The human gut contains trillions of bacteria. About 10 times the amount of cells in the rest of the human body reside in your gut in the form of bacteria, fungi and protozoa.
A healthy gut flora is essential for the synthesis of enzymes and vitamins, it improves our immune system so we can fight infections. and it regulates metabolism. Changes in the gut mircobiome are linked to an increase in autoimmune diseases, irritable bowel syndrome, diabetes and obesity.
Our lifestyle choices determine the makeup of our gut bacteria. People who eat a diet higher in fried foods, processed foods and sugar tend to have more issues with inflammation, diabetes, obesity and infections, as do people with chronic stress and those who over-use antibiotics and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications.
Increased sugar consumption is a significant factor in gut health. The USDA estimates an average intake of more than 30 teaspoons of added sugar per person per day. To put that into perspective, one 12-ounce soda contains almost 9 teaspoons of sugar. The American Heart Association recommends no more than 6 teaspoons of added sugar per day for women and 9 for men.
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Added sugars are not those found in whole fruits, starchy vegetables or milk. This is the sugar found in soda, sweetened tea, flavored coffees, fruit drinks, sweets, candy, pastries, desserts and cereals.
The problem with sugar is how our body handles it. We use some of it in the form of glucose for energy for the brain and body. But if we have too much we store it as fat. This leads to elevated triglycerides and heart disease, fatty deposits on the liver and inflammation that can lead to other diseases such as diabetes. The excess sugar also feeds the “bad” bacteria in the gut.
How do we get a healthy gut?
• Choose carbohydrates from whole grains and starchy vegetables like oats, barley and winter squash.
• Cut back on processed foods, sweets, pastries, soft drinks and sweetened tea.
• Limit added sugar to a small serving of dark chocolate or a little honey in your tea.
• Eat foods that feed the good gut bacteria – garlic, onions, leeks, asparagus, artichokes, whole fruits, lentils, sauerkraut or kimchi or plain yogurt.
It may be time to break out your favorite lentil or barley soup recipe and start improving your gut health.
Shelly Wegman is a registered dietitian at Rex Wellness Centers in Raleigh and Garner. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.