The health of our gastrointestinal system, or the gut, has a major bearing on our overall well-being. A healthy gut allows our body to digest food properly, maintain a healthy immune system, absorb vital vitamins and minerals, regulate our hormones, and eliminate toxins. These processes determine the state of our health, not only on a physical but also on a mental and emotional level.
What Is Gut Health?
Experts have difficulty in defining gut health, and doctors have no direct test to examine it. A strong immune system and good digestion are, however, believed to be indicators of good gut health. Perhaps the increase in the number of people suffering from conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome and leaky gut syndrome has highlighted the importance of gut health and brought this aspect of our health to the fore among the medical profession.
What Are the Contributory Factors?
There are two factors that determine our gut health: gut flora and gut barrier:
- Gut Flora: Our gut contains no less than 100 trillion microorganisms. These microorganisms promote good digestion and the absorption of valuable nutrients. Additionally, these often entitled “friendly bacteria” protect against infection and regulate our metabolism. 75% of our immune system is also found in our gut flora.
The overuse of antibiotics, diets high in refined carbohydrates, processed foods and sugar, diets lacking fermented foods, stress, and dietary toxins damage the gut flora and lead to associated illnesses.
- Gut Barrier: Our gut is much like a hollow tube, and its outer wall, the gut barrier, prevents toxins from entering our body. “Leaky gut syndrome,” a condition suffered by an increasing number of people, describes a condition where the gut barrier becomes permeable and allows dangerous toxins to enter our body. This leads to a variety of health issues. The elimination of such toxins from our diet can greatly improve the health of our gut flora and gut barrier and, ultimately, considerably improve our overall health.
How to Improve Your Gut Health
Our diet is key to the health of our gut, and excluding toxins, refined sugars, and carbohydrates from our diet, as well as minimizing the use of antibiotics, is essential.
Apart from eliminating these factors, complementary therapists and nutritionists have long promoted the use of probiotics for the health of our digestive systems.
Not only do certain foods have a decidedly negative impact on our gut health, but the inclusion of certain foods like yogurt and apple cider vinegar are known to promote the growth of friendly bacteria in our gut and help maintain healthy gut flora. Fermented foods are particularly rich in friendly bacteria and have, therefore, been shown to be of great benefit to the health of our gut.
7 Reasons Why Fermented Foods Are Good for Your Gut Health
Research has suggested what many have known for a long time: fermented foods are good for us. The most popular fermented foods include live yogurt, sauerkraut, kefir, kombucha, tempeh, miso, and pickles.
It’s important to look at the reason why these tasty foods are so good for us:
- The fermentation process produces gut-health-enhancing friendly bacteria. These friendly bacteria contribute to our gut flora. Our digestion improves and our body absorbs more vitamins and minerals. Furthermore, friendly bacteria play a major role in strengthening our immune system to fight infection.
- Fermented foods contain important enzymes. Enzymes break down the food we consume into usable elements. The four main enzymes, protease, lipase, amylase, and cellulase help to digest fats, soluble fiber, carbohydrates, and protein.
- Fermented foods are high in B vitamins, folic acid, and biotin. B vitamins are known to play a vital role in turning food into energy, maintaining a healthy metabolism, promoting healthy skin and hair, as well as preventing memory loss and migraine. Many people also take B vitamins as stress-busters.
- Fermented foods are also said to increase the bioavailability of minerals and facilitate better nutrient absorption. Our body’s ability to absorb minerals and vitamins contained in the foods we consume can vary considerably. However, by eating fermented foods on a regular basis, the absorption is optimized and our health greatly enhanced.
- Fermented foods contain short-chain fatty acids. These fatty acids contribute to the health of our immune system. It is further believed that the presence of short-chain fatty acids in our gut can contribute to the prevention of conditions like type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and obesity.
- Friendly bacteria in fermented food survive in the acid environment of our digestive tract. While some probiotics get broken down and damaged in our gastrointestinal tract, research has indicated the friendly bacteria originating from fermented foods remain in our gut and increase the number of useful microorganisms. When consuming fermented food, our body receives large amounts of friendly bacteria for our gut. The presence of sufficient friendly microorganisms enables our body to fight toxins and prevent disease.
- Friendly bacteria absorbed through fermented foods also strengthens the gut wall responsible for preventing toxins getting into our body. When our gut wall is healthy, toxins are simply eliminated during digestion and never reach our metabolism.
Fermented Foods Strengthen Our Gut
The friendly bacteria contained in fermented foods strengthen our gut and optimize the function thereof.
By building up a sufficiently large number of microorganisms in the gut, we enable our body to absorb vitamins and minerals, keep harmful bacteria in check, and digest food properly. Furthermore, the friendly bacteria present in fermented food enhance the health and function of our gut wall, thus helping to prevent leaky gut syndrome.
How to Include Fermented Foods in Your Diet
Fermented foods are freely available from all good natural food stores and supermarkets. Consumers must be careful to purchase “live yogurt” rather than natural yogurt, as only the former contain beneficial friendly bacteria. When buying pickled vegetables, it’s best to opt for organic to ensure the product’s purity.
You may also ferment your own vegetables by using salt, whey, or a fermentation starter pack. Hopefully, incorporating fermented foods will help improve your diet and digestion.