If you frequently suffer from poor sleep, weight fluctuations, food cravings, or total exhaustion, you might want to take a close look at your gut health.
The phrase “trust your gut” has a much more significant role in your health than many people believe. In fact, some scientists now refer to the gut as a “second brain,” thanks to how intricately linked it is to our well-being.
Prioritizing your gut health is key to improving your overall health. So, we’ve asked Alesia New, licensed dietitian and nutritionist, and Elaine Moen, health coach and Arootah’s director of wellness relations, to share some of their top tips for boosting your gut health naturally.
What Is the Gut Microbiome?
Your body contains more than 40 trillion different kinds of bacteria. Most of these bacteria are contained in your gut microbiome, the ecosystem that keeps many components of your health running smoothly.
As with any ecosystem, disruption or imbalance can cause significant changes. And because your gut microbiome manages your immune system, metabolism, and even parts of your central nervous system, even a small disruption can impact your health in several ways.
In other words, while it’s normal to feel bloated after a meal every now and then, if you consistently feel unwell after eating certain foods (or, eating in general), your body may be trying to signal to you that your gut is unhealthy.
Improving your gut health may give you more energy, improve your sleep quality, and improve your ability to focus. For those people who are intolerant to specific foods, a healthier gut may also help you clear up some of your symptoms.
The Brain-Gut Connection
There’s a direct connection between the brain and the gut, or the gut-brain axis,” explains New.
“If you feel butterflies in your stomach when you’re anticipating a new experience, constipation when dealing with the stress of travel, or a ‘gut-wrenching’ feeling when experiencing anxiety, nervousness, or depression,” New says, “all are due to the interaction between the gut and the brain.”
Since we all know the importance of brain health, knowing how to optimize your nutrition for better gut health may positively affect your overall health and well-being.
7 Good Habits for Gut Health
It can be relatively easy to build new habits to improve your gut health. But it may take a few weeks before you start to notice results.
In the meantime, don’t overwhelm yourself by making too many changes to your health habits at once. Implement healthy gut habits one at a time until you’ve built a solid foundation of gut microbiome support.
New and Moen suggest trying some of the following easy and effective tips to get started.
1. Get prebiotics and probiotics naturally
Focus on eating natural foods that support a positive bacteria-gut balance, says New. These foods can include:
- Prebiotics, which feed the “good bacteria” in your gut (asparagus, garlic, onions)
- Probiotics, which maintain optimal gut microbiome (fermented foods like kefir, kimchi, pickles, sauerkraut, yogurt)
You can read more here about creative ways to get more probiotics and prebiotics in your daily diet.
2. Stay hydrated
If you’re looking to improve your gut health naturally, be sure to stay hydrated. Drinking plenty of water is essential for regulating your digestion, as water helps your body break down food and efficiently move it through the intestines, says New. Strive for consuming half of your body weight in ounces, ideally.
To increase your water intake, try these tips:
- Always have water on hand
- Create a list of fruits, herbs, and veggies you can add to your water
- Purchase a water bottle with time markers so you remember to drink up throughout the day
3. Avoid antibiotics unless necessary
Sometimes, taking antibiotics is inescapable. However, Cleveland Clinic notes antibiotics not only fight the “bad” bacteria in your gut, they fight the “good bacteria” too.
For this reason, you may prefer to avoid antibiotics unless you absolutely need them. While you’re taking them, consider eating probiotic-rich foods to counteract the effects of the antibiotics on your gut.
4. Eat plenty of fiber
Fiber is a non-digestible carbohydrate. This means that, as it passes through your system, your body does not break it down but instead uses it to help you better digest other foods you’ve eaten.
Fiber comes from plant sources, so New recommends increasing your intake of high-fiber foods such as fruits, green leafy vegetables, flaxseeds, whole grains, beans, and lentils. Just do it slowly.
“Lots of vegetables build an efficient gut microbiome,” adds Moen.
5. Limit alcohol intake
Too much alcohol consumption can lead to gastritis, or gut inflammation. The worst cases of gastritis may lead to chronic discomfort, heartburn, bacterial infections, and ulcers. All these symptoms can point to a poorly regulated gut microbiome.
New also suggests avoiding processed foods and sugar.
6. Exercise often
Don’t underestimate the power of an aerobic workout. Exercise can help you improve your gut health by contributing to the growth of diverse bacteria within the gut.
“Sweat, exercise, and movement support our bowels and digestive tract,” Moen explains. “This helps to keep things moving.”
New recommends striving for 20 minutes of daily movement, three to five times per week. “Participate in exercises you enjoy and increase your heart rate and strength,” she says.
7. Turn to nature
Both experts recommend enjoying more time in nature.
Moen particularly likes using her time in nature as a source of inspiration for gut-friendly eating, noting “Farmers’ market carrots with a dash of dirt on them support your microbiome.”
New also suggests spending time in natural sunlight, through activities such as hiking, gardening, or walking.
The Bottom Line
Your gut microbiome is a delicate ecosystem that impacts every part of your health. But there are natural ways you can keep it (and you) healthy.
As with any long-lasting change you’re looking to implement, including improving your gut health, the key is building manageable habits. But some old habits die hard. If you find yourself struggling to create healthier habits, you may want to consider a habit-tracking app, like the Arootah Habit Accountability Tracker, to become more mindful of your behavior, monitor your progress, and stay accountable to achieving your goals.