Did you know that 70% of your immune system is located in the gut?
The majority of diseases begin in the gut, where the good bacteria work to improve health while the bad ones coordinate to bring about disease.
Whether the good or bad bacteria thrive is entirely dependent on your diet and lifestyle. See also, 8 Natural Probiotics For Vegans
Fortunately, you have the right to decide what goes into your body and what should not because anything you eat can either bring health or disease.
Research shows that if you take care of your gut, you can eliminate up to 90% of the chances of developing diseases, including obesity, diabetes, heart-related conditions, cancers, and other related gut issues.
So what can you do to ensure your gut is at the peak of its function? Here’s how to improve gut health naturally.
1. Eat probiotic-rich foods
The term probiotic refers to live microorganisms, typically bacteria or yeast, that are good for the health of your gut. Consuming foods rich in probiotics helps populate your gut with beneficial microbes that improve digestive and immune function. These foods can also provide your body with vitamin K2, which has been linked to improved cardiovascular health, as well as calcium and vitamin D, which are important for strong bones and teeth. You can also easily increase your probiotic intake through probiotic supplements but let’s look at foods rich in probiotics. Consider adding these to your diet regularly to improve gut health naturally.
This fermented milk drink is one of the most popular probiotic foods out there, and for a good reason. It contains a variety of beneficial bacteria, such as lactobacillus kefiranofaciens and leuconostocs cremoris that are good for your gut microbiota. For centuries, kefir has been used to aid digestion.
In recent years, researchers have become interested in kefir’s role in boosting our immune system, helping to fight off bacteria like salmonella and E. coli. Some studies suggest that drinking kefir may also help prevent colds and flu. Kefir can be found at many health food stores or online. And even though most of these sources are dairy-based, you can find plant-based alternatives like soy milk or almond milk kefir.
Sauerkraut is a classic example of fermented food. It’s made by packing cabbage into a jar and allowing it to ferment. This process produces lactic acid, which preserves food, thereby increasing its shelf life. Sauerkraut also contains probiotic bacteria that keep your digestive system healthy and functioning properly.
Sauerkraut also contains vitamins B12 and K2 (menaquinone), essential nutrients found almost exclusively in animal products such as cheese, eggs, meat, fish, butter, cream, and milk.
You can enjoy sauerkraut as a guacamole topping, on salad sandwiches, on avocado toast, include it in your rice bowl, or for soup garnishes. Sauerkraut is available in almost any health food store, or you can ferment your own at home.
Kimchi is another incredible source of probiotics that can help improve gut health naturally.
It’s a traditional Korean dish made of fermented vegetables, including cabbage, radish, and scallion. This popular side or main course has received increasing attention from researchers due to its high amounts of probiotics. In fact, a serving of kimchi may contain 100 million probiotic cells.
The most common variety of kimchi contains napa cabbage, red pepper powder, garlic, ginger, and fish sauce. While each region has its own take on what should be included in a recipe for kimchi, it’s important to know that different varieties have different health benefits. In particular, watery types of kimchi (like mul-kimchi) tend to be low in fat and calories while still being rich in probiotics and other nutrients like vitamin C.
Other varieties include:
- Gochujang-kimchi, which is spicy and made from chili peppers.
- Baechu-kimchi, which also includes Chinese cabbage.
- Kkaennip-kimchi,which is made from a type of leafy green vegetable.
For best results, when eating kimchi as part of your probiotic diet, you should aim to eat at least one cup per day to experience optimum benefits.
If you are vegan or on a plant-based diet, look for a vegan version without fish sauce.
Tempeh is a traditional soy food originally from Indonesia. It is a fermented product made with whole soybeans that have been partially cooked and then formed into a patty. Tempeh can be eaten raw or cooked, and it has an earthy flavor that is reminiscent of mushrooms, along with a hearty texture. In addition to being high in protein, tempeh contains healthy amounts of calcium, magnesium, and phosphorus.
It’s also a good source of probiotics, including Bacillus subtilis and Bacillus coagulans, which promote digestive health. A serving of tempeh has about as much probiotic benefit as a cup of yogurt.
Soy foods such as tempeh also contain isoflavones, which are plant compounds that may help reduce cholesterol levels and fight certain types of cancer. Tempeh may also help lower blood pressure because it’s rich in potassium and fiber.
In addition, studies suggest that probiotic bacteria found in tempeh may boost immunity. According to one study, five out of eight people who ate a serving of tempeh every day for two weeks had higher levels of beneficial bacteria (Lactobacillus) in their intestines than before eating the soy food.
Natto is a fermented soybean dish popular in Japan. It’s made by fermenting cooked soybeans with Bacillus subtilis var. natto, a bacterium with probiotic properties. It is traditionally eaten in Japan over rice for breakfast or as an accompaniment to savory dishes. The slimy texture of natto is off-putting to some people, but others relish it for its flavor and nutritional profile.
Natto is also high in plant-based protein and loaded with probiotics, necessary for optimal digestion and healthy living. In addition, it has been linked to improved skin health, cancer prevention, immune support, and healthier blood pressure levels. It’s also very high in vitamin K2—an essential nutrient that helps keep your bones strong by making them more resistant to fractures caused by osteoporosis.
