Diet and gastrointestinal disease: 8 best foods for gut health – Nebraska Medicine

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Published September 19, 2022

picture of a jar of oatmeal and blueberries
The digestive system is a full-body process. Even our brain gets involved with the gut and microbes, affecting everything from mood and metabolism to our immune systems. There is still much to learn about how diet and the gut affect our whole body, but we do know there are significant connections between chronic disease, diet and gut health. 
Our digestive tract is an intricate system with many working parts and starts with the moment food touches our mouth. Each part of the system helps break down food and liquid into smaller pieces until our body can absorb and move the nutrients to where they are needed. 
Particular enzymes in our salvia kick off the digestive process. As food travels from the esophagus to our stomach, enzymes work with contracting muscles, mixing food with the enzymes. Although everyone is a little different, it typically takes around four to five hours for food to pass through the first half of the digestive system.
The small intestine is where our gut microbes start to do their job by breaking down fats, carbs and proteins. It also supports our immune health and absorbs vitamins and minerals. Bacteria in the large intestine (colon) complete the breakdown process and helps to keep our fluids in balance.
The digestive system is also affected by hormones, nerves, and other organs like the pancreas, liver and gallbladder.
“Like other types of chronic disease, I strongly believe an individual’s diet affects the management, and in certain situations, even the progression of a chronic GI disease,” says Marta Jonson, MMN, RDN, LMNT, Nebraska Medicine nutrition therapist. “Food is fuel, and if we are not getting the nutrients we need, our bodies will have a difficult time-fighting disease or helping us maintain the quality of life we want.” 
Like other chronic diseases, GI patients often experience chronic inflammation, potentially leading to additional health problems. The way we eat may help prevent and keep chronic inflammation at bay. Research reveals connections between diet and inflammation:
Lifestyle also plays a role in managing GI disease:
Diet becomes crucial in preventing disease progression for those with certain GI-related autoimmune disorders. Those with celiac disease and inflammatory bowel disease are highly impacted by what they eat.
Research is limited but rapidly growing. “The Frederick F. Paustian Inflammatory Bowel Disease Center is partnering with Nebraska Food for Health to further microbiome research,” says Jonson. “As we do more research, we hope to use this knowledge to prevent, cure and help manage GI diseases more precisely with nutrition.”
A healthy diet may look different for everyone. “Nutrition and health are much more complex than just looking at the macronutrients in someone’s diet,” adds Jonson. “I enjoy talking to patients about gut health because it digs deeper than what many people used to consider to be nutrition education.”
Foods that promote gut health contain prebiotic fibers and potential anti-inflammatory properties. Ideally, half your plate should be plants, a quarter filled with healthy carbohydrates, and the last quarter a serving of protein. The more color on your plate, the better.
Digestion tips as you add gut-healthy foods to your diet:
Add these gut-healthy foods to your diet:
While all food is nourishing, some of the most common foods to avoid are artificial sweeteners, sugar alcohols, and a regular habit of eating saturated fats or transfats.
“Remember, overall health involves a combination of things, including emotional, physical and mental health,” says Jonson. “A healthy diet is not all or nothing. It’s about being intentional one day at a time, fueling your body with whole foods and knowing that there is a healthy balance.”
If you’ve ever experienced gut issues, you know how frustrating it can be. You may try a variety of things to feel better, but if the discomfort continues, you may worry about what’s really going on.
The next time you’re feeling down, instead of blaming it on the weather or a stressful day at work, you may want to look at what you’re putting in your gut. An unhealthy gut or one that is out of balance, can increase your risk for obesity and illnesses like diabetes, and can play a small role in depression and colon cancer. Learn more.
More than 1 in 10 Americans have irritable bowel syndrome or IBS. Diet can have a huge effect on IBS symptoms, and everyone has different food triggers. Some
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