Gut health affects every single part of your body. Over the past few years, researchers have found how important the gut is to your overall health—what was originally thought of as a “large tube” leading from your mouth to your stomach has become so much more than that.
But wait, what is the gut exactly? Essentially, it comprises the mouth, esophagus, stomach, small intestine, pancreas, liver, gallbladder, colon and rectum. But when discussing gut health, we're really talking about the bacteria in the microbiome, and the vast majority of the “microbiome magic” happens in your large intestine.
Within the microbiome are the microbiota (good and bad bacteria, viruses, and other organisms) and they play a very important role in our health. There are over 100 trillion microbes in the average adult’s gut, most of them in the colon. (Here’s some perspective that will blow your mind: There are easily 20 times more microbes in your gut than there are stars in the Milky Way galaxy.) Gut microbiota transform undigested food, drugs, and supplements intosmaller components our bodies can use. These tiny microorganisms can affect your body’s immune system, appetite, and metabolism, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK). So, it’s understandable why you would want your gut to be in tip-top shape.
Follow these five simple steps to improve your gut health and balance your microbiome.
The key to having a happy gut microbiota is eating a variety of different foods—from whole-grains to fish and legumes—the more you diversify your food choices, the more the bacteria in your gut can change and recover from damage or injury. In fact, poor gut health can lead to disease—scientists have even found a link to gastrointestinal issues, obesity, and low-grade inflammation. Additionally, eating patterns are usually formed by the time you’re an adult—by taking the leap and carving out some time to try new foods or cook a special meal, you’ll help create an environment for your microbiota to thrive. Eating a variety of food can be a fun way to break up the routine, give your body the chance to acquire new tastes, and get out of your comfort zone by trying unique foods.
We know that including more fruits, vegetables, nuts, and legumes into your day is recommended for great health, but it can also help your gut. Eating fiber-rich foods like nuts and plants have been shown to have higher levels of short-chain fatty acid (SCFAs), and these are produced by the friendly bacteria in your gut. Research conducted at Amsterdam University Medical Center showed gut bacteria in people with obesity had low levels of SCFAs. This isn’t to say that you have to go cold turkey on meat—just make sure to load up on vegetables as well.
Fermented food has been aged or cultured. This process helps the body digest and absorb your food, which makes it super beneficial for your health and gut. Many fermented foods have natural probiotics and anti-inflammatory properties. Probiotics can help reduce stress and keep your body from making bad bacteria and killing all the good stuff. Here are some fermented foods to try to switch it up:
Stress is a part of being human. We’ve all had that deadline to meet, a big presentation in front of a bunch of people, or the exam we’re trying so hard to cram for. Research shows that stress changes the structure and activity of gut microbiota. A lack of sleep, eating the wrong foods, or even environmental stressors like a hot day or a cold winter storm can all contribute to stress. Maintain a healthier gut by managing your stress. Here’s a few tips when you’re feeling stressed:
Take a walk outside and put your favorite music on.
Try meditation and yoga to clear your mind.
Drink a warm cup of herbal tea and unplug while you enjoy it.
Talk with a friend.
Watch or listen to something funny and laugh!
Talk yourself through it— “it’s ok, you’re going to be alright.”
Lack of sleep can not only disrupt your day, but it can affect your gut health. According to the CDC, different age groups require varying amounts of rest each day—adults 18 to 60 years old need a minimum of seven hours of sleep each night. Sleep deprivation puts stress on your body, which can cause the bacteria in your large intestine to not perform at 100 percent. (And if you’re not sleeping well due to stress, there’s potential for an unhealthy cycle to start.) Tuck yourself in after a long day and make sure to get at least seven hours a night. Habits that can improve your sleep are:
Avoiding large meals, caffeine, and alcohol before bed
Having a consistent sleep schedule
Creating a relaxing bedtime routine
Moving more during the day
Assuring that your bedroom is quiet, dark, and at your preferred temperature.
For more on getting better sleep, check our Found guide to good sleep for weight care.
If you’re still experiencing gut issues, you may need to speak with a doctor about taking a probiotic or prebiotic supplement. We’d also recommend starting a food journal to see what you’re eating throughout the day and what you may need to add or eat less of. You want to make sure you’re nourishing your body with everything it requires to have the best gut health.
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