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Research indicates that dysbiosis, or the imbalance of your gut microflora, can influence all sorts of health issues – metabolic diseases like obesity and diabetes, cardiovascular disease, immune and endocrine disorders, cancer, bone diseases, circulatory problems and even cognitive aging and Alzheimer’s disease.

The trillions of microbes in your gut therefore play an active role in your overall health, which means what you feed your resident insects is very important. Establishing healthy eating habits might even be more important for gut health as you age, suggests research from the National Institute of Aging.

“The older people get, the more drugs they take, which can have a detrimental effect on the gut,” Sydney Greene, MS, RDNmember of our council of medical experts.

Here are some dietitian-approved tips on how to maintain a healthy gut as you age, and for more gut health tips, here’s what science has to say about popular foods that can boost your gut health.

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The trick to bringing your gut back into balance for life is to establish microbiome-friendly eating habits, starting with fertilizing your gut with fiber.

“It’s important to eat high-fiber grains, fruits, and vegetables to optimize gut health,” says Greene.

Fiber is the fuel that feeds bacteria so they can multiply and diversify. A large and diverse population of microbes creates a thick barrier of mucus lining our intestines, which reduces inflammation throughout the body and protects against leakage of toxins through the intestinal wall, a syndrome called “leaky gut”.

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Reducing your intake of refined flour products and sugars from snacks and beverages goes hand in hand with eating more fiber-rich whole foods. Make a habit of skipping white bread and baked goods as much as possible while switching to more complex carbs like whole oats, quinoa, brown rice and sweet potatoes, says Laura Krauza, MS, RDN, of Dietitian.

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As you get into the habit of eating more fiber-rich foods, work out some naturally fermented foods. Germs thrive in canned foods like sauerkraut, naturally fermented pickles, kimchi, kefir, and yogurt.

“I recommend adding at least one probiotic-rich food to your diet per day,” says Greene.

They provide an influx of beneficial probiotics while lowering the pH of your gut, making it inhospitable to bad bacteria.

For a more detailed explanation, here’s what happens to you when you eat fermented foods.

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You may have heard of that provocative carb called resistant starch. It earns its reputation by resisting digestion in the small intestine and moving to the large intestine where its fibers ferment into a prebiotic that feeds the good bacteria in the gut.

“It’s really important for our immune system and also for helping us stay lean,” says gut health expert Kara Landau, RD, and founder of Uplifting food. “Fermentation byproducts help improve insulin response and reduce fat storage around the waist.”

Resistant starch is found in grains that have been cooked and then cooled such as lentils, legumes, legumes like white beans and green bananas. Landau also recommends using resistant starch flour in baking.

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We’re sure you know the probiotic benefits of yogurt. You may even know that yogurt is particularly good at increasing health-promoting Lactobacillus species. But did you know that cheese is another good dairy source of gut-friendly bacteria?

“Cheese is good for your gut; it has its own microbiome, the result of its starter culture,” says William W. Liphysician, author of Eat to beat disease: the new science of how your body can heal itself.

Parmigiano-Reggiano, the famous hard cheese from Parma, Italy, is rich in Lactobacillus casei and Lactobacillus rhamnosus, which studies have shown may be beneficial against gastroenteritis, diabetes, obesity and cancer, says Dr. Li.

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“Eating meat is hard on your microbiome,” says Dr. Li.

How? ‘Or’ What? Well, it’s quite simple. The more animal protein you eat, the less room there is in your diet for plant foods that provide the dietary fiber your microbiome needs. Less fiber leads to an unhealthy ecosystem of gut bacteria.

“More animal protein causes bacteria to behave in ways that generate more gut inflammation,” he says.

By eating less meat, you can reduce the harmful effects of inflammation. And because many meat products are highly processed, they contain chemical food additives and preservatives that destroy health-promoting bacteria.

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Another strategy for promoting a healthier gut microbiota doesn’t necessarily have to do with what you eat, but when and how often. A study in the journal Nutrients explored how meal frequency and fasting can impact the composition of bacteria in the gut.

The results point to the same health benefits studies show for breakfast, consuming the bulk of calories early in the day versus nighttime, and fasting, i.e. reduced inflammation, improved cell regeneration, and less gastrointestinal stress.

Additionally, the researchers found an important addition: increased microbial diversity in the gut, the hallmark of a healthy microbiome in the intestinal tract.

For more on how fasting can help your health, here’s how intermittent fasting can lead to “meaningful” weight loss.