Why the Gut Microbiome Is Crucial for Your Health

Your body is full of trillions of bacteria, viruses and fungi

Your body is full of trillions of bacteria, viruses and fungi. They are collectively known as the microbiome.

While bacteria are often associated with disease, they’re actually extremely important for your immune system, heart, weight and many other aspects of health.

This article serves as a guide to the gut microbiome and explains why it’s so important for your health.

 

What Is the Gut Microbiome?

Gut Microbiome

Bacteria, viruses, fungi and other tiny living things are referred to as microorganisms, or microbes, for short.

Trillions of these microbes exist mainly inside your intestines and on your skin.

Most of the microbes in your intestines are found in a “pocket” of your large intestine called the cecum, and they are referred to as the gut microbiome.

Although many different types of microbes live inside you, bacteria are the most studied.

In fact, there are more bacterial cells in your body than human cells. There are roughly 40 trillion bacterial cells in your body and only 30 trillion human cells. That means you are more bacteria than human (1, 2).

What’s more, there are up to 1,000 species of bacteria in the human gut microbiome, and each of them plays a different role in your body. Most of them are extremely important for your health, while others may cause disease(3).

Altogether, these microbes may weigh as much as 2–5 pounds (1–2 kg), which is roughly the weight of your brain. Together, they function as an extra organ in your body and play a huge role in your health.

Summary: The gut microbiome refers to all of the microbes in your intestines, which act as another organ that’s crucial for your health.

How Does It Affect Your Body?

Humans have evolved to live with microbes for millions of years.

During this time, microbes have learned to play very important roles in the human body. In fact, without the gut microbiome, it would be very difficult to survive.

The gut microbiome begins to affect your body the moment you are born.

You are first exposed to microbes when you pass through your mother’s birth canal. However, new evidence suggests that babies may come in contact with some microbes while inside the womb (4, 5, 6).

As you grow, your gut microbiome begins to diversify, meaning it starts to contain many different types of microbial species. Higher microbiome diversity is considered good for your health (7).

Interestingly, the food you eat affects the diversity of your gut bacteria.

As your microbiome grows, it affects your body in a number of ways, including:

  • Digesting breast milk: Some of the bacteria that first begin to grow inside babies’ intestines are called Bifidobacteria. They digest the healthy sugars in breast milk that are important for growth (8, 9, 10).
  • Digesting fiber: Certain bacteria digest fiber, producing short-chain fatty acids, which are important for gut health. Fiber may help prevent weight gain, diabetes, heart disease and the risk of cancer (11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17).
  • Helping control your immune system: The gut microbiome also controls how your immune system works. By communicating with immune cells, the gut microbiome can control how your body responds to infection (18, 19).
  • Helping control brain health: New research suggests that the gut microbiome may also affect the central nervous system, which controls brain function (20).

Therefore, there are a number of different ways in which the gut microbiome can affect key bodily functions and influence your health.

Summary: The gut microbiome affects the body from birth and throughout life by controlling the digestion of food, immune system, central nervous system and other bodily processes.

The Gut Microbiome May Affect Your Weight

Scale Wrapped in Measuring Tape

There are thousands of different types of bacteria in your intestines, most of which benefit your health.

However, having too many unhealthy microbes can lead to disease.

An imbalance of healthy and unhealthy microbes is sometimes called gut dysbiosis, and it may contribute to weight gain (21).

Several well-known studies have shown that the gut microbiome differed completely between identical twins, one of whom was obese and one of whom was healthy. This demonstrated that differences in the microbiome were not genetic (22, 23).

Interestingly, in one study, when the microbiome from the obese twin was transferred to mice, they gained more weight those that had received the microbiome of the lean twin, despite both groups eating the same diet (22).

These studies show that microbiome dysbiosis may play a role in weight gain.

Fortunately, probiotics are good for a healthy microbiome and can help with weight loss. Nevertheless, studies suggest that the effects of probiotics on weight loss are probably quite small, with people losing less than 2.2 pounds (1 kg) (24).

