Gut bacteria are vitally important for good health. Though the microbiome has enjoyed some time in the spotlight in recent years, this connection between the gut and vibrant health wasn’t always a given. Only recently have we begun to understand that the complexity of our microbiota can impact our skin health, energy levels, mental wellness and overall inflammation.
Though there are many side effects of poor gut heath, one of the most obvious is digestive trouble. If you’ve been experiencing this or other symptoms, you’re probably ready to start your journey toward better health. Here are the first five steps you should take as you work toward healing your gut.
Eat a Low-FODMAP Diet
One of the biggest problems that can plague the digestive tract is the malabsorption of various foods. This phenomenon may also be referred to as food sensitivity, but here’s the gist of what happens. When certain kinds of foods are consumed, they aren’t absorbed adequately by the small intestine. This leads to a buildup of nutrients as the food moves through into the large intestine. Microbiota then consume those nutrients en masse, and their consumption creates unusually large amounts of gas. This is thought to be one of the main triggers of IBS.
You won’t know exactly what foods are difficult for you to digest until you try eliminating them from your diet. The term FODMAP refers to “Fermentable, Oligo-, Di-, Mono-saccharides and Polyols.” Eating a low-FODMAP diet means eliminating high-fructose foods (sugary fruits), gluten-containing grains, maltitol and sorbitol (sugar alcohols found in stone fruits), lactose (aka dairy) and legumes. All of these foods are known to be poorly absorbed by some people. After you eliminate them for a period of about six weeks, you can try adding back one food group at a time. This will help you discover what may be causing you trouble.
Eat Adequate Amounts of Fiber
Fiber can be difficult to digest, but it is an important component of promoting regular bowel movements. If you are eating a low-FODMAP diet, you may notice that some of your usual fiber sources, such as whole grains, are eliminated. Make up for this by eating plenty of healthy vegetables. You can also feel safe adding a tablespoon of flaxseed to your meals, as it is considered perfectly safe for low-FODMAP eaters.
Obviously, consuming probiotics is very important for gut health. How you choose to get probiotics into your diet, though, is up to you. You can take a probiotic supplement, but if you do, look for one that has more than a few live strains … at least six. Otherwise, you won’t really be promoting the diverse microbiome that your gut needs to thrive.
You can also get probiotics completely naturally by eating fermented foods. Homemade classics such as kefir, sauerkraut, kombucha and yogurt (if you’re not dairy-free) are all great options.
Prebiotics are the nutrients that gut bacteria often feed off of. Really, everything you eat can be a prebiotic, but there are certain foods that are known to be most beneficial for gut bacteria. Those foods include chicory root, artichoke, dandelion greens, sweet potatoes, onions and garlic. Be careful with the latter two, though—keep them at moderate levels, because they contain some FODMAP nutrients (fructans).
Cook Your Veggies
While many of us love the nutrient density of raw vegetables, it’s a proven fact that veggies are more difficult to digest when they’re eaten raw. While you’re sorting out your digestive issues, try cooking your produce at least to room temperature before eating it. You don’t have to cook it heavily—just a light steaming will do. This will make the food easier on the gut (and it’s in line with ayurvedic principles, too!).