Gut health and whole body health are one in the same. If your gut isn't healthy, your entire body is affected. We could all stand to improve gut health, including me!
Improve Gut Health: 7 Tips to Do That!
Gut health translates to more than physical health. Gut health also helps us maintain good mental health, too. Mood disorders, anxiety, as well as less inflammation, weight gain and arthritis are all improved when our gut is in check!
Did you know that a majority of our body's serotonin, the neurotransmitter than helps us feel happy, control appetite and even regulate bowel movements is made in our gut?
Or did you know that 500 million neurons in your gut? To put this in perspective, your spinal cord only has 100 million. Still ever wonder if the brain-gut connection is real? Yeah, I'd say so.
If you think 500 million is a lot, that pales in comparison the amount of bacteria in our gut. The average adult has about 100 trillion bacteria - both good and bad - making up somewhere between 2 to 6 pounds.
Good Gut Health Translates To...
- More optimal weight
- Almost no bloating
- Better digestion
- Less anxiety
- Improved skin tone and texture
- A happier, more stable mood
- Fewer achy joints
- Less overall inflammation
- Fewer autoimmune symptoms in general
So before you reach for a bottle of antacids, here are a few things you can do to make your gut a healthier, happier place.
1 - Chew Your Food
I'm not kidding. It's point #1. Let me explain why this is numeral uno in the way you can improve gut health.
Digestion starts in your mouth through the process of chewing. Little digestive enzymes in your saliva start breaking down food. If you swallow food without chewing...well, you could hurt yourself...but you also miss out on all those important digestive enzymes.
Since you're probably not swallowing food whole, a good rule of thumb is to try to chew every bite 14 times.
The tail end of digestion, no pun intended, wraps up in the bathroom. The more you chew your food at the front end, the easier it will be for our stomach to finish breaking down the food halfway through the process. From there, food heads to our intestines, which is where many of the nutrients that have been released, in part due to chewing, get absorbed by the body.
A word about pooping. Ideally, we should all poop every 12 to 24 hours. Some people have no problem going every day. Other people are less frequent. If you need help with constipation, read this article.
2 - Eat Fermented Foods
Remember the trillion or so bacteria I mentioned above? Well, fermented foods are a hotbed of beneficial bacteria that help to balance out the bad bacteria that can infiltrate our body through eating too much sugar, the use of antibiotics or even by allowing stress to get the best of us.
This can't be overemphasized: Fermented foods are one of the most cost-effective ways to make sure your gut health stays in check.
This is how you can ferment your own foods. It's easy. I like easy. I like easy and healthy even more. Get your cucumbers ready, 'cause you're about to make some pickles! (or sauerkraut, or fermented beets...or...)
Because store-bought foods need to be pasteurized, it's tough to find truly fermented pickles or sauerkraut anymore. The best bet is to make your own. Trust me.
Other foods you can ferment (following the same guide as referenced above for the pickles) include:
3 - Cut Back on Sugar
You know how fermented foods help to build good bacteria? Well, sugar fans the flames on the bad bacteria. Sugar is sugar is sugar...your body doesn't care if you get it from a box of raisins, a banana or a candy bar.
If you've dealt with a lot of yeast infections, or if the doctor has told you that you have candida or some other bacterial overgrowth...then you need to truly cut out sugar, and most starchy carbs. This sucks! I know. But you can reintroduce some healthy fruits, etc., after you clean up your gut.
To be clear, if you're holding a banana right now and thinking..."Should I eat this? It contains sugar," unless you have some bacterial overgrowth, you're fine! A banana is ok. Eat the banana.
But a fruit smoothie with 63 grams of sugar because it was made with 2 pounds of fruit is not ok. Don't drink pure fruit smoothies. Just don't.
A lot of people are out of balance with their gut bacteria, and we can all benefit from cutting out sugar. So let's all get on it. Yep, cutting out sugar is the 3rd easiest way to improve gut health.
