5 Easy Ways to Improve Your Gut Health / Digestion
In today’s health and wellness world, there is so much talk about gut health, the gut microbiome, the gut-brain connection and so on. And, honestly, it’s gained so much attention for good reason! Do you know what your gut microbiome is made up of trillions of microscopic bugs?! Maybe that grosses you out, but I think it’s so cool. Did you also know that just as your diet affects your gut health, it also affects your mental health? Eating a diet full of a variety of fruits and vegetables can decrease your risk of depression by 25-35% when compared to the Standard American Diet (SAD). A healthy gut microbiome results in healthy inflammatory response throughout the body, healthy weight maintenance, psychological wellness, and disease prevention.
There are some simple ways to begin improving your gut health today. They are so accessible and easy enough that you can literally go into your kitchen and start integrating them right this minute! This is only scratching the surface of a very wide, very vast world of nutrition, so if you have more questions, please do reach out to me! I’d love to work with you on your gut health!
Proper hydration is a pillar to overall health. That’s not new news to anyone, really. Your gut needs water to aid in the transportation and assimilation of nutrients from the foods you eat. Staying hydrated also helps increase gut motility (helps you poop). Did you know that the mucous produced in your gut is made up of 95% water? That mucous feeds the good bacteria in your gut while also helping keep waste moving. This means that without adequate water intake, the waste in your intestines remains static for longer than it should. This poses issues not only with general discomfort from constipation, but also the potential for reabsorption of toxic materials from the waste into the blood system. Lipopolysaccharides (LPS) are a Gram-negative endotoxin that are released from good bacteria in the gut. If gut motility, or gut permeability (think “leaky-gut”), is compromised, LPS can sneak into the bloodstream and cause mayhem (3). Several metabolic disorders that can result from this endotoxemia are cardiovascular disease, chronic inflammation, and type 2 diabetes (3). Try drinking a base line of half your weight in pounds… in ounces. So, if you weigh 150 lbs, you should be drinking at least 75 oz of water a day and then some if you exercise or live in a hot environment where you sweat.
Along with hydration, fiber intake also increases gut motility and helps keep the gut clear of toxins. Fiber also feeds the microbiome bacteria, keeping them healthy and thriving. Two types of fiber exist, soluble and insoluble, and it is important to understand the difference between the two. Soluble fiber typically delays gastric motility and insoluble fiber increases motility, so if you are constipated or having irregular bowel movements, it’s good to focus on insoluble fiber sources (vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds). Interestingly, insoluble fiber has demonstrated to increase transit time in the GI tract for those with constipation, and it has also demonstrated to slow transit time in the GI tract for those with diarrhea (1).
3) Taste the Rainbow
I love to tell my clients to eat the entire rainbow. Try getting as many colors in a day as possible (without making it a rule, of course)! Flavonoids, powerful constituents of plants, are found in fruits and veggies and are so critical for gut health. They promote tissue integrity, healthy inflammatory response, anti-oxidation and are anti-viral (1). This means that eating fruits and veggies helps ensure that your GI tract tissues are healthy and strong (avoiding leaky-gut) and that flavonoids help to keep inflammation, oxidation, and potential viruses from taking over your body, beginning in your GI tract! Taste the rainbow and eat your fruits and veggies, you guys!
It is so important to be liberal and generous in feeding your friendly gut bacteria with their favorite foods. Load up on the prebiotics and resistant starches, friends! Prebiotics are also conveniently found in fruits and vegetables and resistant starch is found in… you guessed it, starchy vegetables! Resistant starch alters the microbiome by significantly increasing metabolites that positively correlate with good bacteria in the gut (2). The bacteria in your gut microbiome thrive when they are full, so get your veggies (particularly your starchy root veggies) going. I like them oven roasted and covered in chimichurri or tahini.
Probiotics, good gut bacteria, feed off prebiotics, as discussed above. But supplementing with probiotics is often beneficial for those who present with dysbiosis, digestive issues, inflammation, mental health issues, and poor immunological health. There are various types of bacteria to supplement with, as well as various doses. Because of this, it is best to talk to your physician, dietitian, or nutritionist about which option might be best for you! In the meantime, if you can eat dairy and fermented products, start there! Load up a yogurt bowl, drink some kombucha, and get chomping on all the fermented veggies and sauerkraut.
5) Parasympathetic Nervous System
Have you ever gobbled down your food while standing in the kitchen with only five minutes before you have to jet out the door? Or have you ever eaten while you were nervous or anxious about a meeting or a call? What did your digestion do? Likely, you experienced stomach cramps, bloat, and maybe you even forgot what you are or what the food tasted like! The nervous system plays a major role in digestion, believe it or not!
The nervous system is made up of the Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS; fight-or-flight) and the Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS; rest-and-digest). Your brain and digestive system communicate all day, every day. When you eat, you want to tap into the PNS in order that you can digest your food properly. The goal is to relax and de-stress enough that your heart rate slows and your stress hormones settle down. To achieve this, you can do a couple things. First, take a few moments before you eat and practice deep breathing. I like to inhale for a five count and exhale for a five count. Another tip to tap into the PNS is to make sure you are eating in as a relaxed environment as you can find and to eat undistracted and mindfully. Put away your computer, book, phone, etc., and focus on how amazing the food looks, smells, tastes, and feels! (Read more about the sensuality of food here!)
So, there you have it! Five super easy ways to promote and support your gut health. You may have noticed a trend throughout several of the points: vegetables. Yes, we all know we should be eating more, but now you know more of the why behind your mother always asking you to eat more veggies! Moral of this microbiome story is to drink more water, eat more veggies, relax, and enjoy your food!
(1) Gaby, A. (2017). Nutritional medicine. Concord, NH: Fritz Perlberg Publishing.
(2) Koay, Y. C., Wali, J. A., Luk, A. W. S., Macia, L., Cogger, V. C., Pulpitel, T. J., … O’Sullivan, J. F. (2019). Ingestion of resistant starch by mice markedly increases microbiome-derived metabolites. FASEB Journal: Official Publication Of The Federation Of American Societies For Experimental Biology, fj201900177R. https://doi-org.bigbrother.logan.edu:2443/10.1096/fj.201900177R
(3) Pizzorno J. (2014). Toxins From the Gut. Integrative medicine (Encinitas, Calif.), 13(6), 8–11.