Our gut health is an important piece of the puzzle we need to consider if we want to achieve optimal health. While there is still more research to be done, we can agree that we need to do our best to foster a healthy gut environment.

Our body is home to trillions of bacteria, and it is our colon that has the largest concentration and diversity of bacteria. Studies are showing that gut health affects everything from mood and sleep to how our bodies use the food we consume and how we fight off infection.

So, what are some things you can do to achieve a healthy gut?

Be sure to consume a variety of pre- and probiotics. Prebiotics are the non-digestible parts of food that ferment in the gut and help good bacteria grow and multiply. Prebiotics can be found in many foods like legumes, fruits, some nuts, seeds and grains.

Probiotics are “good microbes”. They work to keep the colon healthy by balancing good and bad bacteria. These friendly microbes help us digest food, maintain health and fight disease. It is important to point out that not all probiotics are created equal. Different strains are needed for different health conditions. Food sources include fortified yogurts and fermented milk products. For more information on the strains and amount you need, it is best to consult with your health care provider.

So how does your gut know how you are feeling?

For example, when we are nervous, we may experience ‘butterflies’. According to emerging research, we are finding out that our gastrointestinal system does much more than just absorb nutrients. It is also packed with nerve endings that communicate with the brain. The gut has actually been called the “second brain” because it produces the same transmitters as the brain does – serotonin, dopamine and others that regulate our mood. In fact, 90% of our serotonin (the feel-good chemical) is made in the digestive tract.

So how do we apply this advice to our daily plate?

Simply fill half your plate with vegetables and fruit. Be sure to eat a variety and choose in-season produce when possible. Fill ¼ of your plate with whole grains and the other ¼ with protein rich foods, emphasizing plant protein like beans, lentils, chickpeas more often. Also, be sure to make water your drink of choice. This is the basis for a healthy diet that will also promote a healthy and happy gut.

Looking for more information or direction on your eating plan? Contact a Registered Dietitian.