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A healthy gut is key to a healthy life

As many people begin to attend holiday gatherings often featuring an abundance of food, the University of Miami’s registered dietitian for Dining Services shares ways to help maintain a healthy gut.
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You are sluggish, cannot focus on your work. You are in a bad mood. 

It could be your gut. 

The gut—the gastrointestinal system that extends from our mouth to our anus—is not only there to digest food, it has a direct link to the brain through a series of nerves and neurons that help in the overall health of an individual. It is also full of good and bad bacteria that create something called the microbiome. 

Experts agree that to be healthy, one must have a healthy gut. 

“When we consider what supports a healthy gut, we look at lifestyle factors that will nourish healthy bacteria in the gut,” said Alyson Marquez, registered dietitian for University of Miami Dining. “Having a balance of good bacteria enhances our health by supporting our immune system, vitamin production, increased energy, and improved metabolism.” 

To keep a healthy gut, one should lead a balanced life: get a good night’s rest of seven hours or more, manage stress, exercise, and keep the body moving, and above all, maintain a balanced diet and adequate hydration, said Marquez.

“The more variety in the foods you eat, the better,” she said. 

Among the foods that have prebiotics, which nourish the good bacteria in your gut, are leeks, artichokes, honey, bananas, onions, whole grain wheat, asparagus, and seaweed. 

The daily diet should incorporate plenty of vegetables and fruits. Fermented foods are also good to promote good bacteria. These include kimchi, sauerkraut, kefir, kombucha, and miso.  

Many people question what they should have first thing in the morning to kick off the digestive system. Marquez said drinking two glasses of water (you can add lemon or lime if you like) is an excellent way to kick start your gut since the body gets dehydrated during the night. The water consumption also helps many to have regular bowel movements.

A cup of tea or coffee can also help. But coffee, some experts say, can irritate your stomach if it is the first thing you drink in the morning.

For good performance, it is better to have the largest meals during the early part of the day, in morning and afternoon. The last meal of the day should be three or four hours before bedtime to allow the body to digest before lying down to sleep, said Marquez.

The gut is a complicated system, and it can become irritated by many factors, including overeating, drinking too much coffee, and drinking excessive alcohol. Added sugar does not promote gut health and affects the system in a negative way, she said. 

“These include the additional sugars that we add to beverages as well as the additional sugars found in pre-packaged food products,” she said. “So, it is important to read food labels.”

Some people who may experience diarrhea, bloating, and vomiting with frequency should check with their doctors since it could be due to a lactose or gluten intolerance, irritable bowel syndrome, or a food allergy, said Marquez. Taking probiotics—substances that stimulates the growth of microorganisms—has become very popular in the past few years.   

Taking probiotics daily can be beneficial for certain people, said Marquez, including those with stomach sensitivities or those who wish to prevent diarrhea when taking an antibiotic. However, the quality of the probiotic is important, so checking with a health care provider is crucial, she said. 

“If we have a healthy lifestyle that benefits our gut, our immune system will improve and we will enjoy better health, performance, cognitive function, and mood,” she said.