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Written By: Emily Spring
If the brain is the command center of the body, then the gut is certainly the engine. Our gastrointestinal tracts are responsible for absorbing the nutrients that fuel us and keep our systems in working order. Because it’s the center of energy production, it’s no surprise that the overall health of our guts is dependent on the quality of the fuel we put in them.
Just as filling up with inferior, dirty gas will have long-term consequences for your car, relying on a diet of low-quality, processed food will lead to wear and tear in your own internal transmission. Making improvements to your gut health will bring about wide-spread benefits in your digestion, mood, sleep, skin, and more.
If you’re hoping to clear up health issues from bloating to acne to sugar cravings, learning how to improve your gut health is an excellent place to start. Below, we’ll share more about what the gut is and how you can make lasting diet and lifestyle changes that will help you look, and more importantly, feel better.
When we say “gut health,” we’re referring to the amount of microbiota, or “good” yeast and gut bacteria, in your digestive system. Your gut contains literally trillions of them, and they help with many important functions, like:
We all know we need to eat right to maintain a healthy body weight and get the nutrients we need, but beyond that, why is gut health important? The simple answer is that your gut is like your engine. Its condition can impact nutrient absorption, your immune system, and even your hormones.
When it comes to getting good gut health, the answer isn’t always about how or what you eat. Exercise, stress levels, and other factors can impact the variety and amount of microbiomes in your GI tract. This is good news for folks who have trouble accessing healthy ingredients (or anyone who struggles to stick to a healthy diet sometimes).
To improve your gut and digestive health, try one or more of the following changes:
This might actually be the single most important change you can make. By upping the diversity of nutrients in your diet, you’ll also increase the diversity of microbiota in your gut, which can improve the functioning of your digestive system.1 Our tip? Write down all the foods you eat in the course of a week. If your diet is high in processed foods and lacking in different types of fruits, whole grains, and vegetables, you might need to shake things up a bit with different salad leaves, fresh varieties of fruit, seeds, and unfamiliar grains to avoid an unhealthy gut.
There are many superfoods that can help dramatically improve your gut health. For a full list of superfoods for gut health improvement, our blog can help you familiarize yourself with what foods you should be adding to your diet.
It may come as a surprise to learn that your digestive tract can be affected by how often you’re hitting the gym, but regular exercise may improve the composition of gut microbiota and encourage good bacteria to flourish.2 If you’re already putting in the reps, you may be reaping the benefits already. If not, try to add thirty minutes of activity to your daily schedule. If you’re newer to exercise but want to try this out, three days a week of low-impact, low-intensity work is a smart place to start.
Kimchi? Tempah? Miso? These and other fermented foods may be the perfect complement to your diet if you’re looking to add healthy bacteria to your gut. In addition, many of these foods, like natto and sauerkraut, are often packed with bacteria-boosting fiber. American diets tend to be lower in fermented foods, but jarred kimchi, bottled kefir, and draft kombucha are quite easy to find at most health food stores.
One of the best foods for better gut health includes mushrooms, which has a wide variety of types. Read up on the best mushrooms for gut health to see which kinds will help you improve your healthy lifestyle.
This may not necessarily be a fun one, but alcohol is about as useful to your GI tract as a bull is to a china shop. Excessive alcohol consumption can disrupt the good gut bacteria, leading to more gas production and bloating. Alcohol can also lead to “leaky gut,” a condition by which gaps in the walls of the intestines let harmful bacteria slip into the bloodstream.
Inflammation of the gut can lead to a whole host of problems, like constipation, nausea, fatigue, and even acne. You can gain a lot of ground here by laying off foods that inflame the gut (like red meat, fried food, and refined sugar) but also take steps to lower inflammation with anti-inflammatory foods, like:
Too much time spent sweating the small stuff can lead to even more inflammation in your gut. Stress is linked to disrupted eating patterns and GI distress, and sometimes more serious complications like Irritable Bowel Syndrome.3 So, do your body a favor and go easy on yourself, whether through meditation, reducing your screen time, or adding a mood-boosting mushroom supplement to your diet.