Try adding natto to a veggie-heavy breakfast scramble, or keep it on hand as an easy post-workout snack.
2. Start eating prebiotic foods
Eating prebiotic foods can help improve gut health by supporting beneficial bacterial growth throughout your gastrointestinal tract.
A prebiotic is a non-digestible food material that stimulates the growth of good bacteria. Prebiotics are naturally found in everyday foods like leeks, asparagus, garlic, onions, and artichokes. Fruits and vegetables such as bananas, papaya, and avocado also contain good amounts of prebiotics. Beneficial bacteria need prebiotics to grow; therefore, eating a diet rich in prebiotics is one of the easiest ways to improve gut health naturally.
Foods You Should Avoid to Improve Gut Health Naturally
There are plenty of foods that support gut health, but there are also plenty of foods that can cause damage to your gut if you’re not careful. These include:
a. Processed foods
Processed foods are highly inflammatory, making them a major contributor to leaky gut syndrome and poor digestive health.
Because gut health relies on beneficial bacteria and probiotics, you want to make sure that your diet is free of foods that contribute to inflammation in your body. Processed foods tend to contain chemicals and additives (such as artificial sugars, flavorings, and colorings) that may harm your digestive system over time.
Instead of going for those boxed or pre-made foods, keep it simple by opting for fresh whole foods at all times. Consuming a nutrient-dense diet full of vegetables and fruits is a great way to feed your good gut bacteria and improve gut health.
Sugar is bad for our gut. Period! The more sugar you eat, whether it’s in sodas or candy bars, energy drinks or cookies, is detrimental to your health. It can wreak havoc on your blood-sugar levels and increase inflammation in your digestive tract (and throughout our bodies). Sugar helps feed the harmful bacteria, causing them to grow in number while reducing the beneficial ones, thus making you susceptible to various diseases.
A high sugar diet may also increase your risk of insulin resistance, obesity, type 2 diabetes, and heart-related conditions.
To improve your gut health naturally, cut out added sugar from your diet. A great way to do that is by avoiding the obvious sugar-containing products like soda, candies, and fruit juices and hidden sugars—substances like high fructose corn syrup, found in many processed foods.
You can also try making a few simple swaps: instead of drinking juice with added sugar, try drinking homemade 100 percent fruit juice; instead of eating sweets after dinner, opt for a small square of dark chocolate (sugar-free and with a cocoa content of more than 70 percent); and instead of having ice cream as a snack, reach for some frozen berries with some plant-based yogurt.
It’s no surprise that dairy products are often a leading cause of gastrointestinal distress in both adults and children. Cow’s milk is known to cause digestive issues because it contains lactose, a simple sugar that is difficult for some people to digest. Even if you’re able to tolerate cow’s milk, other dairy products such as cheese and yogurt can irritate your gut by causing inflammation and other reactions.
Gluten—the protein found in wheat, rye, and barley—doesn’t cause any issues in most people. But for a small percentage of individuals, it does more than upset their stomach; it causes intestinal damage, leading to nutrient malabsorption, gastrointestinal distress, and even malnutrition. There are many health conditions associated with gluten intolerance; celiac disease is one of them. If you’re gluten-intolerant or have been diagnosed with celiac disease, avoiding gluten altogether is crucial for your health.
Too much alcohol is known to upset the gastrointestinal (GI) tract and can cause a host of other health problems. When it comes to promoting gut health, avoiding alcohol or choosing a healthy amount—one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men will be necessary. One drink equates to 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of 80-proof spirits. If you’re already in poor health or experiencing GI distress, try to avoid alcohol altogether because even small amounts can make things worse.
Animals are often injected with hormones and other drugs such as antibiotics.
Consuming foods that have been treated with antibiotics can interfere with healthy gut flora. Although research on humans is limited, studies show that eating foods treated with antibiotics may destroy good bacteria. As a result, harmful bacteria in your digestive tract may flourish and cause infections.
g. Artificial sweeteners
While artificial sweeteners like aspartame and saccharin have no calories, they may promote gut health problems. For instance, they have been shown to increase the risk of leaky gut syndrome—a condition when your intestinal walls become porous, potentially allowing undigested food particles into your bloodstream. If you’re aiming for a healthy gut microbiome, skip these fake sugars in favor of a few extra slices of fresh fruit throughout the day.
3. Other Daily Habits to Help Improve Your Gut Health
a. Drink water first thing in the morning
At rest, your pyloric sphincter (a smooth visceral muscle-like valve between your stomach and duodenum) remains partially open but immediately closes in the presence of food to allow digestion to take place.
If you drink water 1st thing in the morning, it will go through your stomach into the duodenum, wiping off any residual toxins in your entire gut. This will help purify your colon and clean your stomach, increasing the surface area for the absorption of nutrients. It also increases circulation to your gut, improves your skin, and can help with weight loss.
b. Chew your food well
This is such a simple and obvious act that goes almost unnoticed.
Most people don’t take time to chew their food well, and I’m sure you’ve been a victim at some point.
