Thrive in 2021 with good gut health practices that focus on things you can change, like your lifestyle, food habits, sleep patterns, and stress levels.
Your gut is home to trillions of bacterial cells, many of which carry out vital roles to keep your body functioning and your health in tip-top condition. These bacteria, alongside fungi and viruses, make up your gut microbiome.
Table of contents
1. How to restore healthy gut flora
2. How to increase good bacteria in the gut
3. The role of exercise in gut health
4. Stress affects the gut via the brain
5. Sugar can cause gut imbalances
6. Stay away from artificial sweeteners
7. Improve gut health with sleep
8. Give your gut a rest to heal
9. Alcohol disturbs gut functions
10. Snacking and leaky gut are linked
11. Some painkillers can affect the gut
12. Laxatives should be used with care
13. Don’t eat that dodgy kebab
14. Fad diets aren’t quick-fix solutions
15. Antibiotics are tough on the microbiome
16. Influencers don’t always know the science
A healthy microbiome is a balanced microbiome. Too many harmful or opportunistic microbes, and you’re at an increased risk of inflammation and disease. Beneficial gut bacteria, on the other hand, protect you from disease, keep inflammation low, and even promote your mental health.
Our simple tips will help you build a better gut. Luckily, they’re not too difficult to follow either, so you can easily incorporate them into your everyday life. By doing so, you should feel better, and your gut flora should be restored.
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How to restore healthy gut flora
Probiotics can support a healthy microbiome. These foods and supplements contain live bacteria that can benefit our health.
The bacteria in your gut make up a vital ecosystem, and if this becomes upset, it can lead to abnormalities in its composition and diversity. Many things in life can have negative consequences on your gut bacteria and intestinal health.
Studies have shown that probiotics can help restore gut bacteria to healthy levels, protecting us from inflammation. Live fermented foods are excellent sources of natural probiotics that you can eat and drink. Researchers think these traditional foods may play an essential role in human health.
Probiotic foodsProbiotic food ingredients
Cheese, yogurt Dairy products including milk and cream
Sourdough bread Flour and water
Lacto-fermented pickles Saltwater brine (not vinegar) and vegetables like cucumbers
Sauerkraut Cabbage and salt
How to increase good bacteria in the gut naturally.
A good gut diet requires lots of dietary fibers, called prebiotics. You know, the ones found in natural, plant-based foods? Your gut bacteria love them!
The probiotics we mentioned above thrive on prebiotics — many of which are the non-digestible carbohydrates in fruit, veg, seeds, grains, and pulses. However, the Western diet is low in foods that promote healthy gut flora but high in fat, meat, and refined sugar.
Ultimately, this affects our health by reducing healthy gut bacteria and increasing our risk of weight gain, metabolic problems, chronic inflammation, and disease. Fortunately, it’s an easy problem to solve because your gut bacteria love edible plants.
Gut health foods for your microbiome
When your microbes munch on this prebiotics, they boost your health and wellbeing by maintaining the gut lining and preventing inflammation. Basically, a high-fiber diet is a key to a healthy microbiome.
Exercise in your gut health diet
Who knew that getting the heart pumping and the sweat pouring was suitable for the diversity of your microbiome? Well, it is, and here’s why.
Research has shown that individuals who lead a sedentary lifestyle have a less diverse microbiome. Therefore, it’s not just what you put into your body that counts; there are so many other lifestyle aspects in improving gut health.
How the food you eat affects your gut — Shilpa Ravella for Ted-Ed
But don’t despair; there are simple things you can do about it. Athletes, for example, have a more diverse gut than nonathletes. But you don’t need to be an Olympian to make a difference. Walking, jogging, and dancing all count; just aim for 150 minutes each week alongside some strength exercises. Trust us; your gut bacteria will love you for it.
If you’re stressed, so is your gut.
Stress negatively impacts many aspects of our health, including physical, mental, and even gut health.
Your microbiome doesn’t just affect your intestines; it influences other organs, including your brain. If you’re feeling stressed out, your microbes can feel it too. It can even decrease the abundance of critical probiotic bacteria like Lactobacillus.
Keeping beneficial bacteria at healthy levels can even improve your resilience to adversity. That’s because your gut microbes influence stress levels and mood hormones. Alleviate your stress by avoiding unnecessarily demanding situations, and try some techniques like breathing exercises and meditation.
How to improve gut health naturally with less sugar
Sugar is everywhere, even when you can’t taste it. Sadly, refined sugar can upset the balance in your gut and your metabolism.
