Gut health is crucial for overall health and wellness. A healthy gut can improve digestion, boost the immune system, and promote feelings of well-being. Unfortunately, poor eating habits, stress, and other factors can negatively impact gut health. But the good news is that it’s never too late to set the foundations of gut health. Here are four effective ways to improve gut health using hydration, dietary fiber, mindful eating, and physical activity.
Oftentimes, people think that improving gut health should start with a restrictive diet. And while there are certainly therapeutic benefits to addressing gut health with dietary interventions, I don’t believe it’s the right place to start. The truth is that if you spend lots of time and energy following a specific diet religiously, but don’t set the right foundation, you’ll be wasting your time. Having all the “right” foods pass through the wrong environment (an inflamed, irritated and unbalanced gut) will not change too much.
In this article, I will provide an overview of the foundations of gut health and where I start with clients to get the best results.
Drinking plenty of water is essential for maintaining good gut health. Water helps to flush out waste and toxins from the body, promotes healthy digestion, and keeps the colon hydrated. Aim to drink at least eight glasses of water per day to keep your gut healthy and functioning properly.
Many of us know we need to drink more water, but in the end we just can’t make it happen on the daily. There can be many reasons for this. I’ll cover the most common ones below. First things first, though, let’s figure out what your goal should be and how to measure it.
Make a Goal
Fortunately, this part is pretty easy. You can just take your body weight (in pounds) and divide it in half, and that’s how many ounces of water you should aim for on a daily basis. Factor in your physical activity by adding another 36 oz per hour of exercise. Now, if your starting point is very low (less than 40 oz per day), work up to your goal gradually.
Now, water isn’t the only thing that gives us, well, water. We get water from fruits and vegetables, primarily, and particular foods like soups, smoothies, etc. For the purpose of tracking hydration, however, I allow folks to count water and any type of unsweetened, non caffeinated beverage. So, don’t count soda, juice, coffee, or regular tea. Do count water, sparkling water, unsweetened herbal teas.
What if You’re Picky About Water?
For better or worse, some folks just aren’t huge fans of water, and that makes things a little tricky when it comes to hydration. The first thing to do is stick to a plan (discussed below) and allow yourself time for your tastes to adjust. While you’re doing that, experiment with water additions. I don’t recommend buying anything that’s on the market to add to your water. It will be processed and aimed at giving that salty, sweet hit that you need to break up with. Instead, opt for fruits, vegetables, and herbs. There are tons of options. The most popular include: lemon, ginger, mint, and cucumber. But, you can get creative and try: hibiscus, rooibos, lime, fennel, lavender, and more!
Remember, you don’t have to drink water at room temperature. If you like it cold, add ice and get an insulated water bottle. Want something warm, try herbal tea.
If you like carbonated beverages, you can opt for seltzers or carbonated mineral water. I recommend limiting yourself to 16 oz of carbonated water per day for best results in terms of gut health.
Creating a Plan that is Achievable
It’s all well and good to say you’re going to drink more water. I think we all know how well that’s going to go if you don’t have a realistic plan in place.
Here are my top recommendations for hydration goal setting:
- Front load your day: aim for 8-16 ounces of water within an hour of rising.
- Tie drinking water to meals. Aim for 1 glass of water before, and one after, meals.
- Measure your vessels and tally up how many glasses or bottles you need to finish to get to your goal.
Consuming adequate dietary fiber is crucial for promoting healthy digestion and maintaining a healthy gut microbiome. Fiber is a type of carbohydrate that is not digested by the body, but instead acts as food for the beneficial bacteria in the gut. We get dietary fiber from fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and nuts.
Fiber can be tricky with gut issues, since imbalances in the microbiome can result in gas and bloating with certain types of fibers. If this applies to you, a low FODMAP diet can be helpful. You check out my other articles on the low FODMAP diet here:
In addition to dietary fiber, a fiber supplement can be beneficial for normalizing bowel habits. You’ll want to use a high quality, gut-friendly supplement and stay well hydrated. You can find my top fiber supplement recommendations here.
Eating mindfully means paying attention to your food and the experience of eating. This can help to reduce stress and improve digestion. Eating slowly and savoring each bite can also help to prevent overeating and promote feelings of fullness. Try to avoid distractions, such as watching TV or using your phone, and instead tune into your body and your experience by using all of your senses while you eat.
Mindful eating is a foundation habit to build on over time. The most important thing is to just get started. You can do that by following these simple steps:
- Assess your hunger. It can be helpful to rank your hunger on a scale from 0-5.
- Portion your food according to your hunger. Choose the amount of food that will satisfy your hunger, knowing that you can get more if you’re still hungry.
- Take 3 deep breaths before you begin eating.
- Use these simple steps to slow down while you’re eating: chew slowly and thoroughly, use all 5 of your senses, and set utensils down between bites.
- Pause halfway through your meal to assess your fullness. Give yourself permission to leave food on the plate if you’re satisfied before your meal is finished.
I recommend using all 5 of these steps for at least one meal per day for a week. Eventually, mindful eating will become a natural part of how you approach food on a daily basis.
Any plan for gut health is complete without a physical activity component. Physical activity can help to reduce stress, improve gut motility, and promote the growth of beneficial bacteria in the gut. Here are my top tips for establishing a successful physical activity and sticking to it!:
- Choose something you actually enjoy: if being active feels like a chore, you’re not likely to keep doing it for very long.
- Make realistic goals: if you’re starting from zero, don’t jump to a 6 day per week schedule. Start by adding 1-2 days at a time, for 30-60 minutes per session.
Physical activity can boost your mood, and really set the tone for each day.
Gut health is not just about restrictive diets and avoiding trigger foods. You can give your gut health a boost right now by focusing on hydration, dietary fiber, mindful eating, and physical activity. By incorporating these habits into your daily routine, you can improve your gut health, boost your overall well-being, and reduce the risk of digestive disorders.
If all of these recommendations feel overwhelming, set up some form of accountability for yourself. If you want to discuss how MEM Nutrition & Wellness can help, book an intro call to get clear on what makes sense for YOU!