The Ultimate Guide to Gut Wellness
One of the major health trends of the 21st century is an emphasis on improving gut wellness for optimal health. Although most people associate the “gut” with the stomach area or torso, many individuals struggle with defining the gut or understanding best practices to keep the gut healthy. And unfortunately, modern commonalities such as processed foods and sedentary lifestyles can compromise gut health. A comprehensive look at the best practices for gut health can elevate your efforts to maintain peak internal wellness levels.
What Is the Gut?
Although “the gut” may seem like a colloquial phrase for the stomach, it is an important wellness term. The gut refers to the entire intestinal tract, including the small and large intestines. One should never underestimate the importance of thinking of these organs as a comprehensive unit.
For example, while digestion begins in the stomach, over 90% of nutrient absorption takes place in the small intestine. This means that if you want to get the most out of your healthy eating decisions, it is highly beneficial to take recommended steps to promote a thriving small intestine.
In addition to its structural qualities, the gut is also home to much of the human microbiome. Also known as “gut flora,” the microbiome is a diverse community of small microorganisms that help with chemical reactions associated with digestion and nutrient absorption. Research shows that maintaining a robust microbiome has a profound impact on the entire human condition and can influence everything from mood swings to weight gain.
While an active microbiome filled with “good” digestive bacteria can help you absorb wonderful antioxidants, a sluggish microbiome full of “bad” bacteria can lead to issues such as inflammation and a slower metabolism. To encourage a thriving ecological environment for your gut, many experts recommend consuming food with greater bioavailability.
What Is Bioavailability?
Bioavailability is the degree to which the body can absorb and thereby use a nutrient. This is important to know because although the body requires 20 essential vitamins and minerals for optimal function, the actual bioavailability of each nutrient varies greatly.
For example, some minerals like sodium absorb easily at a remarkably high percentage. Therefore, nearly all the sodium we eat gets absorbed into the body. In contrast, mineral-like calcium has an absorption rate of only 25%. A mineral like iron has an even lower absorption rate of only 5%.
As you might imagine, the bioavailability of vitamins and minerals has practical wellness applications. For example, sodium is an essential nutrient for life and plays an important role in cell physiology.
It is important for most biological processes, helps the body retain water if necessary, and remains critical for the functionality of the body’s sodium-potassium pump. But because the body absorbs sodium quickly, a diet filled with excess salt (such as one with too many processed foods) can have a deleterious effect on the system. Therefore, a person might need to reduce the intake of sodium-rich foods to restore internal balance.
You might also find that wellness or dietary professionals recommend healthy consumption habits based on bioavailability. For example, because iron has a low absorption rate, a wellness advisor might recommend that women in child-bearing years increase their consumption of iron-rich foods like spinach.
Similarly, spices like turmeric have great anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, but the bioavailability of many packaged spaces can remain low. To counter this problem, a nutritionist might recommend cooking with absorption-boosting ingredients to help boost the bioavailability of curcumin, the active compound in turmeric powder.
Other popular gut-wellness foods include the following:
- Fiber-Rich Foods
- Onions, leeks, and garlic
Fermented foods like yogurt and kefir help populate the gut with the good bacteria essential for nutrient absorption. From there, fiber-rich foods (including onion and garlic) help nourish the good bacteria so that your gut flora remains thriving and vibrant. High-fiber foods also help the large intestine absorb moisture and smoothly finish out your digestive process.
Keeping these gut-wellness ingredients in mind can help you make an informed decision for your grocery list, and you may also wish to top it off with an antioxidant-rich supplement to fit your lifestyle.
Other Lifestyle Factors for Gut Wellness
In addition to nutritional choices, there are other lifestyle factors associated with gut wellness. Research has found that exercise has an extreme impact on the diversity of gut microflora. Just 30 minutes of brisk exercise three times per week can boost the robustness of the gut microbiome. And while getting active can improve your gut flora, negative circumstances like stress can have the opposite effect.
While you may have perceived that uncomfortable sensation in the “pit of your stomach” as just an emotion, it may represent the body’s acute reaction to a perceived threat to homeostasis or well-being. To counter these negative effects, make a point to engage in a stress-reduction activity at least twice per week.
The Bottom Line
The gut is so much more than a tiny area at the base of your torso. Rather, it is a lively environment with a rich microbiome that has a profound impact on your overall health. Getting proactive about gut wellness can help you feel more confident about the gut’s positive impact on the rest of the body.