I’m a Gastroenterologist, and Here’s Why ‘Nutritional Momentum’ Is so Important for Gut Health

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You're likely familiar with the concept of momentum in relation to movement and working out. Maybe you find that you lose momentum with your squat reps when your playlist shuffles to a song you hate. Or maybe you're on a long bike ride about to give out, but then you reach the top of a hill and feel your wheels turning faster as you coast downhill. That's momentum, baby.

At it turns out, momentum can be applied to health in other ways, too. South Carolina-based gastroenterologist and Fiber Fueled author Will Bulsiewicz, MD, has a concept he calls "nutritional momentum," related to how making healthy food choices affects your gut. "Your food choices leave an imprint in your microbiome, and those choices will either train your gut bacteria to take care of and protect you or empower evildoers to hurt you," he writes in his book. In other words: The food you eat takes care of your gut—and a happy, thriving gut powers your entire body's health.

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How to improve gut health through nutritional momentum

On the surface, nutritional momentum sounds like a simple concept: Make healthy food choices and they will only gain momentum, leading to healthy consequences. It is pretty simple, but Dr. Bulsiewicz has some specific advice about exactly how to use nutritional momentum to benefit gut health. You ready for it? His number one tip is to eat a wide range of plant-based foods. "The single greatest predictor of a healthy gut microbiome is the diversity of plants in your diet," he says.

Why? Well, Dr. Bulsiewicz says that a diet rich in a variety of different plants (vegetables, fruits, herbs, etc.) primes the microbiome to produce postbiotics, aka the combination of prebiotics (food for the good bacteria that live in your gut) and probiotics (good gut bacteria). "Basically, what's happening is that the food choices that you make can turn your microbiome into a factory more capable of producing healthy compounds [the postbiotics]," he says. These postbiotics are associated with a wide variety of benefits, from soothing symptoms of leaky gut to lowering inflammation.

"But on the flip side, the opposite is also true that a diet consisting of unhealthy foods will make your gut microbiome less capable of producing the things that will actually heal you." Dr. Bulsiewicz it's impossible to cheat the system, so to speak, by taking a probiotic supplement, hoping it will outweigh the effects of an unhealthy diet. There's no shortcuts when it comes to nutritional momentum.

Really what Dr. Bulsiewicz wants to drive home the most is that the goal should be to eat a diet full of different types of plants. If you have an inkling it's because of their fiber content, you're right. (There's a reason why he called his book Fiber Fueled.) But Dr. Bulsiewicz says that because different types of plants (from fruits and vegetables to legumes, beans, and whole grains) all have their own unique antioxidants and phytonutrients, it's important to eat a range of different plant-based foods and not just zero in on the fiber count alone.

Watch the video below for more tips on how to improve gut health through food:

Are there times when nutritional momentum doesn't work?

While the principle of nutritional momentum is a good rule to live (and eat) by in general, Dr. Bulsiewicz offers up one big caveat: It's important to get any underlying health issues under control first. "It's important for people to have a realistic expectation of what nutrition can do for the body. If you have a chronic illness, eating well will not automatically reverse the illness in its entirety," he says. "Some people believe that if you eat a 'perfect diet,' you won't experience any medical issues and that's just not true. There's still a place for 21st century health care."

Thus, he says if you have major digestive issues, it's important to work with a medical expert to get that treated first, which will typically involve an individual plan as every body is different. "You have to put out the fire before you can start regrowing the forest," Dr. Bulsiewicz says.

While nutritional momentum isn't a magic bullet for healing, the principle of taking care of your body and it will take care of you still rings true. After all, you are what you eat.

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