Gut health: 7 helpful tips according to dietitians – Insider

Gut health: 7 helpful tips according to dietitians – Insider

Gut health is the hot new health trend. Google searches for “gut health” have grown exponentially over the last decade. And #Guttok TikTok influencers have amassed hundreds of millions of viewers.
But unlike those health trends that may do more harm than good, hopping on the gut health bandwagon could have some serious benefits for both your mental and physical well-being.
Here’s why having a healthy gut is so important, some signs your gut may need support, and tips to improve your gut health.
Gut health refers to the state of your digestive microbiome­. The microbiome is made up of trillions of microscopic organisms — mostly bacteria — that not only play a vital role in digestion, but also influence your overall health and well-being.
For example, for a 2021 survey conducted by the International Food Information Council, 24% of the respondents said digestive health was the most important aspect of their overall health.
One reason for this increased attention to gut health is that digestive problems are becoming increasingly common. For instance:
If you have chronic digestive problems, an autoimmune condition, or mental health issues, your gut may be a place to look for relief.
“We still have a lot to learn, but one thing we can be confident of is that supporting gut health can be of great benefit to reducing a variety of adverse symptoms and reduce the risk of chronic illness” says Rachel Stuck, a registered dietician nutritionist and Director of Wellness and Curriculum at Ixcela.
In a healthy gut, the “good” and “bad” bacteria of your microbiome coexist without causing any issues. Problems arise when this balance is disturbed —  also known as dysbiosis.
 And it doesn’t take much to disrupt that delicate bacterial balance. Some common causes of dysbiosis include:
If your microbiome is off-kilter, you’ll likely notice fairly quickly. Some common, everyday symptoms of an unhealthy gut include:
Stuck says there can be a variety of other signs of an unhealthy gut — not just what you think of as gastrointestinal symptoms, including:
As you can see, an unhealthy gut can have a wide range of effects on how you feel. Read on to learn what registered dietitians recommend you do to build and maintain a healthier gut.
A type of fiber called fermentable fiber, which most often comes from soluble fiber, “acts as fuel for the healthy bacteria in your gut. In turn, the bacteria produce compounds, including vitamins and short chain fatty acids, that provide health benefits,” says Cassie Madsen, a registered dietitian nutritionist of Gut Health and Nutrition.
The benefits of fiber not only include a healthier gut, but also constipation relief, blood sugar regulation, and a decrease in “bad” cholesterol levels.  
Important: Women should aim for 25 grams of fiber a day, and men should try to consume 38 grams per day. It’s best to get your fiber from food rather than a supplement, says Madsen.
The simplest way to incorporate more fiber into your diet is by consuming unrefined, 
whole grains like whole wheat bread, brown rice, and oatmeal.
Some other fiber-packed foods include:
Important: Be sure to drink plenty of water when you increase your fiber intake — not doing so could lead to constipation. As your body adjusts to more dietary fiber some side effects like gas, bloating, or diarrhea may arise — these are usually temporary.
Fermentation is an age-old method of preserving food that was first used thousands of years ago. 
Note: In fermentation, foods are partially broken down by bacteria which changes the characteristics of the foods — like milk turning to yogurt or cucumbers to pickles — and also makes them safe to eat for much longer. 
Some fermented foods are broken down by bacteria that are also considered probiotics — the “good” bacteria that live in a healthy gut. Therefore, fermented foods can be very beneficial to you by improving the health and diversity of your microbiome and reducing inflammation.
Some fermented foods to incorporate into your diet include:
You can even make your own fermented vegetables at home. If you enjoy and don’t have a problem digesting fermented foods, aim for one serving per day.
Not everyone can tolerate fermented foods. For some people they cause bloating and discomfort. If you’re having trouble try starting with small servings — even just a single bite — and experiment with different fermented foods to see what works for you, Stuck says.
If fermented foods continue to make you feel bloated you can just focus on eating a variety of fruits and vegetables.
Many people are turning to probiotic supplements to try to improve their gut health, but supplements aren’t always necessary for a healthy gut, Madsen says:
“Sometimes it is better to take a look at your diet. If you are eating a lot of processed foods and few fresh foods it might be best to start there.”
Drinking enough water has many health benefits, from supporting skin health to helping with brain function. The amount of water you drink also influences your microbiome.
Water intake is very helpful in supporting digestion and the lining of the intestines, Stuck says. “Hydration supports how well the gut absorbs important nutrients like electrolytes and vitamins.”
Important: The recommendation for daily water intake is 125 ounces for men and 91 ounces for women. This is just a general recommendation and your needs may vary depending on factors like your activity level, metabolism, and weight.
One simple way to be sure to drink enough water is to carry a reusable water bottle. Having a water source on hand helps to make drinking water throughout the day a regular habit. 
Quick tip: You can set an alarm on your phone to remind you every hour to drink some water or other low-sugar, hydrating beverage.
High levels of stress can negatively impact your gut health. A common example is irritable bowel syndrome — in which stress can be a major trigger for symptom flare ups.
Some stress is inevitable — it’s a normal part of life — but if your life has constant stressors and you don’t have tools to manage and regulate them, not only can it affect your digestion, it can affect your general health as well.
For example, chronic stress can cause:
“Support your gut by going to bed a little earlier, taking a 10 minute walk after lunch, talking to a therapist, or taking an extra rest day when life gets busy,” Stuck says.
Regular exercise can help diversify the number of beneficial microbes in your gut.
Stuck says exercise also does a variety of things to support the gut, including:
The exercise you do doesn’t have to be vigorous to be beneficial. “Just 30 minutes a day of gentle movement like walking or yoga can have benefits for the gut,” Madsen says.
It sounds simple, but chewing your food slowly and thoroughly can have a positive impact on your gut health. 
The digestive process starts in the mouth, and when you’re rushed during eating your body has a hard time digesting food properly.
“Help out your gut by chewing your food with intention and consider adding in some mindful eating by putting down your fork between bites,” Stuck says. 
The more diverse types of food you have in your diet the healthier your gut microbiome will be. 
Therefore, eating a variety of foods ensures you get different types of fiber and micronutrients that contribute to a healthy gut.
Madsen says to aim for eating 30 different plant foods per week: “It gives you a tangible goal to aim for. And while it is somewhat challenging, with a little planning it is very doable for most people.”
For example, you could shoot for 10 plant foods per meal. Here’s a list of 30 common plant-based foods to try:
For an efficient way to diversify your diet, get meals delivered right to your door with our guides to the best meal kits and meal delivery services, whether you’re looking for a pre-made option or something you can cook yourself.
 
A healthy gut is a key part of your digestive system, but it also has wide ranging systemic influences on your health — it can help bolster your immune system, make your skin clearer, and even positively influence anxiety and depression
Changing dietary habits can be challenging, but taking small steps by getting enough fiber and water, exercising regularly, managing stress, and eating a wide range of foods will give you a good start on having a healthier gut.
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