The gut is the place where food is digested, metabolized, and absorbed to be delivered into the cells and provide the body with energy.
The gut contains billions of live bacteria. In fact, it’s estimated that there are 35,000 different strains of bacteria in the gut. 80 percent of your immune system is in your microbiome, which helps your body with just about every process, including helping you think clearly and maintain a healthy weight.
Here are some suggestions for improving your gut health:
Eat a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables and anti-inflammatory foods. When you regularly eat a variety of healthy, non-processed foods, your microbiome becomes programmed to work for you. The more varied your diet, the more flexible your microbiome becomes and the less at-risk you are for developing food sensitivities and other chronic health conditions. Some examples of anti-inflammatory foods include:
Spinach and other leafy green veggies
Cruciferous veggies, like broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, and kale
Nuts, like almonds and walnuts
Add fiber to your diet. It’s recommended that women eat 25 grams of fiber per day and men 35 grams. Fiber helps keep bowel movements regular, but also helps lower cholesterol and keep blood sugar levels stable. Some high-fiber foods include whole-wheat pasta, quinoa, oatmeal, beans, lentils, peas, broccoli, pears, apples (with skins), and berries.
Include fermented foods in your diet. They help introduce good bacteria into your gut microbiome and can lower your intestine’s pH level so it can decrease the chance that bad bacteria survive. Not all fermented food is created equal. To ensure the fermented foods you choose contain probiotics, look for the words “naturally fermented” on the label, and when you open the jar look for bubbles in the liquid, which signal that live organisms are inside. These foods naturally provide us with probiotics, which are beneficial bacteria that mostly live within our gut. Some examples include:
Low-fat yogurt. Dairy-free yogurts made from almond, soy, coconut, or rice milk are easier for some people to digest.
Other healthy foods that are fermented include apple cider vinegar, wine, sourdough bread, and cottage cheese.
Note: Be mindful of the added sugars and sodium levels in fermented foods as some brands can be much higher than others.
A combination of probiotics and prebiotics as part of a whole foods diet can help achieve the right balance of gut bacteria to support health and reduce inflammation.
Probiotics: Bacteria consumed through the diet (or with supplements) that help support gut health. Common strains include bifidobacterium and lactobacillus. Food sources: see fermented foods listed above.
Prebiotics: Prebiotics occur naturally in some high-fiber foods but are sometimes added to foods. These fiber sources ferment in the gut, creating beneficial bioactive compounds. Food sources: Jerusalem artichokes (sunchokes), dandelion greens, bananas, apples, chicory root, leeks, onions, garlic, quinoa, amaranth, and whole oats.
Remove/reduce added sugar and processed foods. Refined carbohydrates, sugar (including alcohol), and processed foods get absorbed quickly into your small intestine without any help from your microbes. That means your gut microbes stay hungry, so they begin snacking on the cells that line your intestines. This can lead to inflammation and a whole cascade of conditions, including autoimmunity.
Eliminate artificial sweeteners. While the link between artificial sweeteners and weight gain is unclear, research shows that artificial sweeteners alter gut bacteria in a way that causes glucose intolerance. However, natural non-nutritive sweeteners, like Stevia and monk fruit don’t appear to have this effect on the microbiome and are a good alternative.
Get into a relaxed state. One of the most important factors in healing your gut is your own consciousness. Your gut is your second brain. If your microbiome is out of balance, you may feel anxious, depressed, or tired. You may also suffer from memory problems or brain fog. Try to eat mindfully and intuitively. This means focusing on your own instinct about what and how much to eat, instead of being influenced by people around you or diet mentality. This can help you to move past fear and judgment and find true satisfaction and peace when eating. (See pages 49-51 in the workbook for more info and the Mindful Eating Scale.)
Get enough sleep. Lack of sleep has been associated with obesity. Now, research shows that one of the reasons sleep deprivation causes weight gain is that it significantly changes your gut flora. It is recommended that adults get 7 to 9 hours of sleep per day.
Sweat every day. Your gut bacteria operate best when you exercise regularly. That’s because regular exercise promotes the biodiversity of your gut flora. Research shows that exercise actually increases the good bacteria in your gut. It is recommended that adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity a week, or a combination of moderate and vigorous activity. Also, do strength training exercises for all major muscle groups at least two times a week.
Check out more resources in the RENEW Resource Library.
Integrative Nutrition, Inc. (2017, 2018). Your Gut Microbiome, Module 13.
Jandhyala SM, Talukdar R, Subramanyam C, Vuyyuru H, Sasikala M, Nageshwar Reddy D. Role of the normal gut microbiota. World J Gastroenterol. (2015). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4528021/
Cleveland Clinic. (2022). How Your Gut Microbiome Impacts Your Health. https://health.clevelandclinic.org/gut-microbiome/
Mayo Clinic. (2021). Nutrition and healthy eating. Chart of high-fiber foods. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/high-fiber-foods/art-20050948
Harvard Health Blog. Fermented foods for better gut health. (2018). https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/fermented-foods-for-better-gut-health-2018051613841
Suez, J., Korem, T., Zeevi, D. et al. Artificial sweeteners induce glucose intolerance by altering the gut microbiota. Nature 514, 181–186 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1038/nature13793
Christiane Northrup, Inc. (2001-2023). How To Improve Your Gut Microbiome In A Day. https://www.drnorthrup.com/how-to-improve-your-gut-microbiome-in-a-day
80% of your immune system is in your microbiome