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In the nutrition world, there is a new spotlight on gut health – and that’s a good thing. Your gut is comprised of your stomach, small intestine and large intestine. Studies show an imbalance of the “good” and “bad” bacteria in your gut could play a key role in diabetes, heart disease, your mood and inflammatory bowel diseases1.

Having good gut health means you can optimally digest and absorb nutrients from your food without discomfort such as constipation, gas or bloating. Good gut health also means having a stable and balanced microbiota (the community of bacteria that lives in your gut), a strong immune system, and a state of well-being with a normal quality of life2.

Gut health includes the small and large intestines. Photo: Flickr/Creative Commons, Thomas Hawk.

Back to Bacteria

In your intestines, your microbiota consists of 10 trillion to 100 trillion bacteria and other microscopic organisms and at least 160 different species. Your microbiota evolves naturally throughout your life, but it can also be impacted by things such as genetics, medications, lifestyle and nutrition 3.

When working optimally, the “good” bacteria can supply your body with essential nutrients, synthesize vitamins, break down undigested food remnants, help digest dietary fibre, stimulate nerve function and promote healthy immune function1.

Symptoms such as bloating, food intolerance, heartburn, diarrhea or constipation can indicate an imbalance of gut bacteria2. Beyond digestive issues, poor gut health can also play a role in acne, depression, obesity, and nutrient deficiencies 1,2

What can you do in your diet to promote a healthier microbiota?

Here are my top four nutrition action steps you can take to help promote better gut health:

  1. Add probiotic rich foods into your daily food intake. Probiotics are strains of “good” bacteria just like those found naturally in your gut. Consuming daily probiotic rich foods you can help rebalance the diversity of bacteria in your gut 1,2,4. You can find probiotics in fermented dairy foods like yogurt, kefir and aged cheeses that contain live cultures. Look for Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium in the ingredient list, these tend to be the most common probiotic bacteria added to dairy foods. Also, strive for variety by including other sources such as kimchi, kombucha, fermented vegetables, sauerkraut, miso and tempeh 4.

    Yogurt contains health-boosting probiotics. Photo: Flickr/Creative Commons, ehpien.
  2. Feed probiotics with prebiotics. Prebiotics are non-digestible food components that help promote the growth of potentially beneficial bacteria in the gut3,4. Prebiotics can be found in a wide range of foods, making it an easy step to increase your consumption! You can find them in foods like onions, garlic, tomatoes, leeks, whole grains, and bananas4– just to name a few. For dinner try stir-frying tempeh and asparagus and serving with 1 cup brown rice for a gut healthy dose of prebiotics and probiotics4.
  3. Decrease reliance on artificial sweeteners. Research shows regular artificial sweetener consumption (aspartame and sucralose, for example) could lead to alteration of the gut microbiota5. Instead of reaching for an artificially sweetened pop, try adding fresh mint, cucumber and ginger into a pitcher of sparking water for a refreshing and flavourful beverage.

    Skip sugary sodas, even the diet kind, in favour of water infused with lemon and ginger. Photo: Flickr/Creative Commons, Nicholas Erwin.
  4. See the big picture. It is important to remember that you should look at your diet as a whole when thinking about improving gut health. Strive for a varied diet rich in whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables and high quality proteins such as salmon in order to help promote a more diverse microbiota and improve overall health. With increased fibre, ensuring adequate hydration is key to help prevent constipation.

Looking for advice on how to help optimize your gut health through diet? Your Shopper’s Drug Mart and Wellwise registered dietitians are available for personalized nutrition advice tailored to your health needs. For more information, visit shoppersdrugmart.ca/dietitiansor wellwise.ca/dietitiansto book you appointment today.

The information provided is for personal use, reference and education only and is not intended to be a substitute for a physician’s advice, diagnosis or treatment. Please consult your healthcare professional for specific information on personal health matters. Please note: Dietitian services are currently only available in select Ontario stores. Please contact your store to learn more. ®/TM 911979 Alberta Ltd. ©2018 Shoppers Drug Mart Inc

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About the author: Jemma Besson is a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator who works for Shoppers Drug Mart®.