Summary: Gut dysbiosis may lead to weight gain, but probiotics can potentially restore gut health and help reduce weight.

 

It Affects Gut Health

 

The microbiome can also affect gut health and may play a role in intestinal diseases like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) (25, 26, 27).

The bloating, cramps and abdominal pain that people with IBS experience may be due to gut dysbiosis. This is because the microbes produce a lot of gas and other chemicals, which contribute to the symptoms of intestinal discomfort (28).

However, certain healthy bacteria in the microbiome can also improve gut health.

Certain Bifidobacteria and Lactobacilli, which are found in probiotics and yogurt, can help seal gaps between intestinal cells and prevent leaky gut syndrome.

These species can also prevent disease-causing bacteria from sticking to the intestinal wall (29, 30).

In fact, taking certain probiotics that contain Bifidobacteria and Lactobacilli can reduce symptoms of IBS (31).

Summary: A healthy gut microbiome controls gut health by communicating with the intestinal cells, digesting certain foods and preventing disease-causing bacteria from sticking to the intestinal walls.

The Gut Microbiome May Benefit Heart Health

Red Heart, Health Concept

Interestingly, the gut microbiome may even affect heart health (32).

A recent study in 1,500 people found that the gut microbiome played an important role in promoting “good” HDL cholesterol and triglycerides (33).

Certain unhealthy species in the gut microbiome may also contribute to heart disease by producing trimethylamine N-oxide (TMAO).

TMAO is a chemical that contributes to blocked arteries, which may lead to heart attacks or stroke.

Certain bacteria within the microbiome convert choline and L-carnitine, both of which are nutrients found in red meat and other animal-based food sources, to TMAO, potentially increasing risk factors for heart disease (34, 35, 36).

However, other bacteria within the gut microbiome, particularly Lactobacilli, may help reduce cholesterol when taken as a probiotic (37).

Summary: Certain bacteria within the gut microbiome can produce chemicals that may block arteries and lead to heart disease. However, probiotics may help lower cholesterol and the risk of heart disease.

It May Help Control Blood Sugar and Lower the Risk of Diabetes

The gut microbiome also may help control blood sugar, which could affect the risk of type 1 and 2 diabetes.

One recent study examined 33 infants who had a genetically high risk of developing type 1 diabetes.

It found that the diversity of the microbiome dropped suddenly before the onset of type 1 diabetes. It also found that levels of a number of unhealthy bacterial species increased just before the onset of type 1 diabetes (38).

Another study found that even when people ate the exact same foods, their blood sugar could vary greatly. This may be due to the types of bacteria in their guts (39).

Summary: The gut microbiome plays a role in controlling blood sugar and may also affect the onset of type 1 diabetes in children.

It May Affect Brain Health

Human Brain on White Background

The gut microbiome may even benefit brain health in a number of ways.

First, certain species of bacteria can help produce chemicals in the brain called neurotransmitters. For example, serotonin is an antidepressant neurotransmitter that’s mostly made in the gut (40, 41).

Second, the gut is physically connected to the brain through millions of nerves.

Therefore, the gut microbiome may also affect brain health by helping control the messages that are sent to the brain through these nerves (42, 43).

A number of studies have shown that people with various psychological disorders have different species of bacteria in their guts, compared to healthy people. This suggests that the gut microbiome may affect brain health (44, 45).

However, it’s unclear if this is simply due to different dietary and lifestyle habits.

A small number of studies have also shown that certain probiotics can improve symptoms of depression and other mental health disorders (46, 47).

Summary: The gut microbiome may affect brain health by producing brain chemicals and communicating with nerves that connect to the brain.

 

How Can You Improve Your Gut Microbiome?

