A probiotic supplement is no replacement for a diverse diet
Are you concerned about your digestive health? What few people realize is that a probiotic supplement alone may not be enough. Newer evidence is suggesting that the foods we eat provide nutrition to feed beneficial gut bacteria while also improving the health of our digestive tract. Unfortunately, the types of nutrients in foods that provide these gut health benefits are not listed on nutrition labels. That’s right, with conventional labeling, there’s no way to determine if what you are eating is benefiting your digestive health!
Research is consistently linking digestive health and gut bacteria to many chronic conditions. Many of these are digestive disorders, which seems logical, such as heartburn (GERD), inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn’s, ulcerative colitis), Celiac disease and other food sensitivities, irritable bowel syndrome, peptic ulcers and many more. However, we’re also seeing a far-reaching effect where digestive health and gut bacteria play a role in depression and mood disorders, inflammatory joint conditions, obesity, metabolic syndrome, diabetes, and heart disease. By no means is this list exhaustive, but it is certainly impressive.
The good news is that in many ways we have a good idea of which foods contain nutrients that promote beneficial bacteria and gut health and which do not.
The top 3 nutrients that appear to exert a beneficial effect on gut bacteria and digestive health are: soluble fiber (and avoid sugar), glucosinolates, and polyphenolics.
1. Soluble fiber is different from the cellulose “roughage” we normally associate with vegetables which is insoluble fibre. Soluble fibre is a unique fibre that forms a water-soluble gel that helps to bulk stool, provides food for beneficial bacteria, and helps to move cholesterol and other toxins out of our body through the bowels. Soluble fiber is rich in foods such as flax and chia seeds, and legumes primarily, with smaller amounts found in fruits, vegetables and whole grains.
2. Glucosinolates are phytonutrients that have been the focus of much research lately due to their role in cancer prevention, cardiovascular health and neurological disease. Cruciferous vegetables are the richest source of sulfur-containing glucosinolates, which when consumed is converted into it’s active form by our gut bacteria. Gently cooking them will further enhance these benefits. Be sure to eat two servings daily of broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, kale, bok choy and radish.
3. Polyphenolics are antioxidant nutrients found in a variety of foods such as red/blue/purple fruits and vegetables (berries, plums, eggplant), spices, and beverages such as coffee, tea, cocoa, and wine. Polyphenols appear to have a role in chronic disease prevention including cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, obesity, and neurodegenerative diseases, among others. In our diet, they pass through our gut encouraging the growth of beneficial bacteria while also providing us with antioxidant benefits and preventing disease.
There are so many incredible foods that contain nutrients that support digestive health. Studies suggest that people who are eating a variety of whole foods (and especially picking them from the list of foods above) consistently have better health. The foods we eat impact the health and diversity of our gut bacteria and they in turn provide us with health-supportive benefits.