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Healthy Gut, Healthy Life

By Dr. Diane Homan, Executive Medical Director, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois

You may have heard that your digestive system is your second brain because it’s vital to everything else in your body. The esophagus, stomach and intestines that comprise the gut determine the health of our immune system and our mental well-being. If you want to improve your health, start with the gut.

Immune cells in the gut interact with all kinds of bacteria and fungi that live there. What you eat and the way you take care of your body changes the mix. How the gut is working has a big impact on our daily lives, and millions of Americans have at least one digestive problem. A diet with too many animal proteins, processed foods, refined sugar and saturated fats creates gut bacteria that can cause inflammation and life-long health problems.

To improve gut health, try every day to eat at least five servings of fruits and vegetables such as berries, spinach, peas and carrots. A serving is about a cup, or a half cup if cooked. Foods rich in fiber like apples, broccoli, yams and zucchini also are great options.

Add healthy fats like olive oil and avocados to your meals. Eating protein from animal products and plants like beans and lentils can help your immune system run better, too. Fermented and pickled foods like kefir, kimchi and sauerkraut can help strengthen the healthy bacteria in your digestive system. 

The gut doesn’t just control things like our hunger and digestion. It’s essential to maintaining a healthy immune system to fight off viruses and illnesses. Getting enough sleep and exercise, as well as managing stress, daily also can boost your immune system and improve your mental and physical health.

Read about more ways to boost your gut health

The above material is for informational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for the independent medical judgment of a physician. Physicians and other health care providers are encouraged to use their own best medical judgment based upon all available information and the condition of the patient in determining the best course of treatment.

Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois, a Division of Health Care Service Corporation, a Mutual Legal Reserve Company, an Independent Licensee of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association