 

There are many ways to improve your gut microbiome, including:

  • Eat a diverse range of foods: This can lead to a diverse microbiome, which is an indicator of good gut health. In particular, legumes, beans and fruit contain lots of fiber and can promote the growth of healthy Bifidobacteria (48, 49, 50, 51).
  • Eat fermented foods: Fermented foods such as yogurt, sauerkraut and kefir all contain healthy bacteria, mainly Lactobacilli, and can reduce the amount of disease-causing species in the gut (52).
  • Limit your intake of artificial sweeteners: Some evidence has shown that artificial sweeteners like aspartame increase blood sugar by stimulating the growth of unhealthy bacteria like Enterobacteriaceae in the gut microbiome (53).
  • Eat prebiotic foods: Prebiotics are a type of fiber that stimulates the growth of healthy bacteria. Prebiotic-rich foods include artichokes, bananas, asparagus, oats and apples (54).
  • Breastfeed for at least six months: Breastfeeding is very important for the development of the gut microbiome. Children who are breastfed for at least six months have more beneficial Bifidobacteria than those who are bottle-fed (55).
  • Eat whole grains: Whole grains contain lots of fiber and beneficial carbs like beta-glucan, which are digested by gut bacteria to benefit weight, cancer risk, diabetes and other disorders (56, 57).
  • Try a plant-based diet: Vegetarian diets may help reduce levels of disease-causing bacteria such as E. coli, as well as inflammation and cholesterol (58, 59).
  • Eat foods rich in polyphenols: Polyphenols are plant compounds found in red wine, green tea, dark chocolate, olive oil and whole grains. They are broken down by the microbiome to stimulate healthy bacterial growth (60, 61).
  • Take a probiotic supplement: Probiotics are live bacteria that can help restore the gut to a healthy state after dysbiosis. They do this by “reseeding” it with healthy microbes (62).
  • Take antibiotics only when necessary: Antibiotics kill many bad and good bacteria in the gut microbiome, possibly contributing to weight gain and antibiotic resistance. Thus, only take antibiotics when medically necessary (63).

Summary: Eating a wide variety of high-fiber and fermented foods supports a healthy microbiome. Taking probiotics and limiting antibiotics can also be beneficial.

The Bottom Line

Your gut microbiome is made up of trillions of bacteria, fungi and other microbes.

The gut microbiome plays a very important role in your health by helping control digestion and benefiting your immune system and many other aspects of health.

An imbalance of unhealthy and healthy microbes in the intestines may contribute to weight gain, high blood sugar, high cholesterol and other disorders.

To help support the growth of healthy microbes in your gut, eat a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and fermented foods.

How Running Helps You Lose Weight

Be Active... 

Running is an incredibly popular way to exercise.

In fact, it’s estimated that in the US alone, over 64 million people have run at least once in the past year (1).

Running is also linked to many health benefits, and is one of the best types of exercise to help you lose weight.

This article explains how running can help you shed unwanted pounds.

There Are Many Types of Running

Young Person Running By Seaside

There are many different styles of running, each with their own unique purpose and benefits.

These are the most popular types:

Base runs: What most people would call a normal run. They are short-to-moderate length runs around 6 miles (10 km) and done at your natural pace.

  • Long runs: Longer versions of base runs done at the same pace but over a greater distance of around 10–12 miles (15–20 km). They help improve your overall fitness and endurance.
  • Interval runs: Short, intense runs repeated several times with short breaks in between. For example, 5 x 0.5 mile runs with 1/4 mile (400 meters) light jogging between each interval. These runs train your running power and speed.
  • Hill repeats: Similar to interval runs but done uphill. For example, 10 x 1-minute hill repeats. They train your running power and speed while improving stamina.
  • Recovery runs: Slow runs done after harder runs like hill repeats to add extra distance to your overall run. For example, a 4-minute run at a comfortable pace after a harder run.
  • Progression runs: These mimic competition-style runs by starting slow and finishing at a faster pace. They build endurance, speed and reduce fatigue. For example, 5 miles (8 km) at a natural pace, then 1 mile (1.5 km) at a fast pace.

Summary: There are many types of runs, each with their own purpose and benefits. Normal runs are considered base runs.

 

It Burns More Calories Than Most Exercises

 

Losing weight requires you to burn more calories than you consume, and exercise can help you do so.Black Set of Scales and a Measuring Tape

Running is a great option, as it burns more calories than most other types of exercise because it requires many different muscles to work hard together (2).

