But what do we do to actually improve our gut health?
The good news is that the things we do for our physical and mental health are also good for our gut. This includes regular exercise, a healthy diet, and stress management.
I’m sharing the latest science to give you 5 simple strategies to put into practice every day.
- We need bacteria, fungi, and other organisms living in our digestive tract to help us with a healthy metabolism (and more).
- When we don’t have good gut health, the effects are far-reaching and can negatively impact our mood, energy, digestion, weight, and overall health.
- We can support our gut health by consuming a balanced diet containing sources of pre-and probiotics, getting regular physical activity, staying hydrated, and managing stress.
What Is The Gut Microbiome?
The gut microbiome is also called the gut flora or gut microbiota, and it is a collection of microorganisms (tiny creatures including bacteria, fungi, and viruses) that live in the digestive tract of both humans and other animals.
Normally, we get pretty grossed out when we think about bacteria, fungi, and viruses, and our household cleaning products promise to help us eliminate them.
But we want and need a vibrant mix of species and types of microorganisms living inside our bodies to achieve optimal health.
How Gut Health Affects Your Overall Health
“A healthy gut flora is largely responsible for overall health of the host.”Dr. Sai Manasa Jandhyala
Even infants have gut microbiota, and by the age of three, the gut microbiome in children will resemble what it will look like for them as adults.
A normal and healthy gut microbiome helps with absorbing nutrients from the foods we eat and keeping the mucus lining of the gut healthy to protect other organs from the powerful stomach acid used in digestion.
Your microbiome is also a first line of defense against pathogens that can make you sick, like germs and harmful bacteria and viruses, and it’s tightly tied into overall immune system functioning.
- Related Article: Want to Boost Your Immune System? Eat These 10 Foods Every Day
What Are Signs Or Symptoms That There Are Problems With Your Gut Health?
Signs and symptoms that there are problems with your gut health include:
- Frequent discomfort, gas, bloating, constipation, and diarrhea
- Insomnia or poor sleep
- Chronic fatigue
- Headaches & migraines
- Extreme food cravings, especially for sweets
- Unintentional weight gain or loss
- Skin conditions like acne, eczema, and psoriasis
5 Things To Improve Your Gut Health
Now that you know how important gut health is, I’m going to share five easy daily actions you can take to improve your gut health.
1. Consume Probiotics
Probiotics are live microorganisms including bacteria and yeast in certain foods that can also live inside our bodies, mainly in the gastrointestinal tract as part of the gut microbiome. These microorganisms can be ingested to improve digestive health.
Probiotics do not have to mean supplements. There are many whole food sources of probiotics, mainly coming from fermented foods like yogurt, kefir, kimchi, kombucha, pickles, sauerkraut, miso, and tempeh.
With so many whole food choices to choose from, it’s easy to eat a source of probiotics at each meal.
For example, have a bowl of high-protein yogurt at breakfast, or use kefir to make a protein shake. Add some pickles to your sandwich at lunch, consider a few forkfuls of sauerkraut with your dinner, or wash down your meal with a bottle of kombucha.
2. Consume Prebiotics
Now that you know about probiotics, prebiotics are special plant fibers that are a food source for the microorganisms in your gut microbiome. It’s important to keep the microorganisms alive and well-fed – the more you have, and the more variety, the more benefits they will provide.
Prebiotics help regulate bowel movements, improve your mood and immune system, and reduce inflammation, among other things.
“The number of benefits prebiotics may have is complex. So much is always continually being discovered,”Says digestive disease researcher Gail Cresdi, PhD, RD.
As is the case with probiotics, prebiotics does not mean supplements. Foods that are high in soluble fiber (the kind that absorbs water to form a gel-like substance) are a natural source of prebiotics.
Prebiotics are found in pectin, inulin, and resistant starches.
Pectin is a soluble starch found in many fruits (especially apples) and vegetables, and its gelling properties make it popular for setting jams and jellies. But that same gelling ability makes it a useful prebiotic.
Eat pectin in apples, apricots, peaches, raspberries, tomatoes, carrots, green beans, and tomatoes.
- Related: 5 Simple Ways To Eat More Vegetables (And Improve Your Health)
Inulin is another type of soluble fiber found in many fruits, vegetables, and grains including artichokes, asparagus, bananas, chicory root, garlic, leeks, oats, onions, soybeans, and wheat.
As the name suggests, resistant starches are resistant to digestion so they make it to the colon intact for the microorganisms living there to break down.
Boiled, cooled potatoes are an excellent source of resistant starch, as are green bananas, barley, oats, rice, beans, and legumes.
For a prebiotic day of eating, have a bowl of oatmeal with raspberries alongside yogurt at breakfast, include whole grain wheat bread for a sandwich and pickles at lunch, and enjoy some grilled asparagus and artichokes served with steak and sauerkraut for supper.
3. Stay Hydrated
You likely know that drinking enough water each day is important for your health in general. Now that gut health is such a hot topic, more studies are also showing the importance of hydration for gut health, as well.
Proper hydration helps to reduce inflammation and is necessary to maintain the mucus lining in the digestive tract. This makes for a “happy home” for your gut flora.
In general, I recommend dividing your body weight in pounds by two and drinking that many ounces of water each day.
For example, a person who weighs 150 lbs would drink 75 ounces of water daily.
Keep in mind that this is a general guideline, and should be adjusted for activity levels, climate, and rate of sweating.
The goal is to achieve urine that is pale in color with little to no odor.
4. Get Active
There is no getting around it – exercise is good for you, period. It’s no different when it comes to gut health. Exercise can enhance the number of beneficial microbial species and enrich the microflora diversity.
As I said above, the more helpful microorganisms you have, and the more variety, the more benefits they will provide.
Aim for 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity each day. It’s totally fine if this means three, ten-minute sessions rather than one continuous session.
For example, consider going for a ten-minute walk in the morning, perhaps by parking as far away as possible from your place of work, or going for a walk around the block. Then, go for another walk to get fresh air during the noon hour, and wind down after dinner with an evening stroll.
5. Manage Stress
Stress adversely affects the gut microbiota, so finding effective ways to manage stress will help with gut health and mental health.
Along with gut health, gratitude is another g-word getting a lot of attention when it comes to health. It turns out that higher levels of gratitude are linked to higher levels of satisfaction with life and lower levels of stress.
Try keeping a gratitude journal, whether with a traditional pen and paper, or an electronic record. Simply record three things that you’re grateful for when you wake up in the morning, and three things you are grateful for as you go to bed at night.
You can also try meditation, or simply spending time with friends and family to relax as ways of managing stress. Your gut microbes will thank you.
About The Author
Lauren Graham is a Precision Nutrition Level 1 certified nutrition coach. She focuses on helping busy professionals balance healthy eating and purposeful movement. Lauren has a background in competitive swimming and is currently competing as a CrossFit athlete. She has a passion for training, teaching, and writing.