Gut health is more than a reflection of what you eat. It includes the components of your lifestyle like sleep schedule, stress levels, and exercise regimens. The typical American diet is heavy in fats and low in fruits and vegetables which doesn’t create a good environment for your gut. Aim for a balanced diet that emphasizes variety. According to Kathleen Johnson, a registered dietician, eating the same nutrient-rich diet everyday is better than processed sugar and saturated foods, but it won’t give you all the vitamins and nutrients needed to create and maintain a healthy microbiome. The trillions of protozoa, viruses, bacteria, and fungi inside the body ( microbiome) that helps digestion is unique to each individual. Because of this individuality, some of the aids people swear by-whether they’re supplements, teas, herbs, or powders, may not always produce the desired effects. It’s best to stick to three meals a day, rather than continually snacking, and avoid a limited, repetitive menu. Restrictive approaches to diet actually slows your metabolism, increases bloating, and increases constipation. Our bodies are designed to regulate themselves without switching to fad diets, supplemental powders, and fancy capsules that advertise to shrink your waistline. Tons of people swear by apple cider vinegar to keep healthy, but there is actually no science to back it up. Also many teas advertised as digestive aids are actually laxatives and may harm the liver. Instead, opt for a diet rich in fiber and drink water. Packaged foods or beverages that claim to save your gut should be met with skepticism. Not all fermenting methods are the same and not all of them contain probiotics either. Our body can create its own probiotics by including garlic, fibers, onions, and oatmeal in our diets.
If you are chronically stressed or anxious, you will have a different gut than others. A GI doc might prescribe antidepressants when other interventions haven’t yielded results. The theory goes that a low fiber diet powered by sugar and fat may damage the small intestine, allowing bacteria to leak through the gut, circulate, and reach the brain and alter cognitive thinking. For those with irritable bowel syndrome, research has shown that the more stressors they face, the more likely they will experience flare-ups in abdominal pain accompanied by diarrhea and constipation. Artificial sweeteners, wheat, rye, apples, and asparagus aren’t absorbed well by the small intestine and causes gas, bloating, and pain for sensitive stomachs. Because of fluctuating hormones, women are twice as likely than men to have IBS and experience worse symptoms. Choose foods found in the Mediterranean diet and avoid processed foods, chocolate, and fried foods which exacerbates IBS.
Every six-eight weeks, your gut microbiome starts to turn over and change. Recommendations are to adhere to a balanced diet, exercise regularly, get enough sleep, and lower stress levels for a healthier gut.