In particular, high-intensity interval training (HIIT) involving running burns the most calories per minute by using various muscles at their maximum power.

The difference in calories burned by running versus by other exercises is supported by research.

For example, a study with 12 men and 12 women compared how many more calories running 1 mile (1,600 meters) burned than walking the same distance on both a treadmill and track.

Results showed that, on average, running 1 mile on the treadmill burned 33 more calories than walking, and running 1 mile on the track burned 35 more calories than walking (3).

33–35 calories may not seem like a huge difference at first, but over a 10-mile run, this may equal burning 330–350 more calories than walking the same distance.

A report by Harvard University compared the calories burned over 30 minutes by people at three different weights and found similar results.

Specifically, they discovered that a 155-pound (70-kg) person could burn 372 calories in 30 minutes running at a moderate pace of 6 miles per hour (10 km per hour).

This is as many calories as are burned during vigorous swimming and martial arts, and even more than those burned during a 30-minute game of basketball (4).

Summary: Running is an excellent choice of exercise for weight loss because it burns more calories than many alternatives.

 

High-Intensity Running Continues to Burn Calories After

Exercise

 

Female Runner Weighing Herself After a Run

Doing any exercise regularly will help you lose weight, but only a few types of exercise will continue to burn calories even after you finish working out.

High-intensity types of running like hill repeats and interval runs can continue to burn calories up to 48 hours after you work out (5).

These exercises use many muscles and need more energy afterward to recover. This is often labeled the “afterburn effect” among the fitness community.

Several studies have found that the “afterburn effect” could help you burn significantly more calories over time (6, 7).

In one study, 10 men cycled for 45 minutes at an intense pace to calculate how many calories they burned after the workout and for how long.

The average participant burned 519 calories during their workout and an extra 190 calories over the 14 hours following the workout (7).

Although the above example uses cycling as an example, the “afterburn effect” applies to high-intensity running, too. Cycling is simply a convenient way to measure calories burned in a controlled laboratory study.

Summary: High-intensity running like sprints, intervals and hill runs can continue to burn calories long after a workout due to the “afterburn effect.”

High-Intensity Running Suppresses Appetite and Helps You Eat Less

Fork and Spoon Tied With a Measuring Tape

Many people try reducing their calorie intake by eating less food or changing the food they eat.

Unfortunately, these strategies may sometimes only increase hunger and make losing weight a challenge.

Several studies have found that high-intensity running may combat this struggle by reducing your appetite after a workout (8, 9).

The exact processes surrounding this response are unclear, but one way high-intensity running may reduce appetiteis by suppressing the levels of the hunger hormone ghrelin and producing more satiety hormones like peptide YY (PYY).

A study in 11 men found that running for 60 minutes or strength training for 90 minutes reduced ghrelin levels, compared to no exercise. Only running increased PYY production (8).

Another study with nine men compared the effect of 60 minutes of running and no exercise on ghrelin production. They found that running lowered ghrelin levels for three to nine hours in comparison to no exercise (9).

Summary: Running may help you lose weight by lowering the production of hunger hormones and increasing the production of satiety hormones.

Moderate-to-High Intensity Running Targets Harmful Belly Fat

Carrying excess belly fat is extremely bad for your health.

Many studies show a connection between belly fat and an increased risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes and many other diseases (10, 11).

Studies have found that moderate-to-high aerobic exercise like running can reduce belly fat, even without changing your diet (12, 13, 14).

An analysis of 15 studies and 852 participants found that aerobic exercise reduced belly fat without any change in diet. However, training at moderate-to-high intensity was most effective at reducing belly fat (14).

Another study of 27 middle-aged women found that high-intensity running considerably reduced belly fat, compared to low-intensity walking/running or no exercise (15).

Lastly, a study of 45 healthy but inactive women found that high-intensity interval exercise three times per week significantly reduced body fat and belly fat, compared to steady pace exercise or no exercise (16).

Summary: Many studies have found that moderate-to-high intensity aerobic exercise like running targets harmful belly fat, even without dietary changes.

