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Healthier Life: Good nutrition needed for optimal gut health

KIRTLAND AIR FORCE BASE, N.M. -- Our food today is overly processed and full of toxic ingredients. And unfortunately all of these Americanized foods can lead to poor gastrointestinal health.

Our GI tract makes up the majority of our immune system and prevents bad bacteria from entering our bloodstream. When the gut is not treated properly it can become inflamed, which puts us at risk for infection, disease, and gut problems, such as leaky gut or irritable bowel syndrome.

Fortunately, there are plenty of things that are in our control to help improve our gut health. Having a nutritious healthy diet is one of them and here are some tips on how to do that:

• Decrease your sugar and processed food intake. A diet high in sugar will feed yeast and bad bacteria, causing inflammation and damage to the intestinal wall. This can lead to leaky gut, which transfers substances, such as particles of food, from the gut to the bloodstream, causing inflammation in all parts of our body. Reduce your sugar intake by cutting back on high-sugar beverages, such as soda and energy drinks and limiting desserts to only once a week or less. Also, be more cautious when you go to the grocery store by reading labels and making sure that the sugar is around five grams or less. If you are having any excess bloating or cramping, sugar alcohols could be the culprit. Sorbitol, xylitol, erythritol and maltitol are a few of them, so take a look at your labels and make sure to cut these foods out.

• Consume a variety of fermented probiotic foods. These types of foods offer beneficial bacteria that will help you and your gut in multiple ways, such as increasing your immune system, improving digestion, decreasing gut inflammation and healing the inner lining of the GI. For example, yogurt, sauerkraut, kimchi, tempeh, raw cheeses, miso, kefir and kombucha tea all contain healthy probiotics. Just make sure to buy them unsweetened and be aware of the alcohol content in some of the fermented drinks like kombucha.

• Eat a diet rich in fiber. Fiber-rich foods such as fruits, vegetables, beans and whole grains contain prebiotics, which are just as important as the probiotics. Prebiotics provide food for the probiotic bacteria to feed off of. You need to be consuming both soluble and insoluble fibers for a healthy gut. Soluble fiber forms a gel when mixed with liquid that helps to bulk up our stool, while insoluble fiber helps move it through the GI tract. So having both types of fiber in your diet will help your digestive system run smoothly.

• Focus on healthy omega 3 fats and monounsaturated fats. These are the good fats that will help decrease inflammation and help improve your gut flora. You can find these in wild fatty fish, tree nuts, chia seeds, flaxseeds, olive oil and avocado. If you are getting most of your fat from saturated animal fats, start making small adjustments to slowly decrease it. Start using olive oil instead of butter, add chia and flaxseeds to your smoothies, or spread a natural nut butter on your morning toast.

When it comes to your gut health, many factors come into play, including sleep and stress. But optimal gut health begins with your diet and the above healthy eating factors for optimal digestion and elimination of your food!