Virtual Primary Care

Nourishing from Within: Gut Health

Understanding the Impact of the Modern American Diet on Digestive Health

In today’s fast-paced world, convenience often trumps nutritional value regarding food choices. The modern U.S. diet, characterized by its high intake of processed foods, sugars, and unhealthy fats, has taken a toll on digestive health, contributing to many health issues. From bloating and indigestion to more serious conditions like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), poor digestive health can significantly impact overall well-being. 

The National Institute of Health (NIH) recognizes that poor diet was once associated with undernutrition in the United States. Today, it is more often associated with excess, particularly excesses in calories, saturated fats, trans fats, added sugars, and sodium (DGAC, 2010). The poor diets and sedentary lifestyles of the American public have led to high rates of obesity, overweight, and diet-related chronic diseases, including cardiovascular disease (CVD), hypertension, dyslipidemia, type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis, and certain types of cancer.

The Modern American Diet: A Recipe for Digestive Distress

The typical American diet primarily consists of processed foods, refined sugars, and saturated fats, which can wreak havoc on the delicate balance of the gut microbiome. These dietary choices lack essential nutrients and promote inflammation in the digestive tract, leading to discomfort and dysfunction. Additionally, the overconsumption of sugary beverages and artificial sweeteners can disrupt the gut’s natural bacterial composition, further exacerbating digestive issues.

The Gut-Health Connection: Why it Matters

Maintaining a healthy gut is essential for overall health and well-being. The gut microbiome, composed of trillions of microorganisms, plays a crucial role in digestion, nutrient absorption, and immune function. When the balance of gut bacteria is disturbed due to poor dietary habits, it can have far-reaching consequences beyond the digestive system. Research has linked imbalances in the gut microbiome to various health conditions, including:

  • Obesity
  • Diabetes
  • Autoimmune diseases
  • and Mental health disorders

How Gut Health Impacts Our Healthcare System

Did you know approximately 25% of working-age Americans are diagnosed with a GI condition, and twice as many people suffer from GI issues versus diabetes in this country? The National Library of Medicine estimates that overall, direct healthcare costs for GI diseases are estimated to be healthcare expenditures totaling 119.6 billion dollars in 2018.  There were over 36.8 million visits for gastrointestinal systems and 43.4 million ambulatory visits with primary gastrointestinal diagnosis. 

These statistics don’t consider the millions more who suffer in silence or remain undiagnosed. These high healthcare costs have given importance to gut health, so there’s now a Gut Health Awareness Month. Yes, there’s a month for everything, and gut health is no different!  

Tips to Improve Gut Health

Fortunately, there are steps you can take to support and optimize your digestive health. The Centers for Disease Control CDC outlines healthy eating tips. Here are four tips to nourish your gut from within:

  1. Prioritize Fiber-Rich Foods: Fiber is essential for digestive health as it helps regulate bowel movements, supports the growth of beneficial gut bacteria, and promotes feelings of fullness. Incorporate fiber-rich foods such as fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains into your diet.
  2. Increase Calcium and Vitamin D: Both calcium and vitamin D work together to promote optimal bone health. While very few foods naturally contain vitamin D, several foods and beverages are fortified with this essential nutrient. Drinking fortified dairy products with your meals will help improve your calcium intake. 
  3. Embracing a whole foods diet: Focus on incorporating whole, nutrient-dense foods, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats. These foods provide essential vitamins, minerals, and fiber to support digestive function and promote a diverse gut microbiome.
  4. Limit Processed Foods and Sugars: Minimize your intake of processed foods, sugary snacks, and beverages high in added sugars. These foods can disrupt the balance of gut bacteria and contribute to inflammation in the digestive tract. Opt for natural sweeteners like honey or maple syrup and choose whole fruit over fruit juices or sugary desserts.
  5. Stay Hydrated: Adequate hydration is vital to maintaining a healthy digestive system. Water helps soften stool, prevent constipation, and support the transport of nutrients throughout the body. Aim to drink plenty of water throughout the day and limit excessive consumption of caffeinated or sugary beverages, which can dehydrate the body.
  6. Aim for Colors on Your Plate: Increasing the amount of fruits and vegetables like dark, leafy greens, oranges, tomatoes, and fresh herbs allows for a more balanced diet full of vitamins, fiber, and minerals. 

In conclusion, the modern American diet can harm digestive health, leading to various health issues. By making mindful dietary choices and prioritizing gut health, you can nourish your body from within and support overall well-being for years. 

Ask yourself if you are experiencing any of these issues. 

  •   Digestive disturbances like irritable bowel syndrome, constipation, diarrhea, heartburn, or bloating
  •   Unexplained fatigue or lethargy
  •   Skin irritations and allergic reactions
  •   Cravings for sugary foods

If you are experiencing any of the above issues, please consult one of our Lyric doctors for a proper diagnosis.

About Lyric

Lyric’s virtual primary care improves employees’ lives with personalized primary care, urgent care, mental health services, and caregiver support leading to better health outcomes while reducing employer costs.

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