Running Has Many Other Benefits for Health

Middle Aged Woman Exercising

Aside from weight loss, running has been linked to many other health benefits.

A few specific health problems that running may help prevent or alleviate include:

  • Heart disease: A 15-year study with over 50,000 participants found that running at least five to ten minutes a day, even at low speeds, reduced heart disease risk up to 45% (17).
  • Blood sugar: Running can lower blood sugar by making muscle cells more sensitive to insulin. This helps sugar move into muscle cells for storage (18, 19).
  • Cataracts: One study found that moderate-pace walking and vigorous running both reduced the risk of cataracts, with more exercise directly resulting in a lower risk (20).
  • Falls: Running may reduce the risk of falling among the elderly. Research shows that elderly participants who run are less likely to fall because their leg muscles are more responsive (21).
  • Knee damage: A common myth is that running is bad for your knees. An analysis of 28 studies refuted this misconception, finding strong evidence that links physical activity with stronger knee tissue and healthier knees (22).
  • Knee pain: Running may also help reduce knee pain. A study of participants with an average age of 64 years found that running was not linked with knee pain or arthritis. Instead, participants who ran more actually had less knee pain (23).

Summary: Along with weight loss, running can provide various health benefits, including a lower risk of heart disease, reduced blood sugar, lower cataracts risk, lower falls risk, stronger knees and less knee pain.

How to Get Started

Aqua Blue Running Shoes

There are many items available for running, but most beginners can get by on the bare minimum.

This includes good running shoes, a comfortable top, a water bottle and running shorts, tights or comfortable pants.

It is highly recommended for women to wear a sports bra while running to reduce pain. Reflective gear is highly recommended as well if you plan on taking your run during early hours or late at night. This will help to prevent any accidents.

Here are a few basics you should know before beginning a running workout:

  • Frequency: To get started, aim for 3 to 4 days of running per week. This allows for enough recovery time between workouts.
  • Warm up: Before every running workout, it is important to warm up and stretch in order to prepare your body for the run. Start by stretching, followed by 5 minutes of walking at an easy pace. Then, slowly progress to a power walk.
  • Cool down: At the end of your run, make sure to cool down with 5 minutes of walking, gradually decreasing the speed as you go.
  • Total time: Aim for around 30 minutes total. This includes 5 minutes for a warm up, 5 minutes for a cool down and 20 minutes of running/walking in between.

Summary: Running is easy to begin and requires minimal equipment. A beginner should aim to run for 30 minutes 3 or 4 days a week, including 5 minutes of warming up and cooling down.

Sample Running Plan

Weekly Planner and Pencil

If you would like to enjoy the benefits of running, here is a month-long plan to get you started.

A beginner’s plan will start with alternating between running and walking, increasing the minutes spent running every week.

Do each set of activities 3 to 4 days per week.

Week One

  • 5 minutes warming up
  • 1 minute running at your natural pace, and then 2 minutes moderate-pace walking — repeat 7 times
  • 5 minutes cooling down

Week Two

  • 5 minutes warming up
  • 2 minutes running at your natural pace, and then 2 minutes moderate-pace walking — repeat 5 times
  • 5 minutes cooling down

Week Three

  • 5 minutes warming up
  • 3 minutes running at your natural pace, and then 2 minutes moderate-pace walking — repeat 4 times
  • 5 minutes cooling down

Week Four

  • 5 minutes warming up
  • 4 minutes running at your natural pace, and then 2 minutes moderate-pace walking — repeat 3 times
  • 5 minutes cooling down

After the month is over, try to progress by running for longer at your natural pace or walking less between each run. Try adding different styles of running as you feel more comfortable.

If you are not used to regular exercise or have any preexisting medical conditions that can be affected by exercise, consult a health professional before starting any exercise program.

Summary: A beginner’s running plan should alternate between running and walking. As you progress, increase the time spent running weekly or decrease the time spent walking between runs.

How to Stay Motivated

Sticking to a dedicated running plan can help you achieve long-term success with your weight loss goals.

The trick to staying motivated is to keep it fun so you won’t be tempted to make any excuses to avoid your workout.

