What is 'gut health' and why is it important?

Updated: Feb 2

by Suguna Lorenzo, Health and Wellness Coach

women forming the shape of a heart with her hands on her stomach

Balance Is The Key To a Healthy Gut


Your digestive system is a portal between the outside world and your body. The gut or digestive system contains a vast ecosystem of microbes that play an essential role in digestion and immune function. This community of microbes is referred to as the microbiome.

  • Each person has a unique composition of gut microbes.

  • 60-70% of our immune system function happens in the gut.

  • Microbiome is now being referred to as a ‘second brain’ because of the vast amount of information that is generated by gut microbes and sent to the brain.

Microbes have different personalities and functions. Friendly microbes help support your body in digestion and healing. Neutral microbes are just hanging out minding their own business. Unfriendly or parasitic microbes can cause harm to our body when there is a population imbalance. Surprisingly, these unfriendly bacteria are necessary and play a role in our digestive function; however, maintaining the right balance between friendly and unfriendly bacteria is the key to a healthy gut.



What are some signs of gut imbalance?


Frequent or Chronic: indigestion, heartburn or reflux, gas, bloating, constipation, diarrhea, brain fog, headaches, mood swings, depression. Also, skin issues such as: eczema, psoriasis, rashes or acne are usually a sign that your gut is unhealthy. We tend to treat skin issues topically, however the source of these issues is often a result of imbalance and inflammation in the digestive tract.


Inflammation


The root cause for most illness and disease is inflammation. Not all inflammation is bad. It is a natural immune response in an attempt to protect and heal. For short periods of time it is very helpful. Studies have shown that a high sugar diet and processed foods lead to inflammation and degradation of your gut lining.


Sugar is like a spy with many disguises


Sugar has between 50-60 different names and is found in a majority of processed foods. Mannose, glucose, cane juice, barley malt, dextrin, corn syrup, florida crystals, sucrose are just a few of the sugar ingredient names you might find in packaged food. You also might be surprised to find sugar in ketchup, mustard, tomato sauce, soup, salad dressing and peanut butter.


If sugar is attached to fiber in fresh fruit and vegetables then it may be good for you in moderation depending on our current state of health. According to the American Heart Association, 6 teaspoons of sugar per day or 24 grams is safe to consume. Try to use minimally processed, low-glycemic sweeteners like maple syrup or monk fruit. Pay close attention to how your body responds to these ingredients during and after consumption. With any sugar item, less is better.


What are signs of a balanced, healthy gut?


We were taught that it’s not polite to talk about poop, but this matter speaks volumes about your health. It's important to observe what your body produces, how it looks and feels.


A happy and balanced microbiome will cause your body to do the following:


  • Regular daily bowel movements that are solid but not painfully hard. They leave your body quickly with little encouragement.

  • Easy to digest food and you feel full but not heavy or exhausted after eating. Minimal gas.

  • Healthy, smooth, radiant looking skin.

  • Balanced mood and overall good energy.


Fruits and Vegetables all colors

How to support a healthy microbiome?


Drink plenty of water! After all, water is the source of life and it helps move toxic waste out of the body. How much water to drink? For many years we have been told to drink 8 glasses of water per day but that can vary depending on your activity level and other personal factors. One way to know if you are properly hydrated is to pay attention to the color of your urine. If it is a darker yellow or looks like apple juice, you are probably dehydrated. You want your urine to be a very pale yellow or almost clear.


Eat lots of fresh produce. Your friendly bacteria thrive on a high fiber diet. A good place to start is by eating 3-5 servings of veggies a day plus 2-3 servings of fresh fruit. I love the motto ‘eat the rainbow’ when we talk about produce consumption. Bright and deeply pigmented vegetables and fruits are high in antioxidants, and phytonutrients. Try to eat different varieties of produce every week and avoid eating the same veggies and fruit every day. Diversity helps maximize your nutrient intake.


The world of science is in its early phases of understanding the complexities of our microbiome. Each year we learn more about how our digestive system impacts our immune function, moods and mental states of being. We are also in an era of information overload and every year a new diet trend seems to emerge. It can be difficult to make sense of all this information. In summation, there are three important factors that many health practitioners and experts in the field of gut health will agree upon:


  • Minimize (or eliminate) processed foods and sugars.

  • Drink water and stay hydrated.

  • Eat a diverse, fiber rich diet.


This might look a little different for each person depending on where you live and your unique health needs, but it's a great foundation for a healthy, happy body!