If it feels like you’ve been hearing a lot about how to improve your gut health lately, it’s because you have! Researchers have found important connections between your gut health and the way the rest of your body feels. And while we’ve collected 10 ways to improve your gut health, don’t feel pressured to pursue all of them ASAP. Try to incorporate a couple into your daily routine and increase as you’re able.
Why it’s important to improve your gut health
Your “gut” is really a whole digestive system (aka the gastrointestinal system or GI). Remember when we learned about this in grade school? You eat food. Your body absorbs all the nutrients and sends the rest down the drain.
But what we didn’t understand back then was how important the gut is to the REST of our body’s health. “The gut plays a huge role in the health and well-being of our bodies,” Alicia Romano, a specialized clinical dietitian at Tufts Medical Center in Boston and a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics told Forbes. Yes, your GI system digests food but, “the gut is in tight communication with the brain, playing a constant game of telephone and influencing a number of factors, including immune activity, GI muscle contractions and fluid secretion. And the gut is a key player in the body’s immune system—over 70% of your immune cells reside in the gut.”
Ways to improve your gut health
- Eat as many different foods as possible. The more diversity you bring to your gut, the better. In the US our diet is traditionally full of sugar and fat, but breaking away from that rut is one of the best ways to increase your gut health. Aim for variety every day.
- Focus on fiber. Yes, fiber and here’s why: fiber is the magic nutrient that cuts your risk of disease by helping your gut create stronger and more diverse good bacteria. Oats, sweet potatoes, nuts, spinach, beets, carrots and beans are full of naturally gut-helping fiber. Aim for three servings, which can be measured by the size of your fist.
- Pack in the probiotic foods. You’ve probably heard that yogurt can help your digestive system. Yogurt is linked with less inflammation while also easing GI issues like diarrhea, inflammatory bowel disease and constipation. But don’t forget fermented foods. Kimchi, kefir, tempeh, sauerkraut and kombucha are also great at gut-boosting abilities because they’ve got so much lactobacilli bacteria. Those convert sugar to acids and alcohols, keeping your gut working its best.
- Get spicy. Not only do spices like turmeric, garlic and ginger add flavor to home cooked meals, but they also help fend off harmful bacteria without bothering the good kind.
- Shop for a supplement. Keeping in mind that supplements aren’t a substitute for eating well, and not all brands are created equal, some researchers have found that probiotics boost the microbiota, which can help restore gut health. If you’re prescribed antibiotics, your doctor will almost certainly suggest taking probiotics to avoid antibiotic-associated diarrhea. As with all supplements, talk to your doctor first.
- Take care of your teeth. Surprise! Not only does daily brushing and flossing keep your teeth nice, your gut is affected too. Researchers have found that bacteria from your mouth can get into your stomach and cause problems, so make that appointment for your next teeth cleaning today.
- Cut back on sugar. Sugar is tough on your teeth but did you know that it can also create havoc in your intestines too? A study of mice found that dietary sugar alters the gut microbiome, setting off a chain of events that leads to metabolic disease, pre-diabetes, and weight gain, say researchers at Columbia University.
- Sleep more. If there’s one health suggestion we’ve heard of more than gut health, it’s gotta be sleep. That’s because not getting enough sleep creates a ton of avoidable health problems and in this case, those problems start in your gut. Not only can sleep deprivation make negative changes to your gut, but tired people reach for chips and cookies over carrots and kale. Your impulse control suffers when you’re exhausted and your body craves quick calories. According to the National Sleep Organization, adults should get seven to nine hours every night, so make it a priority.
- Look for polyphenols (including dark chocolate!) Foods packed with polyphenols, including dark chocolate, can reduce inflammation, blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Improve your gut health by eating more foods with lots of polyphenols like almonds, green tea, blueberries, broccoli, cocoa and red grapes (yep, red wine counts!)
- Commit to regular aerobic exercise. It’s not news that cardio is good for your heart but did you know it can improve your gut health? Studies show that regular cardiovascular exercise boosts your microbiome’s health (and even improves digestion and regular bowel movements.) How much exercise is enough? Get sweating at least 3 times a week.
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