By the way, there are more ways to reduce the tolls of stress on the body than only making lifestyle changes. Herbs, supplements, and foods with adaptogens could help balance cortisol levels, support organ health, and ward off infections.4 Adaptogens are commonly found in mushroom varieties like chaga, shiitake, and lion’s mane, but if these prove hard to track down, there are plenty of immunity supplements available that support energy and immunity, promote mental clarity, protect against damage from free radicals, and more.
Not only does fiber keep your digestive tract at optimum by ensuring that stools are soft and easy to pass, but some fibers are also prebiotics, which means they go on to create fermentation in the colon, leading to the formation of more gut-friendly bacteria. You can easily add fiber to your diet by swapping out some of your favorite carbohydrates like pasta and bread with whole-grain alternates, and by dispensing with the grains altogether in favor of fiber-rich legumes, beans, and greens.
No, drinking water won’t fully heal your gut, but it can help! Making sure your body gets the right amount of fluids can help keep bowel movements regular and aid in the breakdown of foods in the stomach and intestines. If you’re struggling to keep up with your suggested water intake, we recommend carrying a water bottle with you to keep a closer eye on your progress throughout the day.
We know it can be overwhelming to attempt an entirely new health and lifestyle routine at the drop of a hat, so we recommend picking out two or three of our gut health tips that speak to you and trying to implement those. As these shifts become routine, you’ll feel confident in your ability to make even more changes.
You may have read through the list above and found that you’re already implementing many of our suggestions as part of your diet and lifestyle. Congratulations! You’re one step ahead.
If you’re curious about the overall state of your gut health, or you’ve realized you aren’t incorporating any of our top tips listed above, you might be wondering how to get a sense of your baseline and how to measure your progress.
The first thing to do is to take an inventory of some of the most common signs of bad gut health and see if you’re regularly experiencing any of them. These include:5
Many people concerned about the possibility of poor gut health initially notice problems within the GI tract. One of the easiest tip-offs is abrupt changes in the consistency, size, or ease of passing your stool. Bloating, gas, heartburn, and other problems within the stomach and intestines are also usually indicators that something is off.
While the health of your gut impacts your body and mind in a variety of ways, some of these symptoms could also be signs of other underlying health issues. If you’d like more certainty around what exactly is ailing you, there are a number of specialized diagnostic tests that you can undergo with the help of a doctor.5 These include a comprehensive stool test, a SIBO breath test, and more.
Most people, however, won’t need these tests and will see promising results in their GI health, skin, mood, and sleep just by following the suggested steps outlined above.
At Plant People, we want to help you unlock your potential and reconnect you to your true nature. With holistic science and rigorous lab testing, we create doctor-formulated, regenerative plant and mushroom supplements that will support you in a variety of ways, from better gut health to improved cognition and energy, allowing your body to function at its peak.
Check out our tinctures, capsules, and topicals, or browse products that will support a solution, from sleep to skin, allowing you to tap into a more balanced, healthier you.
Written by Emily Spring
Emily Spring is the Director of Marketing at Plant People. A longtime proponent of balanced living, she has enjoyed over 8 years driving growth in the lifestyle, health and wellness sectors with deep experience in functional solutions for optimizing anyone's everyday life.
Reviewed by Gabe Kennedy
Co-Founder of Plant People, Gabe Kennedy is an acclaimed chef and entrepreneur. Growing up in a house of healers and herbalists, he is passionate about the power of food as a tool for health, and actualized this passion and belief system into his company, Plant People. Named to Forbes 30 under 30 Gabe has shaped menus and cooked his way around the world with his mission to promote a more communal, green and healthy world.
Gabe is a graduate of The Culinary Institute of America and Cornell University School of Hotel Administration. You can learn more about his work at his website.