by Rachel Stuck, RDN
Although it is most commonly associated with digestion, the gut plays key roles in a variety of important processes, including energy, emotional balance, sleep, immunity, mental clarity, skin health, and hormone balance. In fact, symptoms of a gut imbalance may seem unrelated to digestion.
Skin inflammation (such as acne)
A few powerful nutrition and lifestyle habits can streamline your path to gut health. Some of these habits may be surprising.
A healthy gut contains a diverse and balanced population of beneficial bacteria. In fact, gut health is all about balance. There isn’t one certain food, supplement, or habit every person can include to ensure gut health. However, exercise, stress management, and a diet rich in nutrient-dense foods will generally help support the population of beneficial bacteria in the gut. This allows the gut to heal and alleviates symptoms connected to a gut imbalance.
Below are six tips for supporting gut health. Although each tip is important, having personalized guidance based on your data is critical. See tip 6 to learn how to create a personalized plan to support your gut.
Stress is a commonly overlooked root cause of poor gut health. Chronic physical, mental, and emotional stress can damage the gut and create an imbalance of bacteria. Physical stressors like poor sleep and overexercise, as well as mental stressors like unhealthy relationships and poor work-life balance, can wreak havoc on the gut.
Support your gut by going to bed earlier, taking a ten-minute walk after lunch, talking to a therapist, or taking an extra rest day when life gets busy.
A diverse diet = a diverse microbiome. Eating vegetables and fruits is important, but the importance of including a variety of fruits and vegetables is often overlooked.
It is common for someone to eat blueberries every morning and broccoli with dinner several times a week. However, this limits the variety of nutrients and fibers that are introduced to the gut. By diversifying your diet, you can also diversify and support the population of beneficial bacteria that populate the gut!
Fill your grocery cart with nutrient-rich items you wouldn’t typically reach for. Consider fennel, artichokes, red cabbage, cranberries, tart cherries, and figs. It is also beneficial to switch up your fats and proteins, so consider adding some beans, sardines, and tempeh, as well as avocado oil, hemp seeds, and fatty fish to your weekly menu.
Protein is typically associated with muscle growth, but it is also important to the gut. Collagen and gelatin are both found in animal-based, protein-dense foods and both can help to restore the gut lining. Protein sources such as wild-caught salmon and anchovies are rich in omega-3 fatty acids that can help to heal the gut. Bone broth contains glutamine, which can help to restore the intestinal lining. Gut bacteria also use protein to support the processes that affect sleep quality, mood balance, cravings, and motivation.
Swap bouillon or traditional chicken or beef stock for bone broth. Add bone broth to soups and sauces, or use it when cooking grains (like rice) for an additional boost of protein and flavor.
Slowing down and chewing your food is the most basic—yet effective—way to support the gut. Eating quickly can cause bloating and constipation, which can disrupt exercise and make you feel groggy and uncomfortable. Help out your gut by chewing your food with intention and consider practicing mindful eating.
Try putting your fork or spoon down between bites and avoid multitasking like scrolling through social media, responding to emails, or talking on the phone while eating.
Research has uncovered the negative effects of emulsifiers, which are additives commonly found in processed foods. Emulsifiers are found in store-bought dressings, milk alternatives (like nut milk), store-bought pastries, and even yogurt. The gut can tolerate a small amount of emulsifiers, but at higher amounts, they can disrupt the gut and damage the intestinal lining. To avoid this, aim to include processed foods in moderation and choose foods that have short ingredient lists.
Review the ingredient list of store-bought salad dressings and look for ingredients that you do not recognize. Then, try a homemade dressing recipe. This allows you to avoid emulsifiers and other additives that could damage your gut.
Gathering valuable data about ourselves is a fascinating adventure. Unfortunately, many tests can leave you feeling confused about the results and what to do next.
Ixcela tests markers in the blood that help to identify the root cause of a gut imbalance. Then, we offer guidance about how to best support your gut. The Ixcela science offers insight into the composition of your gut microbiome, how well the nutrients in your diet are supporting your body’s needs, and the impact of stress. Then, an Ixcela registered dietitian creates a streamlined path that will help you optimize your gut health and overall well-being.
Get started with Ixcela today. First, take the Ixcela Gut Health Quiz to help you choose the program that is best for you.
Whether you are looking to maintain your gut health or you are desperately searching for solutions to your digestive distress, focusing on one small habit at a time is the best way to achieve long-term gut health.
This week, consider including just one of the tips listed above. It could be something as simple as adding a new vegetable to your shopping cart or booking a yoga session to help you unwind after a busy day. Then, build on your good habits by adding another of the tips above. Ixcela testing can help you fine-tune your habits based on your personalized needs.
Ixcela offers a variety of programs to support you at any stage of your gut health journey. Learn more about Ixcela’s offerings and how the program works.
Registered Dietitian Nutritionist Rachel Stuck has a background in culinary arts and nutrition counseling. Rachel takes a positive approach to nutrition: she avoids recommending restrictive diets and instead focuses on helping people choose foods that promote health and well-being. She is passionate about empowering and assisting Ixcela members as they develop their unique, gut-healthy lifestyles.
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Interested in learning more about Ixcela? Check out Ixcela’s microbiome test, personalized nutrition and fitness plans, and other tools to help you optimize your health.