attention? 

One area that people often overlook is the gut. Did you know that 70%–80% of our immune cells reside in the gut? It’s true – which means a compromised gut has health implications way beyond the digestive system.

Gut health actually starts to take shape during infancy – factors like breastfeeding and vaginal vs. C-section births also affect the bacterial profile of the gut. By the time you reach adulthood, you’ve likely been on antibiotics multiple times, consumed irritating foods, and been exposed to a variety of environmental toxins. Over time, this can take a toll on the gut, causing what is referred to as dysbiosis – when the “bad” bacteria outnumber the “good” bacteria.

How do you know if it’s time to give your gut a little more love? Some factors to look out for include: 

  • Digestive issues, such as bloating, gas, or diarrhea
  • Fatigue and difficulty sleeping
  • Food allergies or sensitivities
  • Moodiness, anxiety, and depression
  • Skin problems, like eczema and acne

You’ve probably experienced one or more of these symptoms and maybe even ignored them. However, there’s so much you can do to support your gut. Start with these simple steps to ensure you head into 2019 feeling stronger and better than ever.

1.     Reduce processed foods.
Processed foods, which often contain additives, wheat, dairy, soy, corn, and refined sugar, can cause irritation. When gut health is already compromised, you may be extra sensitive to certain foods or ingredients that wouldn’t otherwise cause a reaction. Removing potential irritants from the diet can give your gut time to heal and reduce inflammation, making it more resilient. Research also shows that a diet high in processed foods takes a major toll on the gut.

2.     Get more whole foods on your plate.
Whole foods, like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, healthy fats, and proteins, can help feed the existing “good” bacteria in the gut. By incorporating a variety of whole foods into your diet each day, you’ll stay full longer, have fewer cravings, and support good digestion.

As a bonus, include fermented foods – kimchi, miso, tempeh, and kefir – on your plate as they help increase the amount of good bacteria in the gut.

3.     Increase primary food.
At Integrative Nutrition, we define “primary food” as the things that nourish us off our plates. The four main areas of primary food are relationships, career, physical activity, and spirituality. By evaluating where you stand in these areas, you might see some imbalances that are causing more stress, anxiety, and pressure in your life. Are you unhappy at work? Are you in an unhealthy relationship? Do you not work out as often as you’d like? By increasing your primary food, you’ll gradually start to feel and see positive changes.

4.     Lower stress levels.
You’ve probably heard it before – too much stress has a negative impact on your entire body, from your mind all the way to your toes. Have you ever gotten sick after dealing with a tight deadline at work or a serious family obligation? Our immune system responds to stress, and the more negative energy you have, the more likely it is the gut won’t function properly. There are many ways to lower your stress levels, but finding what works for you is most important. Go for a long walk after work, take a yoga class, grab coffee with a friend, or simply turn off notifications on your phone after dinner each night.

5.     Get enough sleep.
Good (and consistent!) sleep is so important! When you’re tired, you’re more likely to give into cravings and eat food that won’t nourish or satisfy you. Sleep is also the one time for your body and your brain to turn off. In order to relax, reduce stress, increase energy, and keep your immune system strong, aim for 7–8 hours of sleep each night.

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