Foods for Gut Health? Separating Facts from Myths
If your first inclination in gut health discussions is to think of food, it’s for a good reason. The best way you can optimize your health is through the nutrients you put into your body. Of course, the immediate advice always remains the same – 1. avoid alcohol 2. avoid processed sugar and 3. limit fatty junk food intake - But what comes next? Is it really as simple as “eat healthy?”
That can vary significantly based on your own gut microbiome blueprint – though many health specialists have their own ideas of top-rated foods to improve gut health.
Before we dive in, let’s take a look at the different ways the foods you choose can support your gut microbiome.
Prebiotic vs. Probiotic
If you’re seeing the words prebiotic and probiotic being tossed around in reference to gut health, you’re most likely seeing it as a supplement to be taken in addition to your daily diet. You might be wondering what these words really mean or how they make a difference. You might even do a quick Google search and find the following definitions for the first two:
- a nondigestible (by humans) food ingredient that promotes the growth and healthy function of beneficial microorganisms in the intestines.
- a microorganism introduced into the body for its beneficial qualities.
However, you don’t have to solely rely on a pill to reap their benefits. In fact, many of the ways our food can fundamentally improve our gut health is by contributing naturally occurring prebiotics and probiotics. When we consume prebiotic-rich foods, it feeds many of the beneficial bacterial colonies in our gut, improving their helpful activities. When we consume natural probiotic-rich foods, we’re improving the diversity and populations of beneficial microorganisms in our gut. Together, the prebiotics we eat can help the probiotics we ingest to increase the types of beneficial postbiotics produced by our gut microbiome.
Wait - But what are postbiotics?
Postbiotics are bacterial products or metabolic byproducts from beneficial microbes that are active inside the host. Essentially, it’s a fancy word for bacterial waste. However, some bacterial waste feels a lot more like liquid gold in relation to gut health and can be used to maintain our intestinal lining, fight physiological stress, and even contribute to our vitamin levels. Postbiotics include short-chain fatty acids, Vitamin K, and other beneficial compounds like n-carbamyl glutamate.
We don’t always have to wait for our gut microbes to digest our food to find postbiotics. In fact, some normal ingredients found right in your kitchen actually contain postbiotics, like acetic acid in vinegar, and fermented metabolites found in cheese.
Together, there are many nutritious foods that have various levels of these components. Some foods are rich in prebiotic fibers like lentils and artichokes, or have live, cultured bacteria thriving inside them like yogurt and sauerkraut.
So now that you know a little more about how your diet can support your gut microbiome, let’s talk food.
5 Top Foods Myths for Gut Health
The internet is full of interesting advice, though not all of it is factual, and some of it is downright wrong. Here we go through a couple of the most common ones that have left us scratching our heads.
1. Avoid Nuts or Seeds
If you’ve heard a dietician or a family friend tell you to avoid nuts and seeds, that advice has its roots in medicine - but is probably ill-directed. Those that suffer from diverticulitis, a disorder that results in little hidden pockets in the walls of the intestines, can occasionally get small food particles trapped inside and cause serious inflammation. Consequently, health practitioners may suggest these patients avoid foods like nuts or seeds. However, both nuts and seeds are rich in fiber, and can be a great prebiotic for many gut bacteria.
2. I’ll Just Take a Prebiotic/Probiotic Supplement
Although supplements can help fill the gaps in your diet and regulate your gut, there are few better alternatives than whole foods. Couple that with the difficulty in finding quality supplements, and you may very well see that an overall improved diet rich in prebiotic and probiotic foods will have a much better outcome on your gut health. Additionally, prebiotic/probiotic supplements interact with each person differently based on your own gut microbiome. Some might be helpful, but others might increase your level of discomfort. Finding the right supplement for you is often trial and error.
3. You Can Never Have Too Much Fiber
We’ve talked about how beneficial fiber is time and time again, but if you’ve reached your recommended level (25 grams for women, 38 grams for men), that is plenty! Not to mention, if you suffer from a more serious digestive disorder, such as IBS, IBD, or even Crohn’s – dietary fiber can be causing more harm than good. Instead, fiber can quicken the movement of their digestive system, something that most of these patients don’t need.
4. My Friend Ate “X” and It Helped, So I Should
Just as tricky as supplements can be for each individual person, food can also have different effects. Your friend, neighbor, coworker, or family member may have found that whole grains helped regulate their GI and improved their discomfort, but you might do better with plant sources. It simply depends on the state of your gut microbiome.
5. A Kombucha A Day Keeps the GI Doctor Away
Many foods enriched with live bacteria are touted to have beneficial properties on your gut. Kombucha meets these qualifications, however, be wary of sugar content and understand that when you take a sip of your sour, but tasty Kombucha tea, it might not contain what you think it does. For many fermented foods, you won’t find a list of the various microbes growing inside – it simply varies too much. So although you might be contributing some beneficial changes to your gut, you might not be doing as much as you think.
Tips For The Long Haul
If you want to learn how best to eat for your gut microbiome, drop the trends, fads, and fake diets that are sure to fall short of your optimal diet. Many healthy foods recommended to promote a healthy gut may fall into your Viome recommended “Minimize” and “Avoid” lists. Some of these include kimchi, sauerkraut, plain kefir, tempeh, and organic sugar-free yogurt. It is possible for some fermented foods to simultaneously aggravate histamine sensitivity patterns in certain individuals. It all comes down to assessing your own individual gut microbiome status with the help of Viome’s innovative technology, and discovering which foods are best for your microbiome.