There’s a reason people always tell you to trust your gut.
From butterflies in our stomach to that just not right feeling, our guts can often sense before our rational brains when something important is going on.
And for the past few years, the scientific community has been backing up those biological claims with reams of empirical evidence.
But just like every other part of our bodies, our guts rely on the better intentions of our mouths and brains to ensure they’re well-fed and healthy.
Luckily for us, there’s a fruit for that!
Once thought of as little more than a simple system of tubes moving things in and out, the gut has been revealed over the past 20 years to be an exceptionally complex structure connected to nearly every bodily function.
The movers and shakers in that system are collectively called the “gut microbiome” – a microcosm of microorganisms living inside our intestines, responsible for orchestrating some of the most delicate chemical reactions within our bodies.
Mostly, the microbiome is made up of bacterial cells – about 40 trillion of them. (That’s nearly 10 trillion more than the number of human cells making up our entire selves!)
All told, it comes in at a grand total of 4 or 5 pounds’ worth of gut stuff, which is roughly the same weight as that grey thing inside our heads that runs the whole show. No wonder some scientists have taken to calling the gut our second brain!
And that vast microbiome network works hard for us, proving a pivotal part of everything from the development of our immune systems to how we absorb nutrients, and the generation of new cells and tissues to the pace of our metabolic rates.
That confluence of factors can, in turn, go on to impact everything from heart health to blood sugar levels to the state of our mental health, to name just a few areas ultimately connected to our microbiomes.
But in order to let our gut microbiome really blossom, we’ve got to cultivate the right kind of environment.
So what’s really in the guts of our gut health?
Atmospheric conditions are huge, with the gut microbiome preferring slightly more acidic surroundings.
An ideal pH for the human colon is typically somewhere between 6.7 and 6.9 – still strong enough to keep the good gut bacteria happy; just acidic enough to prevent any bad bacterial actors from taking over.
Nearly as important is the presence of fiber in the diet.
According to a number of recent studies facilitated by National Institute of Health, a strong source of fiber gives all those microorganisms something to munch on, preventing them from turning to the otherwise important mucus layer of our intestinal system for a snack.
On the opposite end, simple sugars have been noted as a nuisance for gut health, giving the microcosm too much of a metabolic boost and allowing the bacteria to multiply unchecked.
Research on the subject is still new and emerging, with scientists still debating many of the details – but here in the fruit world, there’s no argument that some fruits are better than others when it comes to giving our guts what they need.
When it comes to keeping digestion flowing – and the bacteria behind the whole process happy – you can turn to some of these superfruits for help:
You want fiber? Bananas have got it – in spades!
Specifically, bananas are breeders of a special type of non-digestible fiber called a prebiotic.
That it can bypass the stomach mostly unscathed means the prebiotic fiber found in a banana can make it all the way to the colon, where the microflora can get to hungry work fermenting the stuff. It all adds up to a happy – and well-balanced – microbiome.
The unique fruit has its own brand of fortuitous fiber for gut health.
The specific fiber found in kiwifruit particularly likes to bond with – and, eventually, help eliminate – toxins in the colon that can lead to colon cancer.
Kiwis also include the magical combination of low fat (thought to be another problematic presence in the microbiome) and low sugar, helping ensure the gut gets only the most nutritional compounds to munch on when breaking them down.
To get the most gut health benefits out of this one, it’s important not to peel your pear.
The fruit’s stupendous skin is the source of a number of gut-happy compounds, including phenolic phytonutrients that act as antioxidants and a number of anti-inflammatory flavonoids.
Pears are also a notable source of dietary fiber – although, again, most of this is found in the fruit’s fuzzy cover.
Diversity is a hugely important aspect of good gut health, and blueberries are one of the best fruits to provide it.
Compounds inside the berries work to help eliminate any harmful microflora that might have any thoughts of taking over the microbiome scene – allowing for a more natural growth pattern of good gut bacteria.
And the superfruits also boast one of the best fiber-to-calorie ratios around, ensuring that every bite of blueberry is worth more than its weight in gut health.
Like their lighter-blue cousins, raspberries pack a super-fibrous punch, helping to ensure the process of elimination in the gut is alive and well – which, in turn, helps keep the rest of the body in balance.
Raspberries have the added aspect of a high water content, which further aids the good guy gut bacteria in their quest to break down and process our meals into usable energy.
Perhaps the biggest gut health success story so far is the apple.
Not only are the fruity favorites perennially high in fiber, which is good for the microcosm generally, but apples have been found to have a special relationship to the microbiome.
Several studies have shown that eating apples impacts two particular types of bacteria found in the gut: Clostridiales and Bacteriodes. And the result is an improved large intestine metabolism, which can positively impact any number of bodily functions.
Still, it doesn’t take 5 pounds of microflora to see that enjoying any of these fruits – for gut health or otherwise – is a no-brainer!