You've probably heard how important gut health is to your immune system and to lowering your risk for diseases. The trillions of bacteria that live in our guts are intimately intertwined with our metabolism. They play roles in digestion and nutrient absorption and help maintain our intestinal lining. They may even help preserve muscle as we age.
But just how do you get "good" gut health?
It all boils down the right bacteria living in your gut. You can help the good bacteria grow by eating probiotics — foods with live cultures, such as yogurt, kombucha and fiber. These all serve as food for the bacteria.
According to a new study, equally important is consuming a high-quality diet. Just what makes a diet high-quality?
Researchers from the Comprehensive Cancer Center at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston assessed the quality of study participants' diets using the Healthy Eating Index based on the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Dietary Guidelines for Americans. The HEI is a diet rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains and low in added sugars, alcohol and solid fats. Sound familiar? That diet correlated with more beneficial bacteria.
Participants with a low-quality diet — high in added sugars, alcohol and solid fats and low in fruits, vegetables and whole grains — had an increase in a potentially harmful bacteria called Fusobacterium, which has been linked to colorectal cancer.
Researchers assessed the bacteria by doing a colonoscopy on participants and looking at the health of the colon samples. Diets were evaluated by a food frequency questionnaire before the colonoscopy.
Here's the bottom line: Before you go on that higher-fat diet (think keto here), consider what it might do to your gut bacteria. If you take antibiotics, consider adding probiotics to your daily routine. Most important, eat healthy rather than going on any "diet" that limits — or worse yet, eliminates — entire food groups. Prepare more meals at home and try to eat more whole foods.
Your gut will thank you.
Q and A
Q: Should I take a multivitamin?
A: Depends on how healthy you eat. It's always best to get our nutrients from the food we eat — mainly because the food has other components that are also essential to good health. But for those of us who don't always eat healthy, a multivitamin may be a good idea. Think of it as insurance on those days when life gets in the way of preparing a healthy meal or getting enough fruits, vegetables and whole grains. The goal is to rely on a variety of foods, including carbohydrates, fats and protein. On those days you know you miss the goal, a multivitamin may help.
I'm always on the hunt for good salmon recipes. Salmon is a food we want to eat more often, as it's so high in the healthy omega-3 fatty acids. Here's a simple, foolproof recipe from Eating Well that bakes the salmon in a foil packet. The packet keeps the fish moist. Serve it with extra vegetables on the side, such as asparagus and zucchini.
GRILLED LEMON-PEPPER SALMON IN FOIL
4 (6-ounce) skin-on salmon fillets
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 teaspoon lemon pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt
8 thin slices of lemon (from 1 lemon)
4 sprigs flat-leaf parsley
Preheat grill to medium-high (400 to 450 F). Place 4 (12-inch) foil squares in a single layer on a work surface; coat with cooking spray. Place 1 salmon fillet skin-side down in the center of each. Top each fillet with 1 1/2 teaspoons butter, 1/4 teaspoon lemon pepper, 1/8 teaspoon salt, 2 lemon slices and 1 parsley sprig. Crimp the sides of each foil packet together to tightly seal. Place the packets on the grill; cover and grill until the fish flakes easily with a fork, about 8 to 10 minutes. Serves 4.
Per serving: 256 calories; 34 grams protein; 1 gram carbohydrate; 12 grams fat; 95 milligrams cholesterol; 1 gram fiber; 165 milligrams sodium.
Charlyn Fargo is a registered dietitian at Hy-Vee in Springfield, Illinois, and the media representative for the Illinois Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. For comments or questions, contact her at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter @NutritionRD. To find out more about Charlyn Fargo and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.
Photo credit: silviarita at Pixabay