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A happy gut doesn’t have to be complicated.
When you google gut health you will see tons of articles, hacks, and supplements out there that are supposed to be great for your gut. While some of those things are truly helpful seeing all of those things can be really overwhelming. Plus you will often find conflicting info so not only is it confusing but it can be paralyzing because it leaves you wondering what you should and shouldn’t do for a happy gut.
There are 6 things that every happy gut needs.
These basic things can have a very powerful effect on gut health. If you find yourself getting lost in the noise of all the different gut health strategies out there then come back to this post.
We have to eat foods we enjoy!
Have you ever gone out to eat with friends and when the food your friend’s food looks so much better than yours and all of a sudden your food doesn’t taste as good? Yup. Been there. This is a good example of how much a role our mind plays with food.
Eating for gut health isn’t just about jamming in the fiber with huge salads that you really don’t like but make yourself eat because it’s supposed to be healthy. Eating for a happy gut is about eating foods you enjoy and works for your gut health.
Now, this can be hard when you have gut problems because it can seem like all the foods you enjoy makes your gut hurt or give you digestive problems.
Here are two techniques I like to help with this.
Reframe: First, reframe your thoughts around food. Reframing means to look at your thoughts and choose to see them in a different lens. When we see it differently we can start to feel differently. For example, let’s say you can’t eat wheat so you think you can’t have any more chocolate chip cookies as your dessert after a long day. Instead, you can reframe it to look something like, “I can’t have these cookies for my dessert but I just saw a gluten-free recipe that I could try instead.”
Uncover: Secondly, uncovering what foods do and don’t work for your gut. Knowing what foods you like and what foods your gut likes can give you so much more power and control over digestive symptoms. The first step to uncovering what foods your gut likes would be keeping a food diary. You can also try a basic elimination diet or work with a dietitian to get more support. This is what I do in my 90 day gut reset program which is blood testing to identify food sensitivities followed with a personalized elimination diet.
Stress can suck.
Every post you read about wellness is going to tell you to work on stress and this blog post is not different. I know this is easier said than done but truly stress impacts us more than we realize.
We have a mind-gut connection so when we are mentally stressed so is our gut. When we work on our mental health we can directly impact our physical health.
Something really common I see is people being always stressed so when I ask them how their stress is the answer is usually something along the lines as “no more than usual.” Just because your stress level might not have changed and you didn’t have gut symptoms when you were at the same stress level doesn’t mean it can’t happen now.
My favorite way to destress is meditation.
Meditation often conjures up a mental picture of sitting cross-legged on the floor, listening to calm music, and trying hard not to fall asleep; but, meditation doesn’t have to look like that. Take two minutes to just sit silently (the bathroom is always a good place to go if there are people everywhere), or turn on your favorite song and start dancing, or just take a walk around the block.
Get your 8 hours on the daily.
Sleep is another tip that is important for gut and mental health. For gut health specifically, when we don’t get enough sleep or good quality sleep it can impact our hunger hormones.
Lack of good sleep has been shown to affect:
Food choices. We tend to have a higher calorie day and choose higher fat and sugary foods plus eat less fiber when we don’t sleep enough. Hello, cravings!
How we eat. Have you ever had a sleepless night then wake up, go straight into your day, and come home starving? This happens a lot and this pattern can contribute to stacked calories at the end of the day which can leave you feeling bloated and sluggish.
Our hunger levels. Lack of sleep can make us feel hungrier than normal. Ghrelin is a hunger hormone that makes us feel hungry and lack of sleep can stimulate this hormone. We also have another hormone called leptin which has the opposite job of ghrelin. Leptin helps us feel full and satisfied. Lack of sleep can decrease this hormone contributing to increased hunger.
Our gut is self-cleaning.
We have something called the migrating motor complex which acts like a little broom sweeping through our gut to clean out the dust or in this case undigested food. This action only happens when your gut is at rest aka when you are not eating.
So while eating is important so are our times of not eating. If you are someone who is always munching and grazing on food your gut might not have enough rest time for the migrating motor complex to happen efficiently. Also, an altered migrating motor complex has been linked to SIBO, small intestine bacterial overgrowth, so the migrating motor complex is very important for managing our gut bacteria levels.
Get back to basics.
In the day and age of dieting, there is so much focus on numbers and macros that we forget about the quality of what we are eating. Good quality foods that never go out of style and critical for gut health are fruits and veggies with a special emphasis on veggies. The closer you can get to eating whole foods daily the better your gut and overall health will be. This doesn’t mean you have to cook from scratch every day.
An easy place to start incorporating more whole foods is to have a serving of veggies with teach. Take whatever veggies you have in the fridge and roast, sautee, or just have it cut up and ready to go so when it comes to dinner time you already have veggies ready to go. This can be a really easy way to get in good quality foods without feeling like you’re making drastic changes to your diet.
Making little changes like these make it more likely you will stick to it and make it a habit. If you are struggling to get in all your servings of veggies then check out this post on how to build a gut friendly smoothie. Smoothies can be an easy way to pack in your servings.
Fermented foods bring in the good bacteria for our guts.
This can be harder or easier for people depending on your taste preferences and habits. Personally, fermented foods (outside of sourdough bread) were never part of my diet growing up so learning to like them and appreciate their taste was something I acquired over time.
There are many different types of fermented foods out there so I encourage you to explore them all and you can even make your own fermented foods. Some examples are kombucha, sauerkraut, kefir, yogurt, tempeh. Check out this article from the Kitchn on 23 Essential Fermented Foods for Better Gut Health.
Amanda is a pizza loving registered dietitian nutritionist specializing in mindfulness and gut health. She quickly realized that gut health goes beyond the gut; it is also about honoring our gut feelings. She is the creator of The Mindful Gut™ which uses science and strategy to help people improve their gut health.