Over 70 million Americans deal with a digestive issue, but what exactly does our gut do and how can we improve our overall gut health? To dive into gut health, we must start in the gastrointestinal tract (digestive/GI tract). 

Here is your GI tract from top to bottom: 

  • mouth,
  • esophagus,
  • stomach,
  • small intestine,
  • pancreas,
  • liver,
  • gallbladder,
  • colon,
  • and rectum 

Having a balanced microbiome is important for gut health. (The microbiome is all the bacteria that live in your gut.) You want to have more beneficial bacteria than other bacteria. Some bacteria can have negative effects like attacking your intestines and triggering diseases like type-2 diabetes, bowel conditions, and central nervous system disorders. However, beneficial bacteria can help us with daily functions needed to maintain good health. Our gut bacteria is responsible for breaking down food and absorbing nutrients for our body to use towards functions like balancing hormones, eliminating waste and toxins, and maintaining mental and physical health. 

Fun Fact: “Escherichia coli (E. coli) bacteria normally live in the intestines of people and animals. Most E. coli are harmless and actually are an important part of a healthy human intestinal tract.”

Center for Disease Control & Prevention

Signs of an unhealthy gut:

  • Frequent upset stomach, gas, bloating, heartburn, or constipation
  • Fatigue 
  • Unintentional weight gain/loss
  • Skin irritations
  • Excessive sugar cravings
  • Mood swings 

Common digestive diseases/conditions:

Ways to help improve your gut health

1. Eat Your Prebiotics and Probiotics 

Prebiotics and probiotics are essential elements to maintaining a healthy balance of bacteria in your gut (your microbiome). Before turning to supplements that are often expensive, look for ways to consume probiotics and prebiotics through fruits and vegetables. 

Probiotics are made of live microorganisms, such as yeast, that naturally live in your body. Probiotics keep you healthy by adding to the amount of beneficial bacteria already living in your gut. 

Foods high in probiotic fiber include fermented foods such as: sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha tea, and unpasteurized pickles or other pickled vegetables. 

Prebiotics are typically found in high-fiber foods, which provide food for the beneficial bacteria in your gut. (They’ve gotta eat, too!) Eating prebiotics help maintain a healthy balance in your microbiome. 

Foods with prebiotic fiber include: legumes, beans, bananas, oats (whole grains), asparagus, garlic, berries, and onions.  

Pickles and fermented foods are good for your gut health.

2. Reduce Stress and Prioritize Sleep

Without proper sleep, our bodily functions are thrown for a loop. Lack of sleep can directly affect our emotions, memory, and weight. If stress lasts a significant amount of time, a decreased flow of oxygen to the gut is possible. This can lead to gut bacteria imbalances and inflammation. To allow yourself to destress or prepare for a good night’s sleep, try practicing yoga, meditation, or having a deditated quiet time. These can help alleviate stress and allow more oxygen to flow through your body, including to your gut. 

3. Avoid Processed Foods  

Ultra-processed foods contain high levels of added sugars, unhealthy fats, preservatives, and salt. Foods that land in this category include candies, sweets, chips, sodas, etc. They contain little-to-no nutritional benefits and only add harmful bacteria to your gut.

In conclusion

The health of your gut is extremely important for the health of your whole body! Your gut directly influences main functions of your body from your digestive tract to your immune system. Improve your gut functions by prioritizing sleep, eating foods high in probiotic and prebiotic fibers, and avoiding ultra-processed foods. It is also always a good idea to drink more water to aid your digestive functions. In eating a diet that is nutritious in fiber-rich, prebiotics and probiotic foods like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, you’ve done the first step to set your gut up for success.

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