Keep your workouts interesting by changing your running route every few weeks or adding in different types of runs like intervals or hill repeats.

Running with a friend that challenges you can keep you accountable and provides extra safety if you run during the early or late hours of the day.

If you find it difficult to motivate yourself early in the morning, try laying your running gear out the night before to save the effort in the morning.

Signing up for marathons or other competitions when you are comfortable can also provide you with extra motivation for running and keep you focused.

Summary: Changing your workouts often or running with a friend can make your routine fun and help you to stay motivated long-term.

The Bottom Line

Running is an excellent form of exercise for weight loss.

It burns a lot of calories, may help you continue to burn calories long after a workout, may help suppress appetite and targets harmful belly fat.

What’s more, running has many other benefits for your health and is simple to begin.

Unlike many other types of exercise, running requires little equipment, can be done anywhere and there are many ways to keep things interesting.

If you find it difficult to motivate yourself to run, try finding a running partner or changing routines frequently to add variety to your workout.

How Many Calories Should You Eat Per Day to Lose Weight?

How to Reduce Calorie Intake Without Starving Yourself

Calories are simply a measure of energy. It is known that in order to gain weight, more calories need to be entering your body than leaving it. Conversely, if more calories leave your body than enter it, then you lose weight. That being said, just cutting calories without regards to the foods you eat is usually not a sustainable way to lose weight. Although it works for some people, the majority of people end up hungry and eventually give up on their diet. For this reason, it is highly recommended to make a few other permanent changes to help you maintain a calorie deficit in the long term, without feeling starved. Here are 5 evidence-based diet/lifestyle changes that have been shown to help people lose weight in numerous studies

  1. Eating More Protein Can Reduce Appetite, Cut Cravings by 60% and Increase The Amount of Calories You Burn

 

 

 

 

When it comes to losing weight, protein is the king of nutrients. Adding protein to your diet is the simplest, most effective and most delicious way to lose weight with minimal effort. Because protein requires energy to metabolize, a high protein diet can increase calories burned by up to 80 to 100 calories per day. In other words, you can easily increase calories out and reduce calories in… just by adding protein to your diet. Protein can also help fight cravings, which are the dieter’s worst enemy. If you want to lose weight, sustainably, with minimal effort, then consider making a permanent increase in your protein intake. Not only will it help you lose, it will also prevent or at least significantly reduce weight regain, in case you ever decide to abandon your weight loss efforts.

Bottom Line: Increasing protein intake can boost metabolism, fight cravings and significantly reduce appetite. This can lead to automatic weight loss.

  1. Avoid Sugary Soft Drinks (and Fruit Juices), The Most Fattening Items in The Modern Diet

Another relatively easy change you can make, is to eliminate liquid sugar calories from your diet. These “foods” are probably the most fattening aspect of the modern diet, by far. This is because liquid calories don’t get “registered” by the brain in the same way as solid calories. For this reason, drinking sugary soda doesn’t make your brain automatically compensate by having you eat less of other things instead. Of course, the harmful effects of sugar go way beyond just weight gain. It can have disastrous effects on metabolic health and raise your risk of all sorts of diseases. Although small amounts of natural sugars from foods (like fruit) are absolutely fine, large amounts from added sugar and sugary drinks can be an absolute disaster. It is important to avoid sugary soft drinks and fruit juices, because liquid sugar is the single most fattening aspect of the Western diet.

 

 

 

        3. Drinking More Water Can Help With Weight Loss

One very simple trick to increase weight loss is to drink more water. This can increase the number of calories you burn for up to 90 minutes. But when you drink water may be even more important, because having it before meals can help reduce hunger and make you automatically eat fewer calories. When combined with a healthy diet, drinking more water (especially before meals) does appear to be helpful if you need to lose weight. Caffeinated beverages such as coffee and green tea are also excellent. The caffeine in them can help boost metabolism somewhat, at least in the short term.

Bottom Line: Studies have shown that drinking water can boost metabolism. Drinking it a half hour before meals can help you eat fewer calories.

