Feb. 27, 2014 -- intro: Bloated? Can't remember the last time you pooped? Muffin top turning into a full-blown Bundt cake? Yeah, you can thank your gut for those not-so-fun feelings.
Your gut, aka your gastrointestinal tract, is home to a hundred trillion (that's like a million but with six more zeros) microorganisms, and more than 400 species of bacteria. Those lil guys can be your best friend or your worst enemy. Good bacteria will have your body running like clockwork, but too many of the bad ones and you'll be suffering the consequences.
While doing research for Eat It to Beat It!, I uncovered the foods to stock up on for optimal gut health.
quicklist: 1 category: Secrets for a Healthier Gut title: Meat is murder…on your gut url: text: A recent study performed by Harvard University scientists, and published in the journal Nature, found that meat-based diets increase the abundance and activity of Bilophila wadsworthia, a bacteria in your digestive tract linked to inflammation, increased bile production, colitis, and capable of triggering inflammatory bowel disease.
Lean protein, including meat, is a beneficial part of a healthy diet, but as with any food group, eat meat in moderation.
quicklist: 2 category: Secrets for a Healthier Gut title: The not so splendid sweetener url: text: A 2008 animal-based study in the Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health found that after 12 weeks of regular consumption of the artificial sweetener sucralose subjects showed an unexplained increase in body weight, even without an increase in calories ingested.
Weight gain wasn't the worst of it; the sucralose-swilling rats also had a notable drop in beneficial intestinal bacteria and "gastrointestinal tract DNA damage." Is that diet soda really worth it?
quicklist: 3 category: Secrets for a Healthier Gut title: Ferment to fight fat url: text: Fermented foods may just be the best health food you're not eating. As it turns out, overweight and obese people have different intestinal bacteria than those of normal weight. A study in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that obese people reduced their abdominal fat by 5 percent when they added fermented milk to their diet for 12 weeks.
You don't have to chug the yucky stuff, but eating other fermented foods like kimchi, pickles, and sauerkraut may balance microflora in the same beneficial way the fermented milk experiment did, sans the test to your gag reflex.
quicklist: 4 category: Secrets for a Healthier Gut title: Red wine wins again url: text: Red wine isn't exactly suffering from bad press—its health benefits, when imbibed in moderation, have been touted for years. But, as it turns out red wine is actually pretty darn good for your gastrointestinal bacteria.
A study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that the polyphenols found in red wine have beneficial prebiotics. Just one glass of red wine daily significantly increased ratios of good-to-bad gut bacteria.
quicklist: 5 category: Secrets for a Healthier Gut title: Yogurt is made of magic url: text: Chocked full of bacteria called probiotics, yogurt may not be magical, but it's certainly pretty miraculous.
A review of studies on yogurt and gut health by the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition concluded that besides being a great source of calcium and protein, yogurt could help ease lactose intolerance, gas, diarrhea, and a slew of other digestive problems. Just steer clear of overly sweetened varieties: an optimal protein-to-sugar ratio is 1:1.
Dave Zinczenko, ABC News nutrition and wellness editor, is a No. 1 New York Times bestselling author. His latest book, "Eat It to Beat It!" is full of food swaps, meal plans and the latest food controversies. Here's where to sign up for his free newsletter.