Keep your gut happy with these ten tips + foods to incorporate into your diet
For years, I suffered from severe gut issues. It all started when I was about 16 years old and things continued to get worse, until I ended up having a colonoscopy at age 18. At the time, there wasn’t much research out there about the importance of a healthy gut microbiome. My doctors also didn’t talk to me about nutrition or potential food sensitivities. Celiac wasn’t on most people’s radars. They just handed me a prescription and said, “We’re not really sure what’s going on, but this should help.”
That wasn’t a good enough answer for me so I started learning all I could about nutrition, general health and the gut. Fast forward to now, life in my late-30s, and I NEVER EVER take a bowel movement for granted. Perhaps TMI, but in my teens and early 20s, I wouldn’t go for weeks at a time. And I had no idea that wasn’t normal. Then there were phases of life where all I did was go go go. Ugh.
While my gut certainly isn’t perfect now, I have things under control 90% of the time. And the other 10%, I decide that some gut distress is worth it to have really good cheese (dairy is a major trigger for me), or something upsets me and I just can’t pinpoint it. But I no longer live in fear of dining out or getting sick when hanging out with friends or going on vacation.
With that preface, today we’re covering the topic of our tummies. Specifically, how to feel better from the inside out.
As you guys know, our society is currently experiencing a ton of tummy issues. Gluten free, diary free, sugar free, the list goes on of diets that are on the rise in an effort to soothe bloated, gassy, constipated, and in general, just regularly uncomfortable stomachs.
So today, I want to talk about gut health and how you can improve it through healthy diet and lifestyle changes. Plus, I’m sharing some some of the added benefits of improving your gut health.
First, let’s define the gut, and why there is a need to keep it healthy. The “gut” is just a short term for the gastrointestinal (GI) or digestive tract, the system which allows the human body to take in food, digest it, absorb nutrients and excrete waste.
To work optimally, the GI tract must manage a certain balance between bad and beneficial bacteria, better known as gut flora, or gut microbiome.
As early as birth, having a friendly gut microbiome is extremely important. Research shows that the establishment of good, healthy gut bacteria early in life shapes a robust immune system, one that ensures potential protection against diseases, viruses, and infection. It’s part of the why I try so hard to feed my son healthy, unprocessed food as much as possible.
For grown-ups, your gut health is directly related not only to your immune function, but also your whole body and brain. If you’ve ever experience brain fog, your gut health could be to blame. Experiencing mood swings? Your gut might also be to blame. More and more research shows an overwhelming connection between our guts and our mind. Yes, our guts impact our entire well being, especially our immunity, physical health, and mental health in the long term.
We all want to enhance our overall health and wellness to live a full life. It’s part of why I started this blog in the first place and continue to share with y’all! So what are we to do to improve this area? Well, studies suggest that the food types we eat play an important role in the makeup of the gut flora. And that’s why I’m so excited to share these safe and effective ways you can alter your diet and lifestyle to maintain a healthy gut, and hey, maybe even live longer.
Eating slowly allows for better digestion and absorption of water and nutrients. It may sound simple, but when you chew your food well before swallowing, you are supporting your stomach to not overwork. Consequently, you are maintaining good, efficient, gut conditions and avoiding digestive disorders. It takes some focus to make this happen, so a simple way to start paying attention is to count how many times you chew until you swallow! Then, try to make it a little more. Don’t do this forever (that would ruin mealtime) but just at first for a few days to become more mindful.
When it comes to your gut, consistency is also key. Make it a habit to eat your meals around the same time every day. There should also be a 4-5 hour window between full meals. This enables the gut to fully digest your food and gives it time to rest for the next meal. It’s hard work turning food into fuel!
Probiotics are a supplement option to improve your gut health. Probiotics work to restore the optimal good to bad bacteria ratio in your GI tract. Plus, their health benefits have been known to go far beyond digestive health, so they are worth every penny — if you get the right ones. Start taking them and you’ll definitely notice you’ll get more “regular” almost immediately. I take Seed probiotics.
Organic foods are produced without the use of chemicals and antibiotics, which are known to disrupt the gut. Moreover, new research has found that raw organic fruits and vegetables contain significantly more diverse bacteria. Although it may cost more, organic foods promote a healthy digestive tract. I buy most of my organic produce at Trader Joe’s if I can’t hit the farmers’ market.
Digestive problems such as gas and bloating can develop when eating foods that are high in refined sugar and saturated fat. Artificial sweeteners can also lead to increased amounts of bad bacteria as much as a high-fat diet does.
Keep in mind, this doesn’t mean that all fats are bad. Healthy fats like olive oil and avocado are actually good for your digestive health and are known to be anti inflammatory. Healthy fats also help protect the lining of your gut. So just choose your fats wisely! I avoid vegetable oil and canola oil.
