Healthy Habits

Supporting a Healthy, Happy Gut

From the Dietitian’s Desk
With Becca Rick, MS, RD

Emotional wellness plays a critical role in overall health and quality of life and has a significant impact on physical health and disease prevention.

An interesting way nutrition influences emotional health is described in a mechanism called the “gut brain axis.” This axis represents the connection and two-way communication between the gut and the brain. The cross-talk between the gut and the brain influence digestive health and brain health alike.

Since communication to and from the gut takes place in the gut microbiota, which is made of trillions of bacteria, a growing amount of scientific research has been focused on the role of nutrition in optimizing the health of our gut bacteria. Here’s a breakdown of a few specific foods that have been shown to support a healthy, happy gut:

Prebiotics

Prebiotics are foods that feed the healthy bacteria in the gut, known as probiotics. Prebiotics include foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fish, nuts, and seeds. Eating a variety of these food sources on a regular basis will help keep a balance of good bacteria in the gut.

Probiotics

Probiotics are the healthy bacteria in the gut. They are considered healthy bacteria since they provide a health benefit to the host (you) when present in adequate quantities. Factors such as antibiotic use or not consuming adequate prebiotics to feed the probiotics impact the balance of these healthy bacteria in the gut.

Probiotic Food Sources

Probiotics are found in many fermented food sources such as yogurt, kimchi, kombucha, kefir, tempeh, sauerkraut, miso, and aged cheese. Do some of these words sound foreign? Here’s a brief description and tips on what to look for in these foods:

  • Yogurt – not all yogurts are created equal in terms of containing probiotics. Look for the label to state “live and active cultures” and check the ingredients list for the bacteria strain called lactobacillus acidophilus. A few top brand picks include Stonyfield, Brown Cow, and Siggi’s.
  • Kimchi – traditional Korean dish made of fermented vegetables, most commonly napa cabbage and Korean radish.
  • Kombucha – this fermented beverage is made by fermenting tea with a culture of bacteria and yeast. Many varieties are available in grocery stores.
  • Kefir – this is a fermented drink, with a consistency between regular milk and yogurt. Kefir is readily found in grocery stores, but watch out for added sugars when purchasing.
  • Tempeh – this is fermented soy and can be found near tofu or in a refrigerated vegetarian section at most grocery stores. Tempeh works well in stir-fry.
  • Sauerkraut – fermented cabbage with a sour taste. This is easy to make at home – all you need is shredded cabbage, salt, and a mason jar.
  • Miso – traditional Japanese seasoning made by fermenting soybeans with salt. This is commonly used to flavor soups and can be used to season marinades, dressing, stews, and other similar dishes.
  • Aged cheese – the best cheese sources of probiotics are ones that are aged, such as Gruyere, Gouda, Parmesan, feta, and cheddar.
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