The Western diet is classically high in sugar and fat, a well-known recipe for disaster. Simple sugars like glucose and fructose are added to many foods, but overeating can increase health risks like heart disease, diabetes type 2, and obesity. It can also disturb the gut microbiota.
Carbs vs. sugar: what’s the difference?
If you’re wondering how to get rid of harmful bacteria in the gut, less sugar can help. Soft drinks, processed foods, takeaways, and restaurant food can contain high sugar levels because it helps balance flavor and cover-up inferior quality ingredients. But don’t get these sugars confused with complex carbs (in edible plants) that your gut bacteria need to thrive and survive.
Artificial sweeteners are not on the healthy gut diet plan.
Sugar-free alternatives have been branded as a better option than sugar, but this isn’t strictly true when it comes to your intestinal health.
Artificial sweeteners may be a convenient replacement for those with a sweet tooth, but they may not be as beneficial as initially thought. Some studies have shown that they can actually increase blood sugar and increase the risk of obesity and type 2 diabetes.
Some fruit a downright attractive (and delicious too)
It’s easy to reach for a non-sugar sweetener, but if you’re trying to lower your sugar intake, it’s worth considering going for a piece of fruit, some dark chocolate, or simply forgoing the syrup in your latte.
How to improve the gut microbiome with sleep
Your gut and brain use nerves and chemicals to communicate with each other, and their discussions can influence your sleep patterns and mood.
Inside you is an internal timer known as the circadian rhythm — many of us would call it our “biological clock.” It runs on a 24/7 schedule and determines essential functions like digestion and sleep. Our gut microbes also follow a plan, but it may disturb your digestion and microbiome if you’re not getting enough sleep.
What is a circadian rhythm, and why should you care?
A lack of sleep often partners well with a poor diet, increased alcohol consumption, and weight gain. Research has shown that individuals who get a good forty winks have a more diverse microbiome. It also shows that sleep deprivation is bad for your brain. And when your brain isn’t happy, your whole body can feel it.
Tips for getting a better night’s sleep
Get to bed around the same time every night
Avoid screens or use night mode for an hour before bed
Set a routine to wake and sleep at regular times
Keep your room cold and use blackout curtains
Give your gut a rest from a hard day’s work.
Giving your body a break from digesting food could protect you from metabolic diseases and restore gut health.
When your gut takes a break from food for 12 (or more) hours between last night’s dinner and today’s breakfast, it has time to heal — because digestion is an abrasive activity. It can also improve the diversity of your gut microbiome, so your bacteria can help you stay healthy too.
What is Akkermansia muciniphila, and how does it protect gut health?
In fact, some beneficial bacteria, like Akkermansia muciniphila, actually enjoy a friendly fast and help strengthen the gut lining when they aren’t being fed by your food intake. There’s no need to be radical here, though; just lay off the midnight snacks and when you do eat, make sure you cram in wholesome plant-based carbs!
Alcohol and gut health
Getting merry too often can have implications for your intestinal health, not just your head and your wallet.
Alcohol is not the gut’s best friend, but you already know that. It affects the gut barrier and even influences the speed at which it moves food towards the exit. Booze can also increase the abundance of pathogenic microbes, in addition to constipation, diarrhea, and bloating, none of which bring any joy.
The facts on polyphenols for health and gut microbiome
Simply put, reducing your alcohol consumption is generally just good for your health, but the odd glass of red wine isn’t so bad. It contains polyphenols, antioxidants that help protect you from inflammation and disease and increase beneficial bacteria. If you get red and blotchy when you drink, you might have alcohol intolerance.
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Snacking is nice, but is it necessary?
We all love a good munch on something delicious, but snacking for the sake of it may not be promoting a healthy gut.
Eating triggers a healthy immune response known as postprandial inflammation. This is normal, but if you eat all the time, you’re actually prolonging this inflammatory state, increasing your calorie intake, and promoting weight gain. Luckily, there are a few simple hacks to solve the snacking.
First of all, don’t buy snacks — that’s where it all starts. Then, build wholesome meals with protein, fats, and fiber; it will keep you fuller for longer. Bring those meals to work, so you’re not tempted by snacks when you head out for a disappointing sandwich. It’ll save you money too!
Your lifestyle could encourage a leaky gut.
Easy on the painkillers for your gut flora
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory is painkillers that can alter the gut microbiome and lead to an upset stomach.
Better known as NSAIDs, these medications are among the most commonly prescribed. They treat pain by targeting inflammation and are especially popular because they help relieve menstrual pain.
