Gut Health 101: 5 Tips to Support Your Gut

You may have heard or seen the phrase “gut health” online, in lifestyle shows or publications, or on social media.

The idea of nurturing your gut seems to be gaining traction in the wellness market, but what does it mean and why is it so important? Even if you don’t have any digestive issues, the health of your gut may be affecting other aspects of your health. The truth is, we could all stand to give our gut a little attention.

In this post, we’ll break down what the phrase “gut health” means, how it impacts other systems in the body, and simple steps you can take to support overall gut health.

Let’s get started!

What does “Gut Health” mean?

When we’re talking about the “gut”, we are specifically talking about your large intestine, which is also known as the colon. “Gut health” refers to the variety and balance of microorganisms, or “microbes”, that reside in your gut.

So now let’s talk about the microbes in your gut. Don’t be alarmed! We all have trillions of microbes that reside in our gut, and they play a role in breaking down any foods that haven’t already been digested on the journey along the gastrointestinal (GI) tract to the large intestine. These microbes and how they interact with your body are collectively referred to as the “microbiome”. The term “microbiota” refers just the microbes themselves.

When gut microbes break down food, they produce various by-products that are released into the body. Some of these microbes produce by-products that are beneficial to our health, and others…not so much.

The key to gut health is having more of the microbes that produce beneficial by-products vs other not-so-good microbes. Diet and lifestyle both play huge roles in maintaining that balance.

How, exactly, does the gut microbiome impact overall health?

When gut microbes break down food, the by-products produced include vitamins and other substances that send signals throughout the body. These signals are known to have a direct impact on a wide range of systems in your body, including immune system, inflammation, brain function, mood, hormone regulation, energy availability, and more.

An example of a key beneficial by-product of your microbiome is vitamin K, which is important for blood clotting. Another example is serotonin, which is a neurotransmitter that regulates mood. Conversely, some of the microbes in your microbiome produce toxins or inflammatory substances.

New information is emerging every day about the important roles your gut plays in your overall health and wellness. Research suggests that good gut health can even help achieve weight management goals. It can also hinder the development and progression of chronic diseases like heart disease and diabetes. It’s truly amazing. It’s important to be aware, however, that poor gut health can have the opposite effect.

The good news is that there are some simple steps you can take today to maintain or improve your gut health!

Tips for supporting your gut

  1. Eat fiber! We’ve been told to eat our vegetables since childhood and it might sound like nagging at this point. The fact is, plant foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, and nuts/seeds all contain fiber, which is what feeds the beneficial microbes in your gut. Aim for 5-9 servings of fruits and veggies daily and get at least half of your grains from whole grains.
  2. Include fermented foods in your diet. Fermented foods like yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, and kimchi contain probiotics. Probiotics are live cultures of beneficial bacteria your gut needs.
  3. Choose whole foods. Some of the chemicals added to processed foods have been shown to have adverse effects on the gut microbiota. Additionally, processed or fast foods tend to be low in nutrients necessary to feed good microbes in the gut.
  4. Don’t worry, be happy! Stress is your body’s response to danger or fear. During times of stress, your body modifies certain bodily functions to prepare you to react quickly if needed. This is normal and healthy in the short-term, but when stress remains elevated for long periods of time, it can lead to adverse health consequences such as high blood pressure, depression, and changes to your gut microbiome. Find ways to manage stress daily, such as exercise, meditation, and getting plenty of sleep. Your gut will thank you!
  5. Get your sweat on! Studies have shown that people who exercise regularly have more variety and quantities of beneficial gut bacteria than those who don’t (1). Add this to the long list of benefits of physical activity.
Infographic with 5 tips for gut health:
- eat fruits/veggies and whole grains
- exercise regularly
- eat fermented foods
- practice stress management
- choose whole, unprocessed foods

The more we discover about how the gut impacts overall health, the more we in the wellness world pay attention to supporting gut balance.

While gut health and the gut microbiome is a relatively new area of research, we know that certain diet and lifestyle habits are effective in supporting the optimal balance of good and bad microbes in the gut.

Start supporting your gut health today by following the 5 tips above. Note, sudden increases in fiber intake can cause constipation and bloating until the body acclimates . Dehydration can exacerbate the issue, so increase fiber gradually and be sure to drink plenty of water!

Want to learn more about gut health? Leave a comment below or send me a message!

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