Listen to your Gut

January 5, 2016 Dining, Health and NutritionBy Kelly Egolf

We all did it.  Ate a slightly larger piece of pie, tried every kind of cheese on the party platter, had that second glass of champagne.  And it’s okay, it was the holidays.  All this cheer, however, can leave us feeling sluggish, uninspired and much less shiny than we did a few weeks before.  It’s a holiday hangover and if we’re being totally honest, you probably got off track last Halloween as well.

The toxic foods we have consumed over the month (or so) have wreaked havoc on our digestive systems and correcting it requires more than just a probiotic supplement.  So, what exactly is gut health and what should I be eating to achieve it?

Gut flora are the tens of trillions of micro-organisms that live in our digestive systems, including more than 1,000 species of bacteria.  Known as the microbiome, this community of microorganisms make up 1-3% of our total body mass.  It’s a little creepy to think about, but digestive health is the foundation for all health.  In fact, it may even affect our mood.

70% – 80% of immune cells exist in the gut, making it perhaps the most important part of the immune system. Many mood-altering compounds, which communicate with our brains and regulate our moods, are produced in the large intestine.  In fact, Michael Gerson of Columbia Medical Hospital calls the stomach our “second brain” because the neurons lining the gut are more numerous than either the spinal cord or the peripheral nervous system.

Thankfully, there are many ways to improve gut health with nutrition.  Plenty has been written about probiotics and there is an increasing marketing scheme to add probiotic supplements to ultra-processed foods.   Missing out on all the marketing hype but of equal importance is the counterpart to probiotics: prebiotics.

Prebiotics nourish probiotics by creating a friendly environment for them to exist in. They are, quite literally, food for your gut flora.  Without prebiotics, in fact, the digestive system cannot receive the benefit of probiotics.

Prebiotics can be found naturally in many nutrient-rich fresh fruits and vegetables, which is why it gets the short-end of the marketing stick.  Spinach, broccoli, kale, berries and avocados are just a few of them.  A diet that is rich in these types of fresh fruits and vegetables will increase the prebiotics in your gastro-intestinal tract, increasing the effectiveness of your favorite kombucha.  And a happy gut will leave you and your shiny old self feeling ready to tackle the new year.

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