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The Best Habits to Improve Your Gut Health Naturally

April 8, 2024

From mental health to chronic disease risk, even weight management and digestive health, your gut health is connected to everything. And while online influencers would say that a pill or a supplement can fix whatever’s wrong with your microbiome, in truth, it’s possible to improve gut health naturally. A few healthy habits can get you well on your way.

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What is the gut microbiome?

“The gut microbiome is comprised of an entire community of microorganisms that are living within our body,” says Raphael Kellman, MD, a physician of integrative and functional medicine and creator of Microbiome Medicine, a user guide for taking care of the bacteria in the gut. “This includes both beneficial bacteria, as well as pathogenic microorganisms, which, if not kept in check, can be detrimental to our health. It is estimated that approximately 10 to 100 trillion symbiotic microorganisms live within our bodies, primarily in the digestive tract.”

While the word “bacteria” tends to elicit images of illness, this type of bacteria is actually good for your body —and crucial for your health.

“The microbiome plays a significant role in our ability to appropriately digest and assimilate nutrients, the regulation of our metabolism, as well as the maintenance of a healthy weight,” says Dr. Kellman. “Imbalances in the microbiome are the root cause for several chronic conditions, including mood disorders.”

So how do you ensure you’re following the right healthy habits that improve gut health naturally, instead of harming it? We asked Dr. Kellman to share his tips that make it easy to take care of your microbiome and keep it thriving.

Eat an anti-inflammatory diet.

Time and time again, research shows the link between an unhealthy microbiome and inflammation in the gut, and that it can even lead to inflammatory diseases like Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, multiple sclerosis, and rheumatoid arthritis. This is why physicians like Dr. Kellman highly recommend focusing your diet on anti-inflammatory foods — that is, foods that are known to lower inflammation in the body and keep it thriving.

“Diet plays a major role in the health of our gut microbiome,” says Dr. Kellman. “The best anti-inflammatory diet includes a rich number of fresh fruits and vegetables, cage-free eggs, pasture-raised meat and poultry, and key nutrients like B vitamins. In addition, nuts, seeds, and beans and legumes include essential nutrients.”

Related: The 8 Best Gut Healthy Foods To Eat, Says Gastroenterologist

Limit pro-inflammatory foods.

To keep the microflora in the gut healthy and thriving, keep your consumption of foods that are known for causing inflammation to a minimum. An imbalance of the healthy bacteria in the gut (also known as “dysbiosis”) has been linked to intestinal inflammation, which can occur when the body is dealing with myriad stressors, including pro-inflammatory foods.

“It is crucial to avoid foods that are pro-inflammatory; it is the key to gut health,” says Dr. Kellman. “This can include packaged and processed foods, as they are high in trans fats, added sugars, hydrogenated, processed grains, and refined carbs.”

Prioritize probiotics and prebiotics.

You’ve likely heard some expert online talk about the importance of probiotics and prebiotics for the gut, and with good reason. Getting a balance of prebiotics and probiotics in your diet is important to improve gut health naturally and keep that microbiome thriving.

Prebiotics are found in plant fibers and are known for feeding the bacteria in your gut. Some prebiotic-rich foods include asparagus, onions, garlic, bananas, artichokes, apples, oatmeal, and lentils.

Probiotics are important for replenishing the gut with good bacteria and are typically found in fermented foods. “[Start] eating foods that are natural probiotics, which repopulate the gut with ‘good’ bacteria, such as fermented dairy like yogurt and kefir, as well as fermented vegetables like sauerkraut and kimchee,” says Dr. Kellman.

Drink lots of water.

Need another reason to stay hydrated? Not only does drinking water provide myriad benefits (like normalizing blood pressure, cushioning joints, flushing bacteria, protecting your organs, and preventing constipation), but water is also vital for good digestion and gut health.

A 2022 study in The Journal of Nutrition found drinking water to be an important factor for the function of the microbiome by supporting the intestinal wall and the right pH levels for healthy flora. The participants of the study who drank less water — about 4 to 5 cups a day — didn’t have as an abundant and diverse microbiomes compared to the participants who drank 8 cups or more.

Read next: The 7 Best Gut Healing Foods, Says Dietitian

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