It is essential to include multiple serving of fruits and vegetables in your meal plan because they’re high in fiber and that feeds healthy bacteria. Just make sure some of your servings are non-starchy — add broccoli, greens, cauliflowers, or brussels sprouts. Green and cruciferous veggies are a must on my weekly grocery list! And remember that while fruit is healthy, it does contain fructose and too much is not optimal for your gut health, especially if you’re working to address severe gut issues. So make sure you eat fruits and vegetables, not just fruit!
It is common medical advice to drink a lot of fluids, especially water, to stay hydrated. It’s also good gut advice because increased water intake aids in breaking down food and moving it smoothly through the intestines. Staying hydrated flushes toxins and waste more easily out of the digestive system and prevents constipation. Likewise, it helps balances the number of good bacteria in the gut. (And it’s good for your skin!)
Consumption of high amounts of protein from meat, eggs and dairy are associated with gut inflammation. Also, it is linked to an increased risk of developing inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). This doesn’t mean you need to avoid all animal products. (Although, that could be a topic for another day on why you might want to!) Remember, moderation is key — of anything!
Most processed foods are high in added sugar, fat, and salt. Plus, they’ve lost a lot of their nutrients in the processing. Many processed foods also contain trans fats, which are known to increase the risk of developing a bowel disease called ulcerative colitis.
Alcohol and caffeinated drinks such as coffee encourage your stomach to produce more acid that may cause indigestion. In turn, it may also damage the lining of the stomach and intestines, and trigger digestive issues. My stomach issues improved dramatically when I cut my coffee intake from 8 cups a day down to one! I also reduce my alcohol intake drastically when I’m training for a marathon.
Sleep, exercise and stress are closely interconnected with each other. For instance, to manage stress appropriately, you may need to add longer hours of sleep and more exercise to your lifestyle. But again, remember moderation. Too much exercise can increase stress levels, particularly cortisol.
Sleep deprivation significantly decreases the levels of good bacteria in the gut flora. So prioritize 7-9 hours of sleep as much as possible, and invest in your body and get a good mattress. (This is the one we have and love.)
Exercise improves blood circulation, meaning better oxygen transportation to organs including the digestive tract. Stress, however, does the complete opposite. And if you’re prone to stress-eating, this can also impact your gut health as it often involves excessive consumption of sweets, processed food and/or alcohol and that only makes things worse.
In a nutshell, the more relaxed the state of your body is, the more you are doing your gut a favor.
Foods with high fiber content act as sweepers in the intestines. They collect the bad fats and sugar and pass them out as waste. A proper fiber diet also makes a thriving good bacteria population in the gut microbiome.
Plant products contain polyphenols, micronutrients which stimulate the growth of beneficial bacteria in the gut and hinder that of the pathogen type. They are rich in antioxidants and help in treating digestive disorders. When incorporating plant-based food in your diet in the form of a salad, make sure to complement it with a similarly gut-healthy salad dressing that includes healthy oils and acids (like apple cider vinegar or lemon juice!). Avoid loading it up with dairy-laden dressings.
Try my favorite kale salad recipe and my homemade salad dressing to get started!
Probiotics are beneficial live microorganisms and are safe to consume. They restore the gut flora and aid in good digestion. They may also help in preventing and treating digestive problems, particularly diarrhea. Quality does matter so be sure to research the brand you decide to take. Like I mentioned above, I’ve been really impressed and happy with Seed and their membership program is super convenient. (And very sustainable!!)
Prebiotics, on the other hand, flourish good gut bacteria and keeps the probiotics alive and active.
Fermented foods, especially vegetables, help you to have a strong gut microbiome. As a result, it enhances the immune system as well as regulate the appetite to maintain a healthy weight. Also, fermented vegetables are a great source of probiotics and we just learned why those are good!
Collagen is one of the factors vital for the digestive system to function properly. The collagen in our system decreases as we age. Research is mixed but some shows you can increase its natural production through the food we eat. Research is mixed on collagen supplements too so take it if you like it, but it’s always better to opt for whole foods!
A healthy gut has a huge impact not only in the body’s immune system but the overall health of the brain and body. Practice these healthy gut diet tips and experience greater overall health for the long term.
I know it can feel overwhelming reading through this list, so just focus on one thing at a time. That’s what helps create habits that stick. For example, perhaps you try to increase your number of veggie servings every day. Count how many you take in now (and be honest with yourself!) and work to increase it by 2-3. Then, you could focus on decreasing processed food and/or sugar. You don’t have to be perfect, but small changes will make a dig difference over time. And I promise you, as you start to make changes and feel better (particularly if you’ve also struggled with gut issues), you’ll soon realize that it’s worth it to make changes. I used to live off Junior Bacon Cheeseburgers and Twix bars in my teens and early 20s and I do NOT miss them one bit. 🙂