  1. Do Some Exercise and Lift Weights

When we eat fewer calories, our bodies compensate by making us burn less. This is why long-term calorie restriction can significantly reduce metabolism. Not only that, but it can also lead to loss of muscle mass. Muscle is metabolically active, so this can reduce metabolism even further. This has been repeatedly shown to prevent muscle loss and prevent your metabolism from slowing down during long-term calorie restriction. If you can’t get to a gym, then consider doing some body weight exercises like push ups, squats, sit ups, etc. Doing some cardio like walking, swimming or jogging can also be important. Not so much for weight loss, but for optimal health and general wellbeing. Of course, exercise also has a plethora of other benefits that go way beyond just weight loss… such as a longer life, lower risk of disease, more energy and feeling better every day.

Bottom Line: Lifting weights is important, because it inhibits muscle loss and prevents the metabolic rate from slowing down.

 

         

 

5. Reduce Carbohydrate Intake, Especially Refined Carbs and Sugars

Cutting carbs is a very effective way to lose weight. When people do that, their appetite tends to go down and they eat fewer calories automatically. Studies have shown that eating a low-carb diet until fullness can make you lose about 2-3 times as much weight as a calorie restricted low-fat diet. Not only that, but low-carb diets also have all sorts of other benefits for health, especially for people with type 2 diabetes or metabolic syndrome. If you stick to real foods, the exact composition of your diet becomes less important.

10 healthy foods that help you poop!

Rachael Link, MS, RD, June 26, 2017

Constipation is a common problem affecting an estimated 20% of the population. A decrease in the movement of food through the digestive system, is one of the most common causes. A low-fiber diet, old age and physical inactivity can also contribute to constipation. While remedies for constipation typically include laxatives, stool softeners and fiber supplements, incorporating a few regularity-boosting foods into your diet can be a safe and effective alternative.

This article lists 14 healthy foods that can help you poop.

