Welcome to post #2 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!
[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 we determine gut health, and how prebiotics and probiotics help in creating, repairing and maintaining gut health. Let’s get to it!
What classifies “gut health”?
Gut health is not measured by one specific variable; there are 5 criteria for a healthy gut:
- Effective digestion and absorption of food
- Absence of GI illness
- Adequate immune function
- Normal and stable intestinal microbiota
- Status of well-being
Diversity, Disease, and Digestion.
The microbes present in our intestine helps to give our body exposure to a variety of materials. When the body has exposure to a wide variety of material, it will be more able to protect itself in the future. Diversity in the microbiota means there is a large number of different bacterial, yeasts and viruses.
Insults to the gut, such as antibiotics, illness, or surgery, can disrupt the system. Diversity allows the microbiome to be resilient and return to a stable state after these changes have occurred.
Gut health is also defined by the absence or management of gastrointestinal diseases. This could include acute diseases (food poisoning) or chronic conditions (chrohn’s, irritable bowel disease or cancer).
Last (but not least!!) – it is important for the body to properly digest foods. Adequate breakdown and absorption of nutrients is an indication of gut health. Monitoring comfortable and regular bowel movements is also a way to track the health of the gut.
Maintaining Gut Health: Prebiotics and Probiotics
There are several ways to maintain and improve gut health. One way we can improve bacterial diversity in the gut is through the consumption of prebiotics and probiotics. This can be done through consuming whole foods or supplementation.
What is the difference between prebiotics and probiotics?
Prebiotics are a plant fiber that acts as a fertilizer for bacteria. I like to refer to prebiotics as “food for the good bacteria.” This will allow the probiotics to work and flourish in the gut. Prebiotics are present in fruits, vegetables, and non-digestible carbohydrates.
Probiotics are the live organisms of bacteria. I refer to these as “good bacteria.” Probiotics are present in fermented foods, such as: yogurt, keifer, sauerkraut, kimchi, and tempeh.
The benefits of consuming probiotics include:
- prevention of gastrointestinal disease
- delay of allergies in young children
- prevention of vaginal and urinary infections in women.
For most people with a stable gut, probiotic supplements are not needed! For more on this, check out this very helpful podcast. I found it very informative! The Unbiased Science Podcast Episode: Do you need probiotics? Trust your gut.
Consuming a proper ratio of both prebiotics and probiotics can foster a healthy and diverse ecosystem of bacteria in the gut.
Check out my previous posts on prebiotics and probiotics:
Want to know more on this? Here is some additional reading.
- Mayo Clinic Article: Know the differences between prebiotics and probiotics & learn why you need both
- Harvard Health Article: Probiotics: how they aid in digestion and gut health
We will see you next week with post #3 – “Feel as Good as it Tastes.”
-Julie & The Interns