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It would be hard to miss the buzz about gut health. But what is gut health, anyway?
Gut health can mean supporting the physical health of your digestive tract, the process of digestion, or the health & diversity of “good gut bugs” (living organisms in your gut—such as bacteria & fungi—which appear to support its health).
There is good reason this topic has captured everyone’s attention:
the health of your gut has a very real, very significant impact on your overall health.
About 70% of your entire immune system is in your gut! Good gut bugs stimulate the immune system to have a protective response, and help balance or block “bad” bacteria that would otherwise harm the immune system.
Good gut bugs protect the lining of the digestive tract. A damaged lining can become a “leaky gut” which allows things to enter the bloodstream that should not be there (like food particles). Since these aren’t normally in the bloodstream, the body may view these as foreign invaders, which activates an inflammatory response as the body tries to protect itself. Chronic inflammation may overstress the body and cause or worsen many health conditions.
Bacteria make hormones and brain chemicals that affect our mood, such as serotonin. In fact, their role in mood and feelings is so great that the gut is often referred to as the “second brain.” It’s no wonder we say we have gut feelings!
Fermented foods are those in which bacteria or yeast consume sugars, changing them into an acid or alcohol. Examples of fermented foods include yogurt, kefir, and kombucha. Some of the bacteria & yeast used to ferment a food are considered probiotics. Probiotics are specific organisms (usually bacteria & yeast) shown to support good gut bugs when consumed alive and in adequate amounts. Products that often have probiotics include yogurt, kefir, and kombucha (be sure to look for products which state they contain probiotics).
If you’re on the path to good gut health, you might be taking your veggie intake to the next level. If so, drinking plenty of fluids while eating all that extra fiber will help with digestion. Also, staying hydrated supports all bodily processes, including digestion.
While there is no single diet to improve gut health, a plant-based pattern of eating can do a world of good for your gut. The fiber in plant foods (such as fruits & veggies, whole grains, and nuts) promotes healthy digestion.
Additionally, specific fibers and plant compounds found in certain fruits (like apples or bananas), veggies (like leeks, onions, garlic, or asparagus), and legumes (like kidney beans) are prebiotics, or “food” for good gut bugs.
Enjoying these foods in moderation is no biggie. But, when they make up the majority of the food you consume they end up taking the place of foods that could have a beneficial effect, and they may even harm the gut.
Sleep deprivation, excessive stress, and lack of physical activity all appear to have negative effects on gut health. The new year is a great time to consider improving in any of these areas.
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