  1. Apples: Apples are a good source of fiber. Fiber passes through your intestines undigested, helping with the formation of stool and promoting regular bowel movements. In one study, 80 participants with constipation took pectin supplements. After four weeks, the symptoms of constipation reduced. Apples can be used as a healthy topping for foods like yogurt and oatmeal or enjoyed on their own as a convenient and nutritious snack.
  2. Prunes: Prunes are often used as a natural laxative — and for good reason.. Prunes add a hint of sweetness when used to garnish salads and pilafs. A small glass of prune juice with no added sugar can also be a quick and convenient way to get the same constipation-busting benefits found in whole prunes.
  3. Kiwifruit: Kiwifruit is especially high in fiber, which makes it an excellent food to help promote regularity. Kiwifruit has been shown to stimulate movement in the digestive tract, helping to induce a bowel movement. Kiwifruit helped to speed up intestinal transit time, decrease laxative use and improve symptoms of constipation. Try adding kiwifruit to your next smoothie for a tasty, high-fiber treat.
  4. Flaxseeds: In addition to their wide variety of health benefits, flaxseeds’ high fiber content and ability to promote regularity definitely make them stand out. One animal study showed that flaxseed can help treat both constipation and diarrhoea. It was found to increase stool frequency and also have an anti-diarrheal effect, reducing diarrhoea by up to 84%. Flaxseeds can add extra fiber and texture when sprinkled onto oats, yogurt, soups and shakes.
  5. Pears: Pears can help alleviate constipation in a few different ways. First, they are high in fiber. One medium pear contains 6 grams of fiber, meeting up to 24% of your daily fiber needs. Pears are also high in sorbitol, a sugar alcohol that acts as an osmotic agent to pull water into the intestines and stimulate a bowel movement. They can be included in salads and sandwiches or consumed raw for a sweet snack.
  6. Beans: Most varieties of beans are high in fiber and can help maintain regularity. Beans also contain good amounts of soluble and insoluble fiber, both of which help ease constipation in different ways. Soluble fiber absorbs water and forms a gel-like consistency, softening stool and making it easier to pass. On the other hand, insoluble fiber passes through the digestive tract intact and adds bulk to stool. If you’re looking for an easy way to increase your fiber intake, beans are a good way to do so. Add them to soups, dips or side dishes for a delicious dose of fiber.
  7. Rhubarb: Both rhubarb’s fiber content and natural laxative properties encourage regularity. Rhubarb also contains a compound called sennoside A, which has a laxative effect in the body. In fact, sennosides are even found in herbal laxatives like senna.Rhubarb can be used in a variety of baked goods, added to yogurt or even be added to oatmeal for a kick of added flavour.
  8. Artichokes: Research shows that artichokes have a prebiotic effect, which can be beneficial for gut health and maintaining regularity. Prebiotics are a special type of fiber that works by feeding the good bacteria found in your colon, helping to optimize your digestive health. One study looked at the effects of artichoke leaf extract on 208 participants with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Not only did artichokes reduce the incidence of IBS, but they also helped normalize bowel patterns. Artichokes are available in both fresh and jarred form and can be used in everything from creamy dips to flavourful tarts.
  9. Kefir: Kefir is a fermented milk beverage that contains probiotics, a form of healthy gut bacteria that may help alleviate constipation. Probiotics have been shown to increase stool frequency, improve stool consistency and help reduce intestinal transit time to speed up bowel movements. Kefir makes the perfect base for smoothies or salad dressings. Alternatively, try making a probiotic-rich parfait using kefir and topping it with fruit, flaxseeds or oats for an extra boost of fiber.
  10. Figs: Figs are an excellent way to get more fiber into your diet to encourage regular bowel movements. Dried figs, especially, can provide a concentrated dose of fiber. One study in humans found that giving fig paste to 40 participants with constipation helped speed up colonic transit, improve stool consistency and alleviate abdominal discomfort. While figs can be consumed on their own, they can also be boiled into a tasty jam that goes great with bruschetta, pizzas and sandwiches.
  11. Sweet Potatoes: In addition to providing a host of vitamins and minerals, sweet potatoes also contain a good amount of fiber that can help increase regularity. The fiber found in sweet potatoes is mostly insoluble and includes a few specific types, such as cellulose, lignin and pectin. Thanks to their fiber content, some studies have shown that sweet potatoes may help promote bowel movements. Sweet potatoes can be mashed, baked, sautéed or roasted and used in place of white potatoes in any of your favourite recipes.
  12. Lentils:  This edible pulse is packed with fiber, making it an excellent addition to your diet to relieve constipation. Additionally, eating lentils can increase the production of butyric acid, a type of short-chain fatty acid found in the colon. It increases the movement of the digestive tract to promote bowel movements. Lentils add a rich, hearty flavor to soups and salads alike, while also providing plenty of added fiber and health benefits.
  13. Chia Seeds: Chia seeds are made up of about 40% fiber by weight, making them one of the most fiber-dense foods available. Specifically, chia seeds are a good source of soluble fiber, which absorbs water to form a gel that softens and moistens stool for easier passage. One study found that chia seeds could absorb up to 12 times their weight in water, allowing for even easier elimination. Try mixing chia seeds into smoothies, puddings and yogurts to pack in a few extra grams of soluble fiber.
  14. Oat Bran:  Oat bran is the fiber-rich outer casing of the oat grain. Though it’s not as widely consumed as rolled or old-fashioned oats, oat bran contains significantly more fiber. One study gave 15 elderly participants oat bran over a 12-week period and compared the results with a control group. Not only was oat bran well tolerated, but it also helped participants maintain their body weight and decreased laxative use by 59%, making it a safe and effective natural remedy for constipation. Though oatmeal and oat bran come from the same oat groat, they vary in terms of texture and taste. Oat bran works especially well when used in recipes for granola mixes and breads.

 

The Bottom Line

Constipation is a common problem that affects most people at some point.

Though medications and supplements can help, achieving regularity is possible for most people with a high-fiber, healthy diet and a few regularity-boosting foods.

Including a few servings of these foods each day, along with plenty of water and regular physical activity, can help increase stool frequency, improve consistency and eliminate constipation once and for all.

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