Gut health is a bit of a buzzword right now, and that’s because the overall health of our gut affects the rest of our body. Today I’m going to share some tips for keeping your gut in tip-top shape, but before I do that…
Let’s define what the gut actually is, shall we?
Contrary to popular belief, the gut is not the stomach. The gut consists of the small and large intestines. The small intestine is where the majority of nutrients from food we’ve consumed get absorbed into the bloodstream, and the large intestine is where all of your microbes live, also known as your gut microbiome (the ecosystem of microbes living in your gut).
I know you’re probably thinking, “What the heck is a microbe?”
Basically, they are tiny organisms (bacteria, viruses, parasites, etc.) that live in your gut, and they do a myriad of different things to help the body.
Here’s a short list of their job description:
In short, when we refer to gut health, we’re referring to the health of those two organs. Think of your stomach, liver, pancreas and gallbladder as accessory organs who play a supporting role in helping the gut with digestion.
Okay, now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, here are some tips for keeping your gut happy and healthy.
Tip No. 1 - Eat a variety of whole, nutrient-rich, plant-based foods.
Remember microbes? Well, there are over a thousand different species that live in your gut and they all thrive on different foods, so variety really is the spice of life here! You want to avoid processed foods (anything that comes in a package or a box) as much as possible, and eat more whole, plant-based foods (vegetables, fruit, whole grains, pulses, legumes, nuts and seeds). Current research shows that our bodies need closer to 30 different types of plant based foods a week.
I know that sounds like a pretty tall order, but here are a few ways to implement more of them into your diet:
*Pro tip: if you have a vegetable that you aren’t sure what to do with, when in doubt, drizzle it with olive oil and sea salt, and pop it in the oven.
Tip No. 2 - Fiber, fiber and more FIBER!
Fiber is so much more than something that keeps you, well…regular. It is the unsung hero of gut health, and in my opinion, is severely underrated!
Your microbiome loves fiber, and needs a variety of it to do its job well. Luckily, there is a lot of fiber found in plant-based foods, so tip number one goes hand in hand with tip number two.
Tip No. 3 - Eat sugar in moderation.
Just like all things, when it comes to sugar, it’s good to practice moderation. The body does need sugar to function because it’s the brain’s choice of fuel, however, if you eat more sugar than your small intestine can process (about 7 teaspoons to be exact) it then gets passed down to the large intestine, and starts messing with the beneficial bacteria down there. It can even switch up the environment of your gut microbiome so it ends up supporting the less helpful bacteria instead.
So, what kind of sugar should you be eating?
Well, the sugar found in fruits and vegetables is going to be your best bet because they also contain fiber which, as I stated earlier, slows down the rate that sugar is absorbed into the bloodstream while providing fuel for all your little gut microbes, so it’s a win-win!
Tip No. 4 - Stay hydrated.
Dehydration is one of the most common causes of constipation. If you aren’t drinking enough water your body is going to absorb it from your large intestine in an attempt to hydrate itself, making your stools hard and incredibly difficult to pass. Now, not only is this uncomfortable, but if your stools are stuck in your large intestine, this creates a hostile environment for your beneficial gut microbes, ultimately causing an imbalance in your gut microbiome (which as we know affects quite a bit of things in the body).
To prevent this, we need to be mindful of our fluid intake. The body needs around 1.5 liters of water a day (maybe more depending on your fiber intake, body weight, etc.) so, drink up!
*Pro tip: swap fizzy drinks containing preservatives for kombucha, home-made herbal iced tea, or carbonated water with herbs.
Tip No. 5 - Consume more prebiotics + probiotics.
I know their names are fairly similar, but prebiotics and probiotics are not the same thing. They both play very different roles, and your gut needs a good mix of both in order to stay healthy.
Let’s get to know our new friends, yeah?
A probiotic is a living microorganism that, when consumed enough through food or drink, transfers a health benefit to the host (aka, you!).
Here are some foods containing probiotics…
A prebiotic is a specific type of fiber that feeds all the good bacteria living in your gut.
Here are some foods containing prebiotics…
Tip No. 6 - Cut back on alcohol consumption.
Drinking excessively on a regular basis can cause inflammation in the gut, which can result in the lining becoming more permeable or “leaky.” This is problematic because whole food particles, as well as other particles in the gut, like toxins, are able to pass through the gut lining and into the bloodstream, which can trigger numerous different immune responses in the body. In cases like this, one may find that their body can no longer tolerate certain foods that they used to eat all the time without experiencing symptoms.
The bottom line is, while alcohol can be nice to have occasionally, our bodies aren’t meant to process it consistently. Just like with sugar, enjoy it in moderation.
Tip No. 7 - Exercise regularly!
Studies have shown that exercising can increase the population of good bacteria in your gastrointestinal tract by up to 40%! Not only that, it keeps you pretty regular too.
However, it’s just as important to not push yourself too hard, and to make sure that you’re also getting plenty of rest to avoid causing your body too much stress, because prolonged periods of stress can have a negative effect on the gut.
The moral of the story? Think like Goldilocks. Get your body moving at an intensity that is just right, while also getting plenty of rest in between.
Tip No. 8 - Find ways to help your body relax when experiencing stress.
Did you know that your brain and your gut communicate back and forth like old pals? This is made possible through the gut brain axis, which is a combination of the vagus nerve (a channel of communication that connects the gut and the brain physically) and hormones called neurotransmitters which allow them to communicate chemically.
If this sounds crazy to you, think of it this way…
Have you ever felt butterflies in your stomach when you were nervous or anxious about something? That’s because of the gut brain axis! So, if your brain is experiencing stress, it’s definitely talking to your gut about it, and vice versa. Which begs the question…
How does stress affect the gut?
Well, in response to stress, your body produces the hormone cortisol which…
All that to say, helping your body move from fight, flight or freeze to rest and digest mode is crucial during stressful situations. Do whatever helps you relax, whether that be yoga, breath work or a nice bubble bath.
…and there you have it!
If you’ve made it this far, I applaud you. I hope that this helped you generate a few practical ideas for how you can start improving your gut health today. If you’d like me to take a closer look at your gut, and what it needs specifically, I’m always an appointment away!