What is a healthy diet? Not in terms of weight loss, metabolism or muscle building potential. But what can you feed your gut to promote healthy BOWELS? As gastroenterologists we are frequently asked this question. While no one knows what constitutes the perfect diet, there are a few things we can all agree on.
First lets talks about bugs. As in, the trillions of bacteria that live in your bowel and create a healthy “microbiome” that interacts daily with your immune system. Your bowel is designed to be full of bacteria, and this is a good thing. Recent research is revealing the many ways certain bacteria can affect your health. These bacteria are part of the human microbiome. They cover every inch of both the inside and outside of your body. The good bacteria inside your bowel are important for many reasons, including:
- metabolizing nutrients and drugs
- aiding the immune system to prevent pathogen invasion
- maintaining the structure and function of the gastrointestinal tact
Age, genetics and diet all influence the kinds of bacteria that make up your microbiome. While we can’t control all of those, our diet and lifestyle choices can alter the good vs bad bacteria in your bowel. Research suggests that eating plants and whole grains help the good bacteria flourish by supplying complex carbohydrates that the human body can digest.
FIBER, FIBER, FIBER!
It’s not just for your grandma. Fiber is found in foods considered to be health-promoting ie fruits, vegetables and whole grains. But a diet high in fiber has also been shown to promote more regular bowel movements, and create a healthier GI tract. It also lowers your risk of developing hemorrhoids and diverticular disease. Some of the other benefits of fiber:
- Lowers cholesterol levels
- Aids in achieving healthy weight
- May reduce the risk of colorectal cancer
LIMIT THE PROCESSED FOODS AND RED MEAT
Fat and sugar nourish bad bacteria, thereby increasing the prevalence of those bacteria that cause disease. In addition, studies suggest diets high in animal protein are correlated with a more unfavorable bacteria. Did you know that the World Health Organization (WHO) recently categorized red meat as a carcinogen? Which means that a diet high in red meat has been shown to increase risks of cancer. This doesn’t necessarily mean you need to eliminate these things completely from your diet, but limiting your intake is a good idea.
Ashley Evans, MD