Welcome to post #3 in my 4-part Gut Health series! I am honoring colon cancer awareness month by sharing updated information regarding nutrition and food for a healthy colon. Find post #1 (Gut Health Post #1: The Ins & Outs) here; and post #2 A Happy Gut is a Happy Life here!
[FYI I presented an hour long webinar discussing this topic, and you can find the recording and suggested resources here: www.cancerdietitian.com/guthealth.]
Today’s topic explains how to improve gut health with lifestyle choices. Let’s get to it!
How can I improve or alter my gut health?
Diet and other lifestyle factors play a strong role in gut health throughout the lifecycle. As mentioned in the previous post, gut health is strongly influenced by birth and early childhood exposure. This does not mean that the microbiome cannot be altered throughout daily life.
Changing the diet can shift the microbiome in a few hours to a few days. The microbiome is very resilient to short term changes; however, long term diet changes are a strong determinant of microbial composition. Additionally, not everyone’s microbiome will respond in the same ways and to the same extent in response to dietary shifts.
Additionally, each macronutrient will affect the gut differently. Carbohydrates will have a high impact, protein will have moderate impact, and fats will have a low impact.
Carbohydrates will have the most impact on the microbiome because they are providing a nutrient source for bacteria. This is especially true for non-digestible carbohydrates, such as dietary fiber. Non-digestible carbohydrates pass through the small intestine and are fermented in the large intestines. This allows them to be used as energy by bacteria and alter the intestinal environment.
Eating a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains will promote a healthy gut. These foods are carbohydrates, and they will allow the gut to build bacteria. Having a balanced fiber intake is also very important. Dietary fiber will allow the body to have regular waste removal, leaving less time for excess bacteria to remain in the body.
Protein and fat affect the microbiome less since they are not providing a significant energy source to bacteria. However, protein sources that are plants do assist in promoting good gut health, as they provide fiber. Plant proteins include beans (legumes), seeds and nuts.
Exercise allows the gut to have a greater abundance of healthy bacteria, increased fecal metabolites, and greater functional capacity for carbohydrate metabolism. Studies show that cardiorespiratory fitness is correlated to increased diversity of the gut microbiota.
In addition, exercise helps in maintaining regular bowel movements, which is an essential part of gut performance!
To conclude, diet, exercise, and stress can all play a crucial role in the human microbiome. Gut health can be altered by all of these factors, and it is important to maintain a balance in these areas.
Stay tuned for Gut Health Post #4 next week, where I will give you some practical tips for daily habits that promote good gut health!
-Julie & The Interns