Like a loyal guard dog, if you treat your gut well, it will protect you from harmful invaders. There are trillions of bacteria, some good and some bad, living in your gut. The good bacteria, known as probiotics, help you digest food, fight off harmful bacteria, and regulate your immune system. 70 – 80% of your immune system is in the lining of your gut and the gut bacteria are constantly in contact with it, helping to direct and balance immune responses.
Your intestinal wall works together with the good bacteria in your gut to form a barrier that prevents harmful bacteria and toxins from going into your bloodstream. If your gut is unhealthy and contains an imbalance of good to bad bacteria, the gut barrier can become damaged, leading to what is known as leaky gut syndrome. A leaky gut allows partially digested food as well as toxins and bacteria to penetrate the tissue in the intestinal wall, and this can lead to inflammation which is associated with the development of chronic illnesses like obesity, type 2 diabetes, allergies, cancer, and heart disease.
There are several factors that affect your gut health, including stress and a lack of exercise; one of the most important is your diet. Highly processed foods like white flour, white rice, and white pasta, high saturated and trans-fat foods, refined sugar, high fructose corn syrup, and artificial sweeteners, sugar-sweetened beverages, red meat, and excess alcohol all have a negative impact on gut health.
It is important to eat foods that will feed and promote the growth of the good bacteria in your gut. This means focusing on plant-based foods that are nutrient-dense and high in fiber while reducing the fats and proteins that the harmful bacteria thrive on. Fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains are excellent sources of complex carbohydrates, nutrients, and antioxidants. You can also eat foods that are actual sources of probiotics like yogurt, kefir, and fermented vegetables like pickles and sauerkraut. Probiotic supplements are also helpful.
A good rule of thumb for mindful eating that will also feed the food bacteria in your gut is to focus on whole, plant-based foods that are as close to their natural state as possible, while staying away from highly refined and processed foods that have had most of their nutritional value removed and replaced with high sugar, salt, and fat. The more meat you eat, the more you are providing the protein and saturated fat that the harmful bacteria can use. Do you want to feed the loyal guard dog or the lurking vermin and rodents around your “yard”?