Drive-thru dinners two or three nights in a row isn’t a big deal, right? Making nutritious decisions can be tough when you’re pressed for time and short on change. We’ve all been there! When your schedule is slammed and stress is high, resorting to foods loaded with fat and sugar is tempting. These foods are fine in moderation, but if this type of diet becomes the norm, your gut will suffer – big time.
Like it or not, anything you decide to eat or drink will eventually make its way to your GI (gastrointestinal) tract, or gut. You can think of your GI tract as a long tube, protected by a thin lining which houses millions of bacteria, both good and bad. The good bacteria in your gut are essential to keeping your body’s metabolism, digestion and absorption working like a well-oiled machine.
So why care about gut health? Eating foods that promote the good bacteria in your GI tract not only leads to a healthy metabolism, but research also highlights the link between gut health and mental health. In short, a healthy gut can reduce anxiety levels by controlling stress hormones, which affect both mental well-being and skin health. Lastly, supporting gut health can also boost immunity and protect the body against infection.
Like most people, you’ve probably heard of prebiotics, but don’t really know what they are. Prebiotics are found in fiber-rich foods and support the growth of probiotics, or “good” bacteria. Delicious prebiotic foods include whole-wheat grains, dandelion root, onions, garlic, asparagus, broccoli, leeks, bananas, legumes, cabbage, cauliflower, kale, and radishes. (Fun fact: prebiotics can even increase calcium absorption!)
Crucial for a healthy gut that supports immunity, metabolism, brain function, and skin health, probiotics are the “good” bacteria that keep your gut in check. In order to colonize your GI tract, these live cultures must be introduced through the diet. To invigorate your gut, enjoy fermented foods such as yogurt containing cultures like bifidobacteria and lactobacilli. Non-dairy options include tempeh, sauerkraut, pickles, and kombucha tea.
To power-boost your gut, pair prebiotic and probiotic foods together! Eat a banana with cereal and yogurt for breakfast, or try a kale salad with kombucha tea for lunch. As you reflect on your times of stress, periodic acne breakouts, sickness, and fatigue, see if you can trace it back to nutrition. Plan ahead during stressful times, so your body doesn’t take a hit during the chaos roller coaster.
Jackie Parker is currently a senior nutritional sciences student on the dietetics track at Texas A&M University.