The Ultimate Gut Health Guide: 16 Ways to Improve Your Gut Health According to Science
Gut health is quickly becoming one of the most comprehensive ways to care for your overall health.
While it was previously thought that gut health only helped with gut problems, we now know that there are countless health benefits associated with a healthy gut, such as improved mental health and weight regulation. However, what can you actually do for a healthier gut?
Here are 16 ways to improve your gut health according to science:
While there are a ton of different ways to improve your gut health, rest assured that you don’t need to practice every single one to have a healthy gut! Each comes with its own benefits, so just being mindful of how each can help will allow you to make healthier decisions moving forward. Keep reading to learn 16 science-backed ways to improve your gut health!
1. Eat More Vegetables, Fruits, Whole Grains, and Nuts
If you’re already familiar with gut health, this is something you probably saw coming. Gut health is intrinsically linked to healthy digestion–and what’s better for digestion than consuming plenty of fibre?
However, you should have a clear understanding of why you should be eating more of these foods. You’ve probably heard of probiotics before, but do you know what the difference is between probiotics and prebiotics?
In short, probiotics are foods or supplements that add biotics (living organisms such as bacteria) into your digestive system. Prebiotics, on the other hand, are the foods that the bacteria that are already in your gut need to survive. Think of prebiotics as food for your gut microbiome.
You see, our bodies are unable to digest certain foods on their own. Fibre is a great example of this, as it’s the bacteria that actually do the digestion for us. The healthy bacteria in our gut turn fibre into short-chain fatty acids (SCFA), which our body can then absorb and use for improved gut health.
This is why consuming a diet rich in plants is so important, as fibre is only found in plants. So if you’re trying to increase your fibre intake, all you need to do is consume more:
- Whole grains
Simply increasing your consumption of all of the above should bring a significant benefit to your gut microbiome. When it comes to gut health, you don’t need to reinvent the wheel. Just focus on eating more plant-based foods and your gut flora will thank you!
But if you are trying to maximize your gut health benefits, take a look at our blog to find out what the eight best vegetables for gut health are. Including them in your diet will surely supercharge your gut microbiome!
2. Eat Fermented Foods
Eating fermented foods is a fantastic way to naturally introduce new strains of bacteria into your gut. Fermented foods are those that have been