7 proven ways to improve your gut health
If a healthy gut feels like an elusive dream, learn how to improve gut health with these easy science-backed ideas.
Gut health is having a moment in the sun. Over the past decade or so, scientists have started to uncover the impact that the gut has on every other part of your body, from mental health and immunity to bone density to heart health. In this article, we'll consider how to improve gut health effectively, and find some simple ways to upgrade your approach to your gut right now.
How can I support my gut health?
If you’ve been experiencing gut health problems, 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 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 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?
There are many areas of your lifestyle that can impact your gut health. Here are some of the most important to consider:
Rest between eating
Diet: diversify, don’t restrict
It’s a common misconception that, to nourish your gut, you have to take 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, such as butyrate, acetate, and propionate.
Top tip: Eat the rainbow! Aim for 30 different plant foods in your diet every week.
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 inflammatory state 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: Try to stick with regular, defined mealtimes. No need to modify the diet, just aim for consistent timing.
7 easy ways to improve gut health
While long-term changes, like those above, are key to continued gut health, there are also lots of things you can do right now to help support your microbiome.
Eat a variety of plant-based foods every week. Plant fibre isn’t just food for you, it’s food for your gut bacteria. Aim for a wide range of colourful fruit and veg.
Add a probiotic supplement to your routine. A high-quality probiotic supplement can help cultivate the growth of beneficial bacteria in the gut, supporting microbiome health.
Get friendly with legumes. Beans and pulses are loaded with prebiotics 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.
Practise mindfulness. The gut and brain are linked, so mindfulness exercises like meditation can help you feel calmer and regulate your gut.
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 between seven and nine hours of sleep every night is so important.
How does a probiotic supplement support your gut?
Probiotic supplements contain live bacteria and other microorganisms, with the aim of increasing the strength and microbial diversity of your gut microbiome. By seeding beneficial bacteria that go on to grow in your gut, they can help support your microbiome, and everything that it impacts—from digestive and immune health to mental health and the gut-brain axis.
How to choose a probiotic supplement?
There’s a huge range of probiotic supplements out there, from the cheap bottles at the pharmacy to high-quality options from specialist companies, backed by scientific research.
So when you’re choosing a probiotic supplement, it’s essential to consider which strains it contains, in which quantities. You also need to make sure the bacteria are reaching your colon alive—there’s not much point taking one if everything inside is being killed by your stomach acid. High-quality probiotic supplements should have a specific delivery system designed to protect the bacteria until they reach the colon, where they can start getting to work.
We’ve broken down everything you need to look for in a probiotic supplement here.
Foods to improve gut health
Of course, a probiotic supplement should be considered a replacement for a healthy, balanced diet. It should, well, supplement what you eat.
Here are some of the best foods for your gut microbiome and the gut-brain axis:
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. It’s easier than you think. Promise.
Starting your gut health journey
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—from digestion to immunity to mental health.