What people do is break the food into pieces they can manage to swallow. But trust me, those teeth and saliva couldn’t have been a mistake.
Did you know your digestion, especially of starch, begins in the mouth? By chewing your food well, you’re increasing the surface area for the digestive enzyme in the saliva to act.
After swallowing, digestion of starch in the stomach slows down since the enzyme involved can only act in an alkaline environment, and the stomach is acidic. It later continues in the duodenum, but without initial proper chewing, there will be poor digestion with minimal absorption of nutrients taking place.
c. Drink water between meals and not with meals
Digestion of protein takes place in the stomach, but there must be an acidic environment for that to happen. The stomach is always acidic with a PH of 2.5, but when you drink with meals, this environment changes, and the acid is neutralized to a PH of about 3.5-4. Since the digestive enzyme in the stomach cannot break down proteins in such an environment, the stomach has to stop digesting and try to get rid of the water and bring the PH back to normal. This delays digestion and fermentation may set in, leading to the growth of bacteria.
d. Avoid snacking between meals
It takes approximately 2-4 hours for the stomach to empty its content, depending on the type of food you’ve eaten. The stomach then needs about an hour of rest, meaning you should have a pause of about 5-6 hours between meals.
You can only achieve this if:
- You are eating food high in fiber. Fiber binds up glucose and slowly releases it, thus maintaining your energy for long.
- You are eating food generous in proteins, with the best examples being legumes, nuts, and seeds.
- If you’re eating healthy fats like coconut and olive oil. Fats help keep food longer in the stomach by coating it. That way, it takes a bit longer for digestion to get to the food, which is good news.
e. Never go to bed on a full stomach
Your organs love to rest as much as they love to serve you. Avoid eating your main meal at night and eat something light instead.
When you sleep on a full stomach, the food pushes on the cardiac sphincter (a muscle-like valve that opens to allow food into the stomach from the esophagus and closes to avoid reflux).
Over time, this muscle weakens and cannot relax properly, leading to acid reflux.
A very light meal at night can also help maintain your weight as there is no extra glucose being stored as fat.
d. Avoid taking antibiotics unnecessarily
Unless you really need antibiotics, please don’t take them.
Not only do antibiotics kill disease-causing pathogens, but they also wipe off your good bacteria, causing an imbalance in your gut microbiome and its function.
This can reduce species diversity, increase antibiotic-resistance genes, disrupt bacterial signaling, and lower immunity.
e. Exercise regularly
Poor digestion has been linked to a disruption in gut movements, low energy levels, bloating, heartburn, feeling heavy, reduced ability to work and concentrate, stress, and even weight gain.
If you’re looking for a magic bullet to boost your gut health, exercise might be it. It doesn’t just make you feel good; it also increases gut motility (the rate at which food moves through your digestive tract). This is key because constipation can worsen inflammatory bowel disease.
Harvard Medical School reports that regular physical activity can improve appetite, digestion, and metabolism. Exercise also benefits your immune system and promotes emotional well-being. As a bonus, exercise provides positive feedback that may help you stick with other healthy habits—like getting enough sleep or eating well—long term.
Some of the best exercises to enhance digestion include brisk walking, cycling, crunches, and breathing exercises. see Also 8 Life-Changing Benefits of Exercise
f. Reduce stress
The brain and the gut are closely connected, and anything affecting your mind will definitely affect your gut.
Stress activates your flight-or-fight response, which increases acid production in your stomach, leading to indigestion.
In the worst cases, stress may reduce blood flow and oxygen supply to the stomach leading to inflammation, cramps, and an imbalance in gut flora.
Short-term stress can lead to a loss of appetite, while long-term stress can cause gastrointestinal issues like diarrhea, constipation, upset stomach, and indigestion.
Over time, this may lead to conditions like irritable bowel syndrome and other gut-related disorders.
g. Get enough sleep
Are you one of the 70 million Americans who don’t get enough sleep? In addition to being fatigued, you may not realize that you also could be suffering from poor gut health due to lack of sleep. That’s because your gut and sleep are closely related, and good sleep promotes good gut health. How? Sleep deprivation can lead to chronic inflammation, which is at the root of many diseases, including irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). To reap the benefits of good gut health, ensure that you get at least seven hours of sleep every night.
g. Eat food rich in fiber
Dietary fiber acts as a prebiotic to feed your good gut bacteria, which helps increase their population and diversity.
Fiber is also essential for regular bowel movements, reducing cholesterol, controlling blood sugar levels, preventing constipation, and resolving diarrhea.
Other Related Articles
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- 11 Sneaky Ingredients That Are Not Vegan
- What Is The Best Vegan Milk?
- 10 Foods That Boost The Immune System
- 8 Natural Probiotics For Vegans
- Should Vegans Take Supplements
- 6 Benefits Of A Plant-Based Diet
- 10 Best Vegan Protein Sources
- 11 Proven Benefits Of Coconut Oil
A healthy gut is essential for a healthy body and a strong immune system. Avoiding unnecessary use of antibiotics, controlling your stress levels, exercising, and minding what you eat, how you eat, and when you eat are some of the key factors to help you improve your gut health naturally.
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