What’s the hottest topic in the wellness world these days?
Researchers are uncovering more each day about the complexity of our guts. What we know now is that the gut does way more than just break down food.
A diverse microbiota is associated with a healthy immune system, heart, and brain .
So how do you keep your gut happy and healthy?
Hint – it’s not just about what you eat.
In this sense, taking good care of your gut requires a multipronged approach:
- physical activity
Here are five ways you can start nurturing your gut today:
1. Eat probiotic-rich foods
Probiotics are bacteria, but they’re the good guys. Two of the most common groups of probiotics are lactobacillus and bifidobacterium, and studies show that certain strains may lower LDL cholesterol levels, support digestive health, and boost the immune system . As an example, fermented dairy products have been shown to help lower cholesterol in both human and animal subjects .
Probiotics may also benefit the brain by supporting cognitive function and reducing symptoms of stress, depression, and anxiety. These study results seem plausible as the brain and gut are closely linked through biochemical signaling and nervous system functioning, although more research in this arena is needed to draw definitive conclusions about probiotics and mental health .
Food sources rich in probiotics include:
- aged cheeses
Try to get your probiotic fix from foods first. If you wish to take a supplement to meet your needs, consult with a registered dietitian or physician.
2. Eat prebiotic-rich foods
Probiotics won’t go far without a steady supply of fuel, and that’s where prebiotics come into play.
Prebiotics are indigestible fibers that provide essential energy for good bacteria and may improve gastrointestinal health.
Prebiotic-rich foods include onions, garlic, artichokes, bananas, asparagus, leeks, and whole grains. Eat a variety of these sources to reap the benefits.
3. Manage stress
What you eat is important, but it’s only once piece of the puzzle for fostering a healthy gut environment. Research indicates that stress can disrupt the balance in the microbiome and is associated with inflammatory conditions and diseases.
Stress has been shown to elevate the fight or flight hormones and reduce the amount of short-chain fatty acids, a byproduct of fermentation, in the gut . This just goes to show that self-care is not selfish, but rather a necessary part of keeping your gut in good condition.
It’s not that you need to eradicate all stress from your life. We know that’s pretty much impossible anyway. But by keeping your stress at a manageable level, you are not only easing your mind but also supporting digestive processes.
If you find that your stress is related to eating, it may help to consult with a registered dietitian so you can cultivate a positive relationship with food.
There is no one right way to manage stress. The key is finding activities that work for you and creating a routine that is consistent.
Some ideas for managing stress include:
- Physical activity
- Talking to someone: a friend, therapist, or dietitian
- Getting adequate sleep
4. Eat Mindfully
Remember that digestion begins in the mouth and your gut doesn’t have teeth. Eating slowly and mindfully can help you digest food adequately and prevent bloating and stomach upset.
Keep in mind that it also takes time for your brain to register fullness during a meal. Once satiety hormones are released from the gut, it can take about 20 minutes for the hypothalamus to get the signal.
Try eating your meals sitting down and remove distractions so you can tune into your hunger and fullness effectively.
5. Move Your Body
While the mechanism between exercise and the microbiome is unclear, it appears that physical activity offers benefits for the gut .
When developing an exercise routine, choose activities that you enjoy so you’re more likely to stick with it.
Don’t you like running?
Try biking, swimming, dancing, or an aerobics class.
As you can see, there are many things you can do to keep your gut happy and healthy. Finding a balance of self-care practices that fit into your lifestyle is the key.
2) Marchesi JR, Adams DH, Fava F, et al. The gut microbiota and host health: a new clinical frontier. Gut. 2016;65(2):330–339. doi:10.1136/gutjnl-2015-309990 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26338727
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4) Bousvaros A. Can probiotics help treat depression and anxiety? Harvard Health Publishing Harvard Medical School website July 26, 2017. Accessed October 6, 2019. https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/can-probiotics-help-treat-depression-anxiety-2017072612085
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