“You are what you eat” is more than just a catchphrase—it really is grounded in truth. After all, the nutrients that your body uses to function come from what you ingest. It’s thus important to maintain your digestive health if you want the rest of your body to remain in tiptop shape.
To understand the importance of gut health, it may help to have a quick refresher on how the digestive system works: Food travels from the mouth, through the esophagus, and into the stomach.
Your stomach starts breaking down the food before sending it to the small intestine, which breaks it down further to squeeze out the nutrients and send them to the rest of your body. Any excess goes to your large intestine and serves as virtual feast for the bacteria in that organ. Anything undigested ends up as waste.
It’s a well-oiled machine but sometimes there are kinks, which may be caused by genetics or a poor diet and habits. These kinks may cause anything from discomfort (e.g., from bloating, constipation, diarrhea) to major health issues (e.g., heart disease, type 2 diabetes, cancer). Fortunately, outside of genetic factors, your gut health is well within your control.
How to Improve Gut Health Naturally
Heed the following tips to help keep your digestive system running smoothly:
1 Eat a balanced diet of whole foods. The Gastroenterological Society of Australia (GESA) recommends cutting back on processed foods as these normally have little nutrition and fiber, and contain lots of bad stuff like salt and preservatives. Instead, stick to foods that are as close as possible to their natural state.
Make sure you get those that are rich in fiber, that indigestible component of food that makes you feel full and aids in bowel movement. Fiber-rich food sources include whole grains and cereals (like oats), vegetables, and fruits. Take note that a diet with too much fat can make you feel more sluggish, not to mention lead to heart disease and other conditions.
2 Savor your food. As busy as you are, try not to inhale your food. Chew it slowly as this makes it easier for your stomach to break it down, putting less stress on your system. Also try to stick to regular mealtimes—skipping meals can lead to overeating later on, which can be taxing to your gut.
3 Introduce probiotics into your diet. Your digestive tract is home to trillions of microorganisms, some good, some bad. Having an abundance of bad bacteria in your digestive tract may lead to heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and cancer, among other diseases, so it’s important to maintain a healthy balance of gut bacteria. You can increase the good bacteria in your gut by consuming probiotic foods like yogurt, sauerkraut, and kimchi.
4 Drink lots of fluids. Make water your best friend and try to avoid sugar-laden drinks. Drinking plenty of water can help break down nutrients and soften your stool, making it easier to pass through your system. Also, alcohol doesn’t count! It can even upset your digestive system by inflaming your stomach lining, according to GESA.
5 Manage stress. Ever notice how your stomach feels queasy when you’re feeling stressed? The term “gut-wrenching” doesn’t exist for nothing—it encapsulates how your gut and brain are connected.
A study published in the Journal of Physiology and Pharmacology stated that stress “shows both short- and long-term effects on the functions of the gastrointestinal tract.” It went on to say that stress is linked to the development of gut disorders like inflammatory bowel disease, irritable bowel syndrome, and gastroesophageal reflux disease, among others. It’s thus important to keep stress at bay.
If you cannot eliminate the sources of stress in your life, then try to find ways to manage it. Yoga, meditation, finding a new hobby you enjoy, or even chatting with a friend may help.
6 Don’t smoke. GESA states that smoking can lead to heartburn, aggravate existing gut problems like ulcers and inflammatory issues, and increase the risk of various types of cancer.
7 Exercise regularly. Abs aren’t just for the sake of vanity; strong abdominal muscles can help cycle food through your digestive system. Getting enough cardio also gets your blood flowing and kicks your digestive system—and the rest of your body—into high gear.
Creating a healthy gut simply means adopting holistic health habits. Improve your gut health and you’ll notice an increase in energy levels and an improvement in overall health.