More and more people are becoming educated about gut health and this has led the way to even more advancements in the treatments available to help to optimize your digestion and overall well being! Whilst you might not be sharing your poop schedule on your Facebook updates 3 times a day, we as a society have definitely become more open about this extremely important part of digestive health. Why? Well, it’s hard to ignore when we’re faced with endless studies showing the association between poor gut bacteria and health issues such as obesity, allergies, IBS, diabetes, heart issues, mental health issues, regulation of your immune system, bloating, and more.
However, the new focus on this area of health has led to an array of information that can often feel overwhelming to even attempt to sift through. With so much info available, it can be hard to assess exactly what you need to do in order to change your food habits and optimize your gut health.
Let’s Start With a Quick Look at Bacteria
When you think about “bacteria” you think about illness and disease, right? Especially when it comes to bacteria and microbes such as fungi and viruses! But there’s a little more to it than that. There are in fact two types of bacteria and one type is actually really good for you! The key is to find the balance of both in your diet. Your body is packed full of microbes, the majority of which are actually beneficial and play a substantial role in maintaining your health. Most of these microbes are found in your gut, which is where they help with digestion, improving your immune system, and helping to regulate your weight.
Now, the problem with needing a balance of good and bad gut bacteria is that sometimes it can get out of whack. But the good news is that if you eat the right foods you can pretty much reset your system so that everything is balanced out again. Remember, the food you eat isn’t just feeding you, it also provides nutrition for all of that bacteria living in your gut (kinda feels like it should be paying right doesn’t it?!!).
Whilst some bacteria will fight inflammation in your gut, others will encourage it. But this isn’t a problem with your gut is working properly because these two opposing types of bacteria keep each other balanced out. The real issue occurs when that balance tips and inflammatory bacteria can start to take hold. When this happens, they can produce and pass metabolites that get into your bloodstream and spread inflammation throughout your body.
The general consensus among researchers is that your unique gut microbiome is created within the first 1000 days of your life, but that doesn’t mean you’re stuck with it forever. There are things you can do to change and improve your gut environment!
So how do you know when your gut microbiome needs a reset? It’ll be pretty hard to miss, unfortunately! Once you get hit with symptoms such as gas, bloating, stomach pain, nausea, diarrhea, IBD, asthma, diabetes, and mood problems. it’s a pretty sure sign that your gut is sending you a massive SOS.
Whilst many of these imbalances will sort themselves out without intervention, they can become chronic and that’s the point where it may be good to get a medical professional involved, for example if you attend a gastrologist they can test for issues such as bacterial overgrowth in your gut. But for now, let’s see if this is something you can rectify by making a few changes to your diet.
Have a Glass of Water Each Morning
Starting your day with a simple glass of water is easy to do but not everyone does it! Most people are more inclined to go straight for the coffee pot! But if you can manage just one glass of water it’ll give your metabolism a much-needed kickstart to get everything moving and set you up for the day.
Even just keep a bottle by your bedside so that you can gulp it down as soon as you wake up before you even think twice! And then, of course, you can go pick up your morning coffee!
Probiotics and Prebiotics are Essential
Taking probiotics and prebiotics supplements has become one of the most popular methods that people are using to improve their gut health. Studies show that nearly 3.9 million adults take probiotics and prebiotics in the US alone. To break it down for you, probiotics are the actual bacteria and prebiotics are the munchies you’re feeding the bacteria so it can thrive.
Probiotics are bacteria that are created in the fermentation process of foods like yogurt and they’re essential for your digestion. They also ensure a healthy gut environment to alleviate symptoms such as pain, diarrhea and bloating. Prebiotics (such as fruit skins) fertilize the bacteria already existing in your gut to encourage a diverse community of microbes to develop.
Medications such as antibiotics can have a nasty effect on your microbiome balance as they kill both good and bad bacteria. For this reason, it’s always wise to eat high probiotic foods following a course of antibiotics or add a probiotic supplement to your diet.
A High-Fiber Diet is Key
Eating a high-fiber diet will soften your stools (yep there’s that poop talk again!) and helps food to move smoothly through your digestive tract, thus preventing issues like constipation. A high-fiber diet can also prevent and even treat a number of digestive concerns such as IBS and diverticulitis.
The problem here though is that less than 3% of people in the US consume the recommended amount of fiber, and this is leading to an increase in issues such as high cholesterol and obesity.
You can make sure you get enough fiber in your diet by eating lots of lentils, beans, nuts, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and fruit.
Think Twice About Those Antacids!
If you’ve been taking antacids for a while and they’re just not working, it’s time to stop. Unless you’re 100% sure you have high stomach acid, it’s actually more likely that your stomach acid is too low! To deal with this issue, a digestive enzyme can work wonders. These enzymes will work hard to help you to digest your food so it breaks down properly and eradicate symptoms such as heartburn, gas, and bloating.
Eat More Chocolate (Nope, Not Kidding!)
You may or not know that unprocessed chocolate is called “Cacao”, this is actually a pretty healthy version of chocolate that has properties to improve your heart health (thanks to polyphenol flavanols,) and has a prebiotic effect. But always make sure you go for cocoa or dark quality chocolate that has at least 70% of cocoa – your fave milk choc bar isn’t going to cut it!
Take it Easy On the Booze
Everyone knows that you should drink in moderation, but when it comes to your gut this is even more important. Research on alcoholic participants has shown that chronic levels of alcohol intake can result in changes in the gut microbiome and this can lead to serious issues such as alcohol-induced liver damage and tissue injury. Although more research is needed in this area (on light consumers of alcohol) it’s still worth keeping an eye on your intake.
Sugar > Artificial Sweeteners
Artificial sweeteners get a bad rap but it’s for good reason. Research on rats going back as far as the 1980s has connected the intake of articular sweeteners to changes in the bacteria balance in the microbiome of animals. Further studies associated the use of artificial sweeteners with glucose intolerance by altering the gut microbiota. Subsequent research on humans has also shown that the use of artificial sweeteners can be associated with metabolic outcomes and gut microflora changes. So with that in mind, half a spoonful of sugar may be the better option than 2 spoons of your favorite artificial sweetener!
There’s No Quick Fix, But This is a Great Starting Point
Your gut didn’t get out of whack overnight so it’s going to take a while to get it back to normal functioning, but following this advice is an excellent starting point on your way to complete gut wellness. Building a new and healthier microbiome can take months but it will happen once you adopt the right habits and add supplementation where needed. Just remember that this is a lifelong commitment and something you have to maintain everyday if you want to stay happy and healthy long term.