Whether I’m working with someone on their gut health, or to increase their energy- it’s important to start with lifestyle practices.
The following 7 pillars are what I consider “fundamentals” important to gut (and ultimately overall) health. What’s great, is for the most part these are all accessible, affordable (if not free), and you can start implementing these on your own right now.
That being said! Here are the 7 fundamentals you can start with today to improve your gut (and as a result, your overall) health:
- Make sure you’re drinking enough water
Hydration is super super important. In regards to gut health – adequate hydration keeps stool soft, and easily passable through the intestinal tract. Adequate water intake supports colon health, skin health (and basically cellular health). It helps to carry nutrients to your cells, supports detoxification pathways, and aids in waste removal via the kidneys, skin and colon.
Aim for at least 1/2 your body weight in ounces of water a day. I find it helpful to keep a 1L water bottle at my desk/close by to act as a reminder to drink!
2. Incorporate prebiotic and probiotic foods
Prebiotics are non-digestible fibers, that actually FEED beneficial microorganisms. It’s not only important that we have an adequate amount of good-guys in our guts, but we’ve got to show them some love by feeding them. We want them to stay and hangout with us, ya? The fermentation of these non-digestible fibers in the gut produce metabolites called short-chained fatty acids (SCFA’s for short). These SCFA’s are super important, as they support maintenance and energy for the cells in the cell in the intestinal lining.
Probiotics are *live* microorganisms, that can provide health benefits to their hosts – they can help to restore and re-balance the microbiome. Different strains of probiotics can be used to target different systems and/or symptoms.
While all plant-based whole foods are sources of fiber, and beneficial for our gut (diversity in plant based foods is super important!!), there are specific “prebotic foods” (non-digestible fibers) that are known to feed our little guys. Try incorporating some of these into your food everyday to show your microbiome some love.
Some of the prebiotic foods are:
- raw jicama
- raw asparagus
- raw chicory root
- raw Jerusalem artichoke
- raw garlic
- raw/cooked onions
Some probiotic, or “live” foods to incorporate might be:
- coconut kefir
- coconut yogurt (or organic dairy yogurt if you tolerate it)
- fermented veggies
3. Move your body everyday
Movement is not only a great stress-reliever, but depending on the type of movement, it can tone the muscles around the digestive tract, can reduce transient stool time (aka better poops!), and some research has actually shown that movement may beneficially impact the composition of the gut microbiome.
Experiment with whatever makes you feel good. Movement doesn’t necessarily need to mean “exercise.” Getting a mix of cardio and resistance training is a good balance. Walking make you feel good? Go for a walk. Are you an aspiring yogi? Try a yoga class. Into martial arts? Weight lifting? 15-minute at home mat resistance training? Perfect. As long as you’re moving your bod.
4. Find a stress management practice that works for you
This one hits close to home for me – it’s so important. The gut is so intimately intertwined with the body’s nervous system (it has its OWN nervous system, hello), and stress has a direct impact on digestive processes. Stress also impacts the endocrine system (our hormonal system), our sleep, and our immunity.
Practicing stress management daily (however that looks for you), will help keep things moving and working as they should. To get you started, here are some examples of things to look into further:
- breath work (like box breathing, or the 4-7-8 breath)
- a creative hobby
- spend time in nature
- clean up/organize your space
- practice mindfulness
- meditate (I know, I know – but it works)
5. Increase your fiber intake
OK so dietary fiber plays many important roles in the body – many of which support a healthy gut. Fiber is the indigestible part of plant foods. There are 2 distinct categories: soluble and insoluble fiber.
Soluble fiber forms a gel-like substance when mixed with water or liquid – this helps to bind bile acids, helps to regulate cholesterol and blood sugar levels (fiber actually helps to rid excess cholesterol from the system via our stool, and may help to normalize serum cholesterol levels), and helps to keep the pH levels in the intestines at their ideal level.
Insoluble fiber on the other hand, doesn’t dissolve in water, but rather absorbs it, which helps to keep bowel movements regular, bulk stool, and support peristalsis. It’s fermented in the gut by bacteria in the microbiome (it feeds our little guys!). This fermentation process produces short-chain fatty acids, which maintain and provide a source of fuel to the cells in the intestines.
Eat a wide variety of plant foods to get lots of fiber. Some foods you might want to consider:
- leafy greens
- ground flax seed
- ground chia seed
Note: Increasing your dietary fiber intake may cause some GI upset like bloating or gas – it might take some time for your body and microbiome to get used to this additional fiber. Start low and slow.
6. Emphasize whole, unprocessed foods
Where possible, opt for whole food, unprocessed foods. These include: fruits and vegetables, legumes & beans, nuts, seeds, healthy fats (like avocados, walnuts, olives, wild-caught cold water fish, etc.) & clean protein sources. Highly processed and refined foods can cause inflammation in the body, blood sugar imbalances (spikes and dips in your blood sugar levels), disrupt the balance of your microbiome, contribute to hormonal imbalances, tax your liver, etc.
7. Prioritize sleep
Adequate, and quality rest, is another hugely important pillar. We know that sleep is important for many functions like immunity, metabolism, memory, etc. and general housekeeping and toxin removal – but sleep can also have an impact on our gut health. Some research shows that compromised sleep lowers levels of beneficial bacteria in the gut, and conversely the gut microbiome produces many important neurotransmitters that impact sleep. Make sure to get at least 7-9 hours a night – whatever feels good for you.
While all of these suggestions are generally safe for you to explore on your own, I do want to note that if you might have a certain digestive imbalance, you might not benefit right away from implementing some of these foundations (as you might need to do some gut healing first). Some of these recommendations, like increasing your fiber or prebiotic intake, can exacerbate your symptoms. I always always recommend consulting a practitioner you trust if you are experiencing any signs or symptoms, and before you start to take any sort of supplementation.
With these 7 fundamentals in place, you’ll set the stage for both health & vitality and healing, should you have some deeper healing to do. Try to approach one thing at a time, and make it a habit. Focusing on too many things at once easily becomes overwhelming and ultimately fall back into old habits that don’t serve them.
For any questions, or should you need some support/accountability – don’t hesitate to reach out via the comments below, or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org