You know your gut health needs fixing, but where to start? If you’ve been asking yourself, “How do I improve my gut health?" or “How do I change my gut bacteria?” or "How do I restore gut health?", then keep reading because we’ve got some answers for you on how to improve your gut health.
Why a healthy gut is important
The Western diet is full of processed foods and refined sugars. The state of human health and our dietary choices have created the nutritional "perfect storm" for an unhealthy gut.
Inflammatory bowel disease, metabolic diseases, digestive system dysfunctions, and numerous other health conditions are being exacerbated by a poor diet.
But there's hope. Studies show that eating a balanced diet consisting of plant based foods supports our gut microbiota with healthy bacteria and improves gut health.
We know making diet and lifestyle changes can be overwhelming, so let’s start with the basics.
Here are 9 Basic Daily Habits to improve your gut health:
Manage Stress (controlling your stress levels)
The health of your gut is strongly connected with your mental health. Emotional reactions can trigger physical symptoms, as you know all too well if you’ve ever felt butterflies in your stomach, or thrown up before a big performance. That connection goes both ways, which you may have experienced the last time you caught a stomach bug and started to wonder if life was even worth living.
Many studies have shown that stressful life experiences are related to the increased risk of a set of gut-disrupting conditions including IBS, IBD, Crohn's disease and GERD.
Modern life means we’re all under constant stress, but taking steps to manage and reduce it will benefit your gut microbiome and your overall health and mental health in positive ways.
Taking up yoga, meditation, or reflecting on what you are grateful for each day will lead to a better mood, positively impact stress level, and your gut health.
A simple breathing technique called ‘box breathing’ (in for 4 counts, hold for 4 counts, exhale for 4 counts, hold for 4 counts) is a powerfully effective way to immediately change your state and bring stress levels down in the moment. Tapping is another method that is gaining in awareness and popularity, and it's worth checking out.
The point is: explore and discover stress hacks, add them to your tool kit and create habits around using them.
Get Enough Sleep
The constant feedback between the gut and brain in the "gut brain connection" can affect your sleep as well. Your microbiome produces many neurotransmitters including GABA, dopamine, and serotonin, which help regulate sleep and mood.
If your microbiome isn’t operating effectively, your sleep cycles may be off too. A study conducted on rats that were put in a condition to simulate obstructive sleep apnea had developed different gut bacteria by the end of the study!
The take-away from this: get your sleep. We know it can be difficult to find the time, but if good health and a healthy gut is a priority for you then getting enough sleep should be too.
Drink Your Water
Drinking enough water has a positive effect on the balance of good vs. bad bacteria in the gut of a healthy microbiome. It helps stimulate digestion and the clearing of waste. Many experts recommend drinking half your body weight in ounces per day. That means that a 150lb person would aim for 75oz of water daily.
Do you find it hard to remember or make a habit of drinking enough water?
Any good habit relies on a system and tools so that you can set up automatic behaviors. Something as simple as having a good water bottle might mean the difference between hydration and dehydration. Access to a water supply is also important, so is access to a bathroom. Thinking about what it will take A-Z to support the habit and putting those things in place, rather than ‘trying to remember to drink more water’ is the key.
Fiber Fiber Fiber (supporting your gut bacteria with high fiber foods)
Did you know the average American eats less than half of the recommended daily amount of fiber needed to support health?
That’s because so much processed food is stripped of its fiber.
Nutrient-dense whole foods and lots of plants are the way to go for a gut health eating lifestyle. Prebiotics are specific kinds of fiber, and are especially important to work into your diet. They are what your resident gut microbiome literally eats and subsists on.
Your microbiome needs to be well nourished in order to thrive.
While you’re clearing out the nasty organisms, you also want to stop feeding them. Harmful organisms such as Candida actually feed on sugar.
If you can’t quit sugar cold turkey just yet, begin by replacing it with more natural sweeteners such as raw honey or fruit.
Modern farming results in bigger quantities and greater affordability of food, but the hybridized version of wheat grown today actually has different proteins than the wheat our great grandparents ate. Some people can’t tolerate these proteins, and their immune system goes into attack mode leading to inflammation and weakened gut lining.
Try subbing pasta for potatoes, rice, or the ever-popular "zoodles" (zucchini noodles) for 30 days and see how you feel.
In our last post we talked about the importance of diversity in your gut bacteria. Studies have shown that western diets high in processed dairy actually reduce the variety of organisms in your gut and specifically reduce numbers of two different beneficial bacteria.
There are many dairy alternatives on the market these days. While there may not be the perfect substitute for your favorite cheese just yet, the options keep getting better.
Eat Healthy Fats
Your brain is intricately connected to your gut, and it needs healthy fats to thrive. This includes coconut oil, olive oil, and avocado oil, to name a few. These types of fats break down in ways that protect our gut and stimulate the production of immune cells.
More Fermented Foods (eating beneficial bacteria)
You’re eating a lot of fiber and cleaning out your digestive tract daily but you need to introduce good bacteria too. You can do this by taking probiotic supplements but a more natural way is to include fermented foods (i.e. pickles, kraut, and kimchi). Different people have different tolerance levels depending on the state of their gut health so if you are brand new to fermented foods, a forkful once a day is a great place to start.
There are three principles to know when it comes to eating fermented foods.
First, the ideal amount to be consumed is three serving sizes a day, as snacks or with meals. This is a very reasonable amount, as serving sizes aren’t that big (a quarter cup of sauerkraut, a half a pickle, etc.)
Second, is to consume a variety of different plant based ferments. Each vegetable has a different microbial composition, and your microbiome thrives on exposure to this microbial diversity.
Third, eat the ‘gut health trifecta’ of fat, fiber and ferments at each meal. Eating fat with ferments enables easier absorption of the myriad micro nutrients and high B vitamin levels within ferments. Fiber is always important to consume, because it feeds your resident microbiome, nourishing it so that it can be as strong as you need it to be.
To learn more about how to creatively work more fermented food into your daily routine, read Why You Should Eat For Your Microbiome (And How To Do It Easily).
How do I eat fermented foods for my gut health?
Our quick guide has the answers. Get 20+ meal ideas, tips, hacks and snacks for your best gut ever.