Fitness Facts: Why gut health is important

Connie Colbert

By Connie Colbert
Director, Canyon Health and Wellness Clinic

Did you know that 70% of your immune system is located around your gut? Yes, 70%! That adage, “You are what you eat,” is true.

When you eat, food is broken down in the gut to a simple form that can enter the bloodstream and be delivered as nutrients throughout our bodies. This is only possible with a healthy digestive system. A healthy gut contains healthy bacteria and immune cells that ward off infectious agents such as bacteria, viruses and fungi. A healthy gut also communicates with the brain through nerves and hormones, which helps maintain general health and well-being.

Much of the party food we eat around the holidays can have a serious impact on our gut health and leave us more susceptible to illness, including COVID-19. We know fatty, sugary foods promote bacteria that are not as beneficial for gut health. If you indulge over days or weeks, you are wiping out the bacteria that is helping you fight to stay healthy.

Poor gut health can affect your mood, lungs and liver.

What are signs that my gut health is poor?

Some of the key symptoms that point to poor gut health are:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Bloating
  • Loose stools
  • Constipation
  • Heartburn
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting

Most of us have these symptoms occasionally, but when symptoms persist, it may be a sign of an underlying problem that needs medical attention.

What can I do to improve gut health?  

Do not forget to exercise over your Christmas break. Even going for a brisk walk can get things moving and keep your bowel movements regular, which helps improve your gut health

Prepare yourself now by making choices that feed the beneficial organisms in your gut and enhance gut health. You are probably sick of hearing the basics to eat fruits and vegetables, exercise and limit sugar intake but it is worth it in the end.

A preventative mindset helps. If you do the right thing most of the time and indulge just now and then, your gut health will make a positive impact on your overall health.

  • Eat prebiotic foods (Prebiotics are types of dietary fiber that feed the friendly bacteria in your gut), such as asparagus, bananas, apples, garlic, onions and a variety of grains. These foods can help  improve your body’s ability to take in calcium and boost the growth of helpful bacteria in your gut.
  • Add a probiotic to your daily routine (supplemental healthful bacteria).
  • Increase resistant starches. These are starches that pass undigested through the small intestine and feed the bacteria in the large intestine. That includes oats, grainy whole grain bread, legumes such as beans and lentils, firm bananas, starchy vegetables such as potatoes and cooked and cooled rice. For potatoes and rice, the key is to cook and eat cold, such as a cold potato or pasta salad.
    •  Resistant starch feeds the friendly bacteria in your intestine, having a positive effect on the type of bacteria, as well as their number.
  • Eat fresh, unprocessed fruits and/or vegetables with every meal.
  • Avoid added sugar where possible. Excessive amounts of added sugar go quickly to the large intestine and then get eaten up by bacteria. This can cause higher gas production, diarrhea and potentially upset the balance of the bacteria in your gut.
  • Increase the amount of fiber in your diet.
  • Drink more water.

Your gut health affects your whole body! So, be kind to your guts this holiday season!

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