Gut Health For Dummies
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Gut health doesn’t only have to do with the digestive tract and how it functions. The term has come to mean a state of physical and mental wellbeing enabled by what occurs within the digestive tract — including the activities of the 38 trillion microorganisms (bacteria, archaea, fungi, and viruses) that support the healthy functioning of the human body.

This Cheat Sheet gives you the science-backed principles for shaping your gut microbes for better gut health and overall health. You’ll also get a crash course on probiotics and other biotics, along with how to choose a product that’s more likely to benefit your health.

The gut-friendly diet principles

The food you eat is one of the best ways to shape the community of microorganisms that lives in your gut, thereby supporting your optimal health. And even though it’s easy to find microbiome diet books that present you with precise diet plans to support your gut microbes, in truth those books aren’t backed up by solid science. Instead, the wealth of research on gut microbes and diet over the past two decades has converged on some general principles that can guide what you eat for better gut health. These principles are as follows:

  • Every week, consume 30 or more varied plant sources of fiber.
  • Consume fermented foods every day.
  • Consume high quantities of live microorganisms — one billion or more — every day.
  • Consume low amounts of omega-6 fats and higher amounts of extra-virgin olive oil and other monounsaturated fats.
  • Avoid emulsifiers and noncaloric sweeteners in your diet.

Diversity of foods — especially plants — is the name of the game for gut health. But some foods are especially good for providing either fiber that modulates the gut microbes, or higher quantities of live microorganisms. Ten gut-supportive foods to include in your diet are as follows:

  • Onions
  • Garlic
  • Leeks
  • Jerusalem artichokes
  • Dandelion greens
  • Yogurt
  • Kefir
  • Kimchi
  • Sauerkraut
  •  Fermented pickles

The lowdown on biotics

A huge variety of gut health products — not just probiotics, but also prebiotics, synbiotics, and postbiotics (collectively called biotics) — are available to address health by targeting the microorganisms living in the gut. According to scientists in these fields, the biotic category is restricted to products that have been tested and shown to provide health benefits. By these criteria, very few of the products you see on the shelves truly qualify as biotics. Here’s a rundown on the definition of the biotic substances:

  • Probiotics: Live microorganisms that give you health benefits when consumed in proper amounts, or in other words, a special category of live microbes that have been scientifically tested to bring you a health benefit.
  • Prebiotics: A substance that’s consumed by a special set of microorganisms in the gut to create a health benefit, also known as food for beneficial microbes.
  • Synbiotics: Mixtures of live microorganisms (which may or may not independently qualify as probiotics) with food for microorganisms (which may or may not independently qualify as prebiotics), which together confer a health benefit
  • Postbiotics: Killed or inanimate microorganisms (or parts of microorganisms) that bring about health benefits

Choosing a biotic

When faced with the four categories of biotics, you may wonder which one to choose to benefit your health. Here’s a quick guide to choosing a biotic that’s likely to work for you:

  1. Identify the health condition or symptom you want to address with a biotic.

    Some probiotics, for example, improve antibiotic-associated diarrhea or reduce symptoms of lactose intolerance. If you’re generally healthy and there’s no symptom you wish to address, skip to Step 4.

  2. Search for products that are shown to improve the condition or symptom you’ve identified.

    Certain biotic categories or specific biotics (for example, a precise probiotic strain) may be scientifically demonstrated to improve the condition. A doctor or pharmacist may be able to help you identify an appropriate product.

    If no biotic product is shown effective for your condition, skip to Step 4.

  3. Choose from among the products shown to be effective for your condition.

    Consider factors such as cost, availability, convenience, shelf life, and storage needs when making your decision.

  4. If you’re looking for a biotic for general health, search for products that are scientifically tested and shown to give benefits you may not be able to see directly, such as a strong gut barrier or decreased markers of inflammation.

  5. Choose from among the products that have scientific support for this benefit in generally healthy people.

    Again, consider factors such as cost, availability, convenience, shelf life, and storage needs when making your decision.

  6. Take note of any changes in your health when you begin consuming the biotic.

    If you don’t notice any improvements within several weeks or when the package is finished, consider trying a different product.

About This Article

This article is from the book:

About the book author:

Kristina Campbell is an experienced and adaptable science writer specializing in microbiome and gut health. She writes for publications as diverse as Alive Magazine and Nature Outlook, and she has authored two previous books: The Well-Fed Microbiome Cookbook and Gut Microbiota: Interactive Effects on Nutrition and Health.

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