Photo: Getty/Inna Klim
The latest scientific research is showing us just how vital it is to take proper care of our guts, as good gut health is associated with better digestion, a healthier immune system and even a slimmer waistline. Thankfully, more and more studies are discovering what properly caring for our microbiome actually looks like.
A recent study from Baylor College of Medicine found a strong link between diet quality and the quality of gut bacteria. The healthier one's diet was, the better gut bacteria they possessed and vice versa. And the lower quality diets not only produced less healthy gut bacteria, but they also had much higher levels of bad bacteria lurking in their microbiomes.
The authors of this study go on to say that improving diet quality for better gut health could be a beneficial strategy for chronic disease prevention. Participants with the high-quality diets had a higher abundance of gut bacteria with anti-inflammatory properties, while those with the low-quality diets had a higher amount of a potentially pathogenic bacteria that is linked to colorectal cancer.
So, what does eating for better gut health and chronic disease prevention look like, you ask? Based on this study and previous scientific research, there are some key players that can help (or hinder) your gut microbiome. You'll find them listed, below:
1. Eat the Rainbow
Fruits and vegetables are a crucial part of any healthy diet, but especially a gut-healthy one. Whether you buy fresh or frozen, most produce is a great source of fiber—which our good gut bacteria uses for food, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals to keep our bodies strong.
Some of our favorite fruits and veggies for better gut health include artichokes, raspberries, onions, bananas, asparagus, leeks and watermelon. These high-fiber foods will also help keep you regular and assist in weight management, along with boosting gut health. Score!
2. Don't Be Afraid of Carbs
We've said it 100 times, and we'll say it 100 more—there's no need to fear carbohydrates! Incorporating healthy sources of carbohydrates, like whole grains, fruits and legumes, have dozens of research-backed health benefits, and one of them is boosting gut health!
Whole grains, like quinoa, brown rice, barley, farro and whole wheat, are full of fiber for slower digestion, and therefore, help avoid crashing an hour later. They also contain protein, vitamins and minerals to help give your body the nutritional boost it needs. That's a lot more than we can say about our favorite croissant or white sandwich bread (although there's some room for those on occasion, too)!
3. Watch Your Alcohol Consumption
We're big fans of a glass of vino with dinner (and who doesn't love a fresh-made cocktail?), but there are some pretty strong associations between alcohol and poor gut health. We recommend sticking to the current recommendations of no more than one alcoholic beverage a day for women and no more than two for men a day, to make sure all your other efforts to achieve good gut health aren't wasted.
4. Prioritize Healthy Fats—But Don't Go Overboard
This Baylor study is one of many studies to produce evidence that diets high in saturated fat are not only bad for our hearts, but for our gut health, too. High-fat diets have shown to produce unfavorable conditions for anti-inflammatory gut bacteria, allowing for long-term gastrointestinal issues, as well as a higher risk for metabolic diseases, such as type 2 diabetes.
Don't get us wrong—fat is an important macronutrient for a reason—we might just benefit more from eating less animal protein and fats. Swapping out meat for beans, tofu or tempeh even just once or twice a week at dinnertime can make a huge difference for our health. Also opting for high-quality plant-based fats like avocados, olive oil and nuts can help keep us satisfied without all the saturated fat. All three of these foods have even shown to possess anti-inflammatory properties for better gut health and a lower risk of chronic diseases.
5. Beware of Sneaky Added Sugars
We all know cookies, ice cream and our favorite brownie mix don't do wonders for our health, and that also translates to our guts. Added sugars proved to lower the amount of good gut bacteria present in one's microbiome while increasing potentially harmful bacteria in the Baylor study. Refined sugar also shows to cause inflammation, weight gain and an increase in chronic disease—all things that can wreck your microbiome, too.
Unfortunately added sugars are hiding in places you'd least expect. We'll give you a pat on the back for bypassing those enticing pints of Ben & Jerry's in the freezer section, but other "healthy" foods like yogurt, bread, salad dressing, granola and even dried fruit can be full of added sugars, too.