Your gut - it seems so simple and yet it’s a complex, rich, thriving system and when healthy touts benefits of better digestion, increased metabolism, decreased inflammation and risk of chronic disease. It’s no secret that improved gut health is a major key in improving overall health outcomes.
Your gut microbiome or gut flora refers to the 300-1000 different species of microorganisms living in your intestines. Many of which are beneficial and essential for human health, while a small few can be harmful when allowed to multiply. Maintaining the proper balance of these microorganisms is vital to improve gut health as well as optimal physical and mental health, immunity, and more!
If you’re ready to improve your health today, check out these 10 small changes you can make today to improve gut health!
1. Eat Probiotics
Probiotics are healthy bacteria in your gut. By eating more probiotics you can boost the good bacteria in your gut, easy as that! There are a few ways to consume probiotics.
First, try probiotic supplements which are available in the supplement section of most convenient stores, drug stores, or online. You can also consume more probiotics by eating more fermented foods such as plain yogurt, kefir, kombucha, kimchi, sauerkraut, miso, and tempeh.
2. Eat Prebiotic Fiber
Eat your way to improved gut health. Probiotics feed and thrive on prebiotics or nondigestible carbohydrates such as whole fresh vegetables, beans and legumes, and a variety of fresh fruits. Research suggests that consuming more prebiotics may help probiotics become more tolerant to changes in their environment such as pH and temperature.
Some prebiotic rich foods include asparagus, bananas, chicory, garlic, onions, artichoke, and whole grains.
3. Improve Your Diet
If you needed one more reason to eat fresh, whole foods here’s another! One study suggests the western diet which is high in sugar, fat, and processed foods negatively affects the gut microbiome. Further, high sugar diets are inflammatory to your system, and can cause yeast to grow and throw off delicate gut balances. Bottomline, improve gut health with less sugars and fats, and more plant based high fiber foods, and lean protein.
4. Stay Hydrated
Did you know proper hydration can improve gut health? Water has a beneficial effect on the lining of the intestines, as well as the balance of good bacteria in the gut. Proper hydration can improve digestion and help flush out toxins making your insides and outsides happy as can be! Aim to drink at least 8 cups of water to stay properly hydrated throughout the day.
5. Reduce Stress
Good gut health starts with stress reduction. According to research, stressors that can negatively affect gut health include: psychological stress, environmental stress, and inadequate sleep.
Find stress management techniques that work for you such as meditation, breathing techniques, time with loved ones, watching funny or happy videos, and regular stretching. Regular exercise, sleep, and a healthy diet are also great stress reducers.
6. Avoid Taking Antibiotics When Possible
Antibiotics not only kill bad bacteria, but good bacteria as well - destroying your immunity along the way. Research suggests that even 6 months after antibiotic use, the gut still lacks several species of good bacteria.
I had to learn this the hard way. When I was younger, I took antibiotics as daily treatment for acne, and was sick just about every other week. It took us a long time to figure out the antibiotics were stripping my gut of healthy bacteria, leaving my immune system vulnerable. 10 years later, I find myself with infections more regularly than I would like, and I’m still working on building back up that healthy gut bacteria.
I tell you this not to scare you but inform you to make wise decisions when it comes to antibiotic use. Ask your doctor about your antibiotic prescription, and if there are any suggested alternatives. Especially when considering a long-term medication. For example, in the case of my acne there were a wide variety of alternatives at my disposal.
7. Exercise Regularly
Regular exercise promotes good health overall, and it may also improve gut health! In addition, exercise promotes weight loss and weight maintenance, while a healthy gut is linked to decreased risk of obesity and metabolic disease.
One study has revealed, athletes have a larger gut flora than nonathletes, supporting that exercise may increase gut flora diversity, improving overall gut health.
The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommends 150 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise, or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic exercise, along with 2 days of strength training a week. If you’re looking for somewhere to start, check out our New Year New You Exercise Program for a 1-month beginner training plan.
Getting good quality sleep can improve mood, cognition, and gut health! A 2014 animal study revealed that inadequate sleep can have negative outcomes on gut health, decreasing immunity.
Practice healthy sleeping habits by setting a regular sleep schedule of going to sleep and waking up around the same time each day and make a point of getting a minimum of 7 hours of sleep each night.
9. Cleaning Products
Unfortunately, just like antibiotics, disinfectant products may disrupt an otherwise healthy gut. One study analyzed the gut microbiota of 700 infants aged 3-4 months. Infants who lived in a home where disinfectant cleaning products were used at least once a week were twice as likely to have higher levels of bad gut bacteria directly associated with type 2 diabetes and obesity.
To improve gut health in your household, choose eco-friendly products. While they may be slightly more expensive, the higher price tag is worth improved health.
10. No Smoking!
Unsurprisingly, smoking makes yet another list of reasons to be avoided. While smoking is known to greatly affect heart, and lung health as well as greatly increase your risk of cancer, it also affects gut health. A 2018 review suggests smoking changes gut flora by increasing the bad bacteria and decreasing the good bacteria.
As you can see, the gut is responsible for a great deal of your overall health. Treat it well, and it’ll return the favor. Luckily there are so many small changes you can make to improve gut health today!