Side note: if you think certain foods are upsetting your gut, maybe you need to learn how to do an elimination diet. It will help you pinpoint which foods are giving you grief.
4 - Eat More Avocados
...and other foods that contain natural digestive enzymes.
Digestive enzymes are little proteins found in all cells that help to breakdown food. The foods are broken down, nutrients are absorbed easier, digestion is smoother and gut health gets another leg up!
Truth be told, digestive enzymes are in most raw and fermented foods (another reason to eat fermented foods), but they're especially abundant in these foods:
These enzymes in these foods, and all foods for that matter, are especially sensitive to heat, air and light. So if you cook these foods, cut these foods and leave them out for too long or let them sit in the sun, enzymes will deplete...quickly.
Eat lots of fresh, raw food!
5 - Take a Probiotic
I'm sure you've gotten the message the benefits of probiotics are life changing. They help to replenish the good bacteria in our gut. So, start taking a probiotic!
I personally take probiotics twice a day - in the morning and in the evening.
I also did a lot of research on the probiotics I take. Our guts have a number of different strains of bacteria. Your gut healthy could be dictated by a totally different number of strains of bacteria than my gut health. If you're dealing with a yeast overgrowth, there are probiotics that work better for that. If you are dealing with constipation, there are probiotics that work better to help you go.
Regardless, the probiotic you should take is a brand that's well researched. You know a brand is well researched if the strain is specified. This is what I mean.
These are the probiotics I’ve used and have benefitted from:
- Jarrow Jarro-Dophilus EPS (for me)
- Renew Life Ultimate Flora (if I'm sick and need extra support)
- Culturelle Kids Chewables (for my kids)
By the way, the number of probiotics out there can make your head spin. If you need an easy go to, Culturelle (for you or your kids) is probably the most mainstream probiotic that you can find anywhere - and it's probably the most researched. I trust this brand.
6 - Don't Eat to Capacity
Your stomach is a relatively small sack. It's about the size of a whoopie cushion, and when it's empty, it folds over on itself. When we eat to the point that we need to roll away from the table and take a nap - it's really stretched out. Don't worry - it won't burst, but it will take a long time to digest all the food inside.
The longer foods sits in our stomach, still in transit to the intestines, the greater the chance it will ferment and breed more bacteria.
It's not a bad idea to eat small to moderate meals every four hours or so. If you have diabetes or some metabolic concern, you may need to eat more frequently. But don't eat to the point you're full.
It's also good to know that every time you eat, blood makes a b-line to your stomach to aid in the digestive process. Have you ever eaten a big meal and gotten really tired immediately afterward?
That could be a combination of two things:
- The hormone, insulin, is working overtime trying to bring down higher than normal blood sugar levels that spiked after you ate (read more about how to avoid that here).
- Blood gets shunted to your stomach to help digest food. When you don't have a lot of food in your stomach, blood is more available in your legs. arms, brain, etc. Eating slightly smaller meals will recruit less blood and keep you more energized.
7 - Drink Water BEFORE You Eat
When food hits our stomach, acid jumps in and starts working its magic to help break down food, along with enzymes, bacteria, blood, etc.
Our stomach acid is SO strong that if it were to make contact with your skin, it would actually burn you. It's tough stuff!
Water doesn't mix well with stomach acid. Drinking with a meal can cause excess gas and indigestion.
Try drinking about 15 minutes before every meal or snack to improve gut health. And if you've eaten a meal, wait a while before you start drinking something again. I recommend waiting about 60 - 90 minutes before guzzling a glass of water.
Oh, and the more water you drink around (not during) meal time, helps add bulk to your poop. I know that sounds graphic, but you should eliminate about a foot of poop a day and it shouldn't be too runny or too dry.
Just wanted to get that out there. A friendly bit of knowledge I learned from one of the many MDs who was my professor in school. Who doesn't love to talk about poop?
So those are the 7 ways you can take action right now to improve your gut health.
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