How to improve gut health: 7 proven ways
If a healthy gut feels like an elusive dream; learn how to improve gut health with these easy science-backed hacks
The biggest myth when it comes to looking after your gut is that you need to have a restrictive diet. Juice diets and ‘detox’ cleanses are nonsense when it comes to gut health, and they can do more harm than good. In this article, we'll consider how to improve gut health naturally and quick and easy gut health hacks from Dr Megan Rossi, also known as the Gut Health Doctor.
How can I rebuild my gut health?
If you’re reading this article, then it’s likely that you’ve been experiencing gut health problems. If that’s the case, you are not alone! In fact, it’s estimated that about 4 in 10 people worldwide suffer from a functional digestive disorder. Women, in particular, seem to be more susceptible to gastrointestinal issues.
There are many signs and symptoms associated with an unhappy gut. One of the most obvious and common is a change in bowel habits (constipation or diarrhoea) that affects the frequency, colour, and/or texture of your stool. This may be accompanied by other symptoms of digestive discomfort such as bloating, excessive flatulence, or abdominal pain.
Fortunately, your gut is a cooperative organ, and it often simple changes in your diet and lifestyle can often restore gut health naturally.
Before we go any further, we’d always recommend booking a doctor’s appointment if you notice any sudden changes in your bowel movements, are experiencing severe abdominal pain, or if there is blood in your stool.
What increases gut health?
Here are some of the things we can consider in our daily life to increase gut health.
Rest between eating
Diet: diversify, don’t restrict
It’s a common misconception that, to nourish your gut, you have to take to things out of your diet. In fact, it’s nearly the polar opposite. When you cut foods out of your diet, you run the risk of depriving your gut bacteria of sustenance, namely prebiotics.
“Prebiotics” is a fancy word for plant fibres, complex sugars, resistant starches and some other molecules that nourish good gut bacteria. These substrates can’t be digested by your body, but your bacteria turn them into beneficial chemicals for your gut, like butyrate.
Top tip: Eat the rainbow! Aim for 30 different plant foods in your diet every week. You can even use the Heights brain nutrition assessment, or this helpful plant diversity quiz by Liza Hilman, registered associate nutritionist, to track how well you’re doing.
Get moving, even just a little
Your body was made to move, and your gut knows it. Studies show that lack of exercise is correlated with increased prevalence of constipation, but introducing gentle exercise is a great way to rekindle your energy levels and boost your digestive transit. Even gut bacteria enjoy a good workout and people who exercise regularly tend to have greater microbiome diversity.
Top tip: Slow and steady. Start with small goals like getting out for a 30-minute walk every day, a gentle bike ride, or some yoga, and work your way up from there.
Give your gut a rest
Your digestive tract is an amazing feat of engineering that spends a lot of time ingesting and digesting food. Eating induces a mild state of inflammation called “post-prandial endotoxemia”, which is totally fine and healthy, even if it sounds quite alarming. However, when a person constantly snacks, this natural inflammatory state is prolonged, which takes away from the time your gut needs to heal and restore.
Top tip: Give yourself an eating window. Aim to eat within a 12-hour or even 8-hour period. You don’t have to modify your diet, you just have to eat within that window – simple as that.
How can I improve my gut health fast? Expert advice
Dr Megan Rossi, also known as the Gut Health Doctor, is considered one of the most influential gut health specialists internationally. A practicing dietitian and nutritionist for the last decade with an award-winning PhD in gut health, Megan is passionate about empowering others to take control of their health and happiness from the inside out.
A leading Research Fellow at King’s College London and founder of The Gut Health Clinic, Megan is currently investigating nutrition-based therapies in gut health and has recently written her first book Eat Yourself Healthy, with the perfect mix of science, anecdotes and practical tips for optimal gut health and beyond.
Here are top tips for improving gut health fast and her favourite gut-friendly foods.
7 ways to improve gut health
Eat a variety of plant-based foods every week. Try sprinkling mixed seeds onto your meals. Instead of getting just red pepper, go for the green, yellow and orange too.
Fall in love with extra virgin olive oil. In one of my favourite studies, the SMILES trial, participants consumed 60ml of extra virgin olive oil every day, and showed significant improvements in mental health after just 12 weeks on a Mediterranean diet.
Get friendly with legumes. Beans and pulses are loaded with prebiotics (that’s food for your gut microbiota) and fibre, and they’re one of the most cost-efficient, nutrient-dense foods.
Add a side of veg. If you’re always eating out, make sure there’s some plant-based fibre on your plate for your gut microbes, such as whole grains, vegetables or legumes.
Dabble in fermented foods. Traditional fermented foods, such as kefir (fermented milk) or kombucha (fermented tea), contain live microbes and beneficial compounds. Some also have brain-messenger molecules, which have a calming effect on the brain.
Sleep! Sleep disturbance can disrupt our gut microbiota and have a big influence on our brain health. Getting your 7-9 hours of sleep every night is so important.
Foods to improve gut health
When it comes to a healthy or unhealthy gut, it’s not surprising that what we eat plays an important role. Some of the best foods to improve your gut health, and nurture that gut-brain connection, are:
Extra-virgin olive oil
Legumes—like beans, chickpeas, and lentils
Whole grains—like brown rice, barley, and quinoa
Green vegetables—like artichokes, broccoli, and spring greens
Fermented foods—like kimchi and sauerkraut
Fermented drinks—like kefir and kombucha
For a simple idea of how to improve gut health naturally, aim for at least 30 different plant-based foods a week. I promise it’s easier than you think. There’s also the option of taking gut-health supplements, but as always, supplements shouldn’t be considered a replacement for a balanced diet.
How to heal your gut
In this article, we've looked at some general ways to look after your gut health and some expert tips you can easily implement into your day to help heal your gut.
Boosting the health of your gut is one of the most effective ways to enhance your overall health and wellbeing—and that includes the health of your brain.