3 Surprising Reasons Your Gut Health Matters

By: Lori Kase  |  May/June 2016  |  New Reasons to Feed Your Gut

Plus how to eat to keep your gut healthy.

Plus how to eat to keep your gut healthy.
Eat Less Sugar for a Healthier Gut
Scientists are discovering that your gut health impacts so much more than just your digestion. The billions of bacteria in your gut can impact your entire body. "Gut bacteria are connected to aspects of health we never suspected," says Rob Knight, Ph.D., co-founder and principal investigator of the Human Gut Project. "Cardiovascular disease, the immune system, liver disease, even neural function and the brain—it's far-reaching in a way that wouldn't have been on anyone's radar 10 years ago."
Pictured recipe: Simple Sauerkraut
Here are three surprising reasons why you should care about your gut health.
Must-Read: How Good Bacteria Could Transform Your Gut Health
Gut Bacteria and Weight Loss
Let's start with a topic that has baffled scientists and dieters alike: weight loss. But surprisingly, gut bacteria and weight loss may go hand-in-hand. When researchers at the University of Iowa gave mice a drug known to cause weight gain as a side effect, they discovered that the rodents' microbe composition shifted, slowing their resting metabolic rate. An abundance of the wrong bacteria in our gut may even cause unhealthy cravings, according to a study in BioEssays. By controlling our hormones and hijacking the nerve that connects our brain to our gut, bacteria may manipulate us into making poor food choices.
Gut Health and Anxiety
Cravings are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to your gut influencing your thoughts and feelings. Eating more probiotic-rich fermented foods like kimchi or miso soup is associated with less social anxiety in people considered neurotic (compared to those who eat less fermented foods), found researchers at the College of William and Mary. They believe there are compounds in probiotics that may help suppress anxiety.
Allergies and the Microbiome
Microbiome advances have also blown the research doors off of allergy and auto­immune conditions. In fact, you may be able to go so far as to predict whether infants will develop food allergies by looking at their gut microbiota, according to Canadian researchers. Those with less diverse microbiomes at 3 months old are more likely to develop milk, egg or peanut sensitivities by the time they're 1 year old.
The Gut Health Diet
How does your microbiome grow? Just like a thriving garden depends on the right mix of plants, your gut health hinges on a good balance of bacteria. Here are 3 simple rules to help you nurture your "gut garden."
1. Eat Probiotic Foods
Probiotics, such as kimchi, yogurt with live active cultures, fresh sauerkraut and tempeh, provide the gut with beneficial bacteria. Not all bacteria survive the trip through the stomach, but those that make it settle in the gut or exert positive effects as they pass through. Try these 7 fermented foods for a healthy dose of probiotic bacteria.
Read more: The Real Benefits of Fermented Foods and Probiotics
2. Feed Good Bugs with Prebiotics
Prebiotics encourage the growth of the right bacteria in your gut. "If taking probiotics is like planting what you want in your garden, eating pre­biotics is like fertilizing them," says Rob Knight, Ph.D., co-founder and principal investigator of the Human Gut Project. Prebiotics contain fibers that don't digest all the way, so they leave leftovers for the gut bacteria to eat or "ferment." They also help keep things moving in your gut, which is important for maintaining your gut health. Prebiotic-rich foods include Jerusalem artichokes, onions, garlic, asparagus, chicory and bananas.
Try It: Top Fiber-Rich Foods for Good Gut Bacteria
3. Starve Out Bad Gut Bacteria
Think of the bad bacteria in your system as weeds to thin out to correct an unhealthy gut. Research shows that too much sugar and saturated fat feed the bacteria associated with obesity, allergies and even your happiness. A void overdoing it on junk food with these healthy recipes to satisfy your cravings and help squash the bad bugs in your gut.
More Gut-Healthy Foods and Recipes to Try:
Fava Bean Puree with Chicory
Healthy Banana Recipes
3 Fermented Drinks to Try