Image of plain yogurt topped with granola and berries.

Treat Your Gut: Why a Healthy GI System Benefits Your Entire Body

How often do you think about your gut?

It might cross your mind when you’re hungry or when you’re dealing with a bout of irregularity, but chances are, when you think about your health, it likely doesn’t top your list of concerns.

While buying an apology card for your gut, or gastrointestinal system to be precise, would be rather silly, you might want to purchase some yogurt and apples to show it some love for underappreciating it all these years. (We’ll get to the yogurt and apples in a bit, promise.)

That’s the message delivered by Grace Derocha, a registered dietitian and certified health coach at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, on the most recent episode of the A Healthier Michigan Podcast, hosted by Chuck Gaidica. Listen to the entire episode here.

Your gut is your gastrointestinal tract, which includes your mouth, esophagus, stomach, intestines, colon and rectum, Derocha explained. It’s a hard-working system and the healthier it is, the healthier many parts of your body will be.

“Our gut works almost as a second brain because it can help boost immunity, it obviously helps with absorption of our nutrients, but the healthier our gut is, we have seen – and research shows – you have better memory, you have better brain health and obviously overall health as well,” Derocha said.

With all those potential benefits, how do you improve your gut health? That’s where the apples and yogurt come in. Derocha said adding foods and drinks with probiotics and prebiotics can really help fine-tune your gut to keep it working smoothly. Here’s what they each do and which foods can provide them in your diet.

  • Probiotics are good bacteria naturally found in the gut. Derocha said you want them to flourish and can add more in by eating foods that are pickled such as kimchi and sauerkraut, as well as foods like yogurt and kefir, a yogurt-based drink. Dark chocolate even contains some naturally-occurring probiotics.
  • Prebiotics function as fertilizer to help all the good bacteria grow. Foods to add to your diet to help that process along include oatmeal, fruits and vegetables with lots of fiber in them, specifically artichokes, jicama, dark leafy greens and the aforementioned apples.

Derocha said if you’re eating well, you probably don’t need to take supplements, but if you’re really struggling with gut health, they can help. For adults taking a probiotic supplement, you should aim for about 1 billion CFUs (colony forming units). For children, it can be a little bit less than that.

Like what you’ve read? Head on over to the A Healthier Michigan Podcast page to listen to the full episode and hear other words of wisdom from Derocha and featured podcast guests.

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Photo credit: John Jones

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