Eat Well to Be Well: Aging healthily is possible and starts with a healthy gut – Osage County Online | Osage County News

Eat Well to Be Well: Aging healthily is possible and starts with a healthy gut

The secret to successful aging may rely on a changing gut microbiome

How well are you aging? Good, fair, or poor?

The passage of time is out of your control but how you age is a different story. No matter how many birthdays you celebrate, your biological age can either be “younger” or “older” than your chronological age. And guess what? Aging healthily begins in your gut, starting with an overall healthy composition of gut microbes.

Zooming in on gut health 

Your gastrointestinal tract is teeming with trillions of microbes composed of bacteria, viruses, and fungi. These amazingly efficient microbes work round the clock keeping you healthy. Their jobs include digesting and absorbing food, manufacturing vitamins and minerals, and protecting against invasion of harmful microbes. Sounds good but that’s not all. Healthy gut bacteria also influences your sleep, brain health, heart health and cancer risk.

What about immunity? Yes, a strong immune system depends on gut health too. Seventy percent of the immune system is intimately intertwined inhabiting the gut. What’s present in the gut determines the health of your immune system.

Aging well with good gut health

Research is now showing that how you age may depend on these microbes nestled within in your gastrointestinal tract.

A 2021 study published in Nature Metabolism, may have found a key component of healthy aging. The secret? Older adults, whose mix of gut microbes changed the most over time, lived longer and healthier than people with less change.

The study did not prove that having a diverse gut microbiome was responsible for people living longer. Rather, simply having an eclectic mix of micro biota was associated with people who could walk faster, had greater mobility, higher vitamin D levels, and reduced cholesterol levels. The ability to walk fast and have healthy blood lipid levels are factors already associated with a longer lifespan.

Living a healthy, long life doesn’t just happen. It takes some work and know-how getting from point A to point B. Living a healthy lifestyle is a good start. Setting achievable and consistent lifestyle goals is your guide to aging healthily.

Here are steps to take:

Feed your gut microbiome well 

Gut bacteria get hungry but not just any food will do. They require foods with diverse health-promoting nutrients such as fiber helping increase microbes survivability. Here’s a list of some of the best foods for gut health:

  • Dark green leafy vegetables like broccoli, spinach, kale, Swiss chard
  • Legumes like lentils, peas and beans
  • Whole grains such as farro, buckwheat, sorghum, and brown rice
  • Sauerkraut
  • Kefit
  • Miso
  • Tempeh
  • Onions
  • Garlic
  • Raspberries
  • Bananas
  • Pears
  • Greek yogurt

A less diverse gut microbiota suffers when fed the typical “western” diet of energy-dense, processed foods high in fat and sugar and low in fiber. This may lead to inflammatory diseases including diabetes, obesity, and cardiovascular disease. Refrain from highly processed, sugary, unhealthy fatty foods such as chips, donuts, or greasy burgers and fries. These foods create a nutrient-poor environment, making it difficult for gut microbes to do their jobs.

Exercise with a purpose

Physical activity always benefits gut health. Regular walking, lifting weights, bicycling, swimming, or stretching are activity ideas your gut will love. Simply moving more improves interaction between gut microbes. Exercise also enhances how your body processes food, reduces gut inflammation, and alters your appetite.

Get a dog

Owning a dog does wonders for your wellbeing including gut health. Why? Dogs have to be let outdoors to do their business. And when they come back in, they track in things from outside – dirt, grass, and insects – exposing you and your family to more microbes.

Exposure to outdoor microbes is beneficial. Sanitation measures and modern medicine are absolutely good, but it’s also possible to be “too clean.” Children who grow up in households with an indoor dog have a diverse-rich microbiome and less risk of allergies.

Refrain from smoking

Here’s an excellent reason to refrain from smoking: Cigarettes are loaded with chemicals and toxins harmful to the entire body, including your gut and its residents.

Smoking can kill off microbes, reducing microbe diversity. Less diversity means more stress that can alter the function of gut microbes. These changes also create an imbalance of harmful microbes compared to helpful microbes.

Emphasize prebiotics and probiotics

To achieve a healthy gut microbiome, you can either use supplemental forms of prebiotics and probiotics, or better yet, what’s naturally found in fermented foods.

Prebiotics are naturally occurring non-digestible food components that are linked to promoting the growth of helpful bacteria in your gut. They promote “good” bacteria and may improve gastrointestinal health. The best foods containing natural prebiotics include bananas, onions, garlic, leeks, asparagus, artichokes, beans, and whole-grain foods.

Probiotics are “good” bacteria – or live cultures – like those naturally found in your gut. Foods naturally containing probiotics include live cultured yogurt, kefir, kimchi, miso, pickles, tempeh, and sauerkraut. Foods containing live cultures help repopulate intestinal bacteria to balance gut flora, improving overall gastrointestinal health.

Always consult with your physician or a registered dietitian when considering using a prebiotic or probiotic supplement.

Cheryl Mussatto MS, RD, LD is a registered dietitian with a master’s degree in dietetics and nutrition from the University of Kansas, and a bachelor’s degree in dietetics and institutional management from Kansas State University. She is a clinical dietitian for local clinics, an adjunct professor at an area community college where she teaches basic nutrition, and a freelance health and nutrition writer. She is the author of The Nourished Brain: The Latest Science On Food’s Power For Protecting The Brain From Alzheimers and Dementia, The Prediabetes Action Plan and Cookbook and The Heart Disease Prevention Cookbook,. Visit her website at

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