Whether it’s the post-meal bloat or feeling backed-up, tummy troubles can *really* wreck your day. Your gut is a lot more than just a place for breaking down food – in fact, good health isn’t possible without a well-running digestive system. By looking after your gut, you’re also looking after your mood, brain, immune, heart, skin health and more. Here’s 9 ways to keep it in tip-top shape.
First, why is gut health important?
Your gut is linked to all kinds of different functions in your body. So when your gut is off, it’s not only your belly that takes the brunt of issues. Think of your gut microbiome as a “gut garden” that hosts trillions of microorganisms like bacteria, fungi and even viruses that influence digestion and other parts of your health. Some of these microorganisms are beneficial and good, while others are bad and can poorly impact your health. Ensuring you have a healthy ratio of the good and bad can influence your overall wellness.
1. Eat fermented foods
One way to encourage good gut health is to add fermented foods into your diet. The good bacteria that naturally live in your gut are also found in foods like: yogurt, kimchi, kombucha, sauerkraut and miso. Adding these foods regularly into your diet can boost the number of these beneficial bacteria and strengthen your gut microbiome.
2. Consider a probiotic
If fermented foods aren’t your favorite – try a daily probiotic instead. Probiotic supplements contain beneficial, living microorganisms like the ones in your gut and in fermented foods. Probiotics can help rebalance and reshape your microbiome. There’s different strains of probiotics that offer different benefits to your health – some support your gut intestinal barrier and skin health1, some mood and stress2, while others promote immune health.* So it’s best to identify what areas of support you need when starting a new probiotic supplement. (Here’s a full guide on probiotics from our dietitian.)
3. Focus on fiber
Fiber is an indigestible type of carbohydrate, meaning your body can’t fully break it down. It’s naturally found in fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, beans and grains. So while filling half your plate with greens might not be the best part of your meal, it does help protect the mucus layer in your digestive tract and adds bulk to help keep things moving along.3
Plus, fiber is often referred to as prebiotics – it ferments in your digestive tract and feeds the probiotics (good bacteria) to stimulate their growth to promote a healthy digestive tract and supports your body to absorb certain nutrients according to a study!4
4. Up the fruits and veggies
Fruits and veggies are not only naturally high in good-for-you-gut fiber, but they also contain substances called polyphenols, which give them their vibrant color and taste. A reason kale or berries are seen as superfoods – the brighter their color, the more polyphenols they offer. Polyphenols increase the presence of several strains of good bacteria to support the overall health of your gut5. So while iceberg lettuce might have a milder taste – next time try mixing half your salad with some spinach or kale for the gut-boosting benefits.
5. Moderate your (red) meat intake
Sorry to all the enthusiastic carnivores, this one’s directed at you. In addition to lacking fiber and those gut-loving polyphenols, red meat can be high in saturated fat, which is tough on your gut and your heart. Too much red meat can reduce good bacteria that aid in metabolism, while increasing bad bacteria that have harmful effects on health6. Not just that, but a diet too high in red meat may also be linked to higher rates of intestinal inflammation7. But that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy your favorite cut of steak – just eat it in moderation and balance it with other healthy options.
6. Limit alcohol
It’s not just your liver that takes a hit from those happy hour drinks. Alcohol is absorbed in your small intestine, and while a drink here and there isn’t bad for most, too many drinks can affect the integrity of the protective mucus layer in your gut8. This not only disrupts the balance of good and bad bacteria in your digestive tract but can also lead to inflammation and poor absorption of vital nutrients. It’s best to limit to one-drink a day for women and two for men.
7. Cut down on sugar
You’re probably already aware of some of the effects too much refined sugar can have on your body. What’s surprising is that too much sugar can also cause an imbalance of gut bacteria. Sugar feeds and promotes harmful microbes, increasing bad bacteria and reducing good bacteria. This imbalance of microbes may lead to inflammation and affect the lining of your intestine9 leading to a list of annoying symptoms. Think: poor mood, energy, skin and hormone health. Like everything else, eating a piece of cake or candy once in awhile won’t harm your gut – but it’s better to opt for natural sweet foods like fruit to satisfy those cravings.
8. Manage stress
Stress impacts all parts of your body, including your gut. When times are tough, your body releases stress hormones, like cortisol. If left unchecked, cortisol can disrupt your gut microbiome, which can lead to a slew of unwanted symptoms like poor mood, brain fog, compromised immune health and more. Although you may not be able to control all the curveballs life throws your way, it’s best to find ways to help cope and manage stress. Walking outside, journaling, reading a book or meditating are all good methods to help with calming and relaxation.
9. Be mindful of your antibiotic use
Antibiotics are a lifesaving advancement in modern medicine that completely changed how bacterial infections are treated, but they’re not free of caveats. You’re probably familiar with these drawbacks if you’ve ever had to make a frantic run to the restroom after being treated for an infection! This is because antibiotics work by killing harmful bacteria, but in the process, they also get rid of good bacteria.10 If you do have to do a round of antibiotics, it’s best to discuss with your healthcare provider if starting probiotic supplementation is a good option to help negate some of the negative effects.
What are other ways to support gut health? Read 8 tips to help reduce bloating and gas
Laura is a Nutritionist and an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant with a Bachelor of Science in Dietetics from Ball State University and a Master of Science in Health Sciences with a public health concentration from Indiana State University. She is a competitive distance runner who loves to support individuals in achieving their goals.
*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.
This information is not intended as a substitute for the advice provided by your physician or other healthcare professional, or any information contained on or in any product label or packaging. Do not use the information from this article for diagnosing or treating a health problem or disease, or prescribing medication or other treatment. Always speak with your physician or other healthcare professional before taking any medication or nutritional, herbal, or homeopathic supplement, or using any treatment for a health problem. If you have or suspect that you have a medical problem, contact your health care provider promptly. Do not disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking professional advice because of something you have read in this article.