However, even though they can produce short-term relief, chronic use can damage your gut lining and make your gut microbes sad. They irritate your intestinal lining, causing inflammation and even bleeding, too — both of which are detrimental to this organ and your microbiome.
☝️Like ibuprofen, TIP☝️Some of these painkillers can be bought at your shop, others prescribed by your doctor.
Feeling clogged up? Wait before you reach for a laxative. It might relieve the pressure, but it can also disturb your gut’s natural rhythm.
Chronic constipation is bothersome, and poor dietary habits can mean you’re not as regular as you should be. However, long-term use of laxatives can leave you dependent on them and may also deplete your gut flora. Perhaps unsurprisingly, laxative abuse is also a common trait in eating disorders.
What causes constipation? — Heba Shaheed for Ted-Ed
If you’re experiencing constipation frequently and not caused by an underlying medical condition, making changes to your lifestyle will help. Add more fiber to your diet, start exercising regularly, and try to maintain a daily toilet routine to stay regular. And just remember, sometimes it’s okay if you go a day without poop.
No dodgy kebabs on the microbiome diet menu
Greasy, processed food goes hand-in-hand with a boozy night out. Put them together, and you have a recipe for digestive mayhem.
We’ve all been there and eaten something which just didn’t agree with our gut. Bacteria is a common cause of food poisoning with vomiting, diarrhea, and incapacitating stomach cramps. In severe cases, it can be deadly. That’s why proper food handling and hygiene in restaurants is critical.
But is it, though? When in doubt, trust your gut (not your hungry brain)
So it’s worth considering the possibility that your dodgy Saturday night takeaway may be a culprit in temporary digestive discomfort. When pathogens invade, they rapidly multiply and produce toxins. In turn, the gut lining reacts with inflammation. So if you are heading out to paint the town red, line your stomach before you go out and don’t eat that dodgy takeaway.
Fad diets should be avoided.
Science has repeatedly shown that dieters are doomed to failure, yet new fad diets always manage to find abundant followers.
Fad diets are often restrictive novelties that are not backed up by medical research. In many cases, they promise quick and easy weight-loss strategies without any information about the science, risks, and potential long-term consequences for your health, gut, and microbiome.
These nutritional regimes can mean cutting out whole food groups or eating a specific type of food. A major one is a no-carb craze, but we know that a healthy microbiome and happy gut flora need prebiotic fibers to produce beneficial metabolites. Just removing food can disturb this sensitive ecosystem and your body’s delicate metabolic balance.
Restoring gut flora after antibiotics
Antibiotics deplete many bacteria, not just the ones making you sick. That’s why they should only be used under the supervision of a doctor when you really need them.
Antibiotics are an essential means to target bacterial infections. The problem is, we’ve used them too much, and antibiotic resistance is becoming a significant problem. Your gut flora isn’t keen on them either, and for a good reason.
Antibiotic resistance explained — Kurzgesagt
Studies show that antibiotics alter the composition of your gut biome in the long and short term. That’s why some doctors also prescribe a probiotic at the same time. If you do need them, make sure to top up your prebiotic fiber intake to nourish your good bugs and get a microbiome test to see how you can help them recover.
Influencers don’t necessarily know the science.
Social media made people famous by promoting an aspirational lifestyle that often receives advertising products and services.
Ask yourself, how many accredited health experts and researchers do you follow? Social media influencers are often highly paid by companies to promote products and/or services. They also made it to the top by sharing opinions, but not necessarily scientific facts.
Researchers K Pilgrim & S Bohnet-Joshko investigated health influencer communication strategies.
It’s essential to do your own research, or else you may find yourself doing some very unscientific stuff and buying all sorts of gut health supplements that some rando with a hundred thousand followers told you to. Don’t be afraid to question what you’re being told.
In short, here’s how to have a healthy gut
Never underestimate the importance of gut health when it comes to your body and wellbeing. It’s home to trillions of bacteria, not to mention actual human cells, that work hard to keep you fit and well. Your lifestyle can have a severe impact on this balance.
Making simple positive changes like more fiber in your diet, more exercise, and less unnecessary medication is how to get a healthy gut and wholesome gut microbiome. Just remember, you really do have the power to change, one step at a time.
Leanne EdermanigerScience writer who enjoys laughing, which is proven to help you live longer.
Thrive in 2021 with good gut health practices that focus on things you can change, like your lifestyle, food habits, sleep patterns, and stress levels.