The Best Healthy Habits to Improve Your Gut Health Naturally
Hate to break it to you, but it’s true; your gut health is connected to everything. From mental health to chronic disease risk, even weight management and digestive health, the health of your gut microbiome plays a significant role in it all. And while many people online would say that a pill or a supplement can fix the problem, in truth, it is possible to improve gut health naturally. All it takes is a few healthy habits.
But first, 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 is the root cause for several chronic conditions including mood disorders.”
So how do you ensure you are 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 for years to come.
Eat an anti-inflammatory diet.
Time and time again, research shows us how an unhealthy microbiome is linked to inflammation in the gut, and can even lead to inflammatory diseases like Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, multiple sclerosis, and rheumatoid arthritis. Hence why doctors like Dr. Kellman highly recommend focusing your diet on those anti-inflammatory foods — aka, 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/poultry, and key nutrients like B vitamins. In addition, nuts, seeds, and beans/legumes include essential nutrients.”
Limit pro-inflammatory foods.
Of course, foods that are known for causing inflammation should be enjoyed in limited quantities, in order to keep the microflora in the gut healthy and thriving. An imbalance of that healthy bacteria in the gut (also known as “dysbiosis”) has been linked to intestinal inflammation, which can occur when the body is dealing with a myriad of stressors — including pro-inflammatory foods.
“It is crucial to avoid foods that are proinflammatory, 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 someone talk about the importance of probiotics and prebiotics for the gut, and we hate to sound like a broken record, but it’s true. 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 get your eight cups of water a day? Not only does drinking water provide a myriad of benefits (like normalizing blood pressure, cushioning joints, flushing bacteria, protecting your organs, preventing constipation, and of course, hydrating you), 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 supporting the right pH levels for healthy flora. And of course, the participants of the study who drank less water — about 4 to 5 cups a day — didn’t have as an abundant and diverse microbiome compared to the participants who drank 8 cups or more.
Read next: The 7 Best Gut Healing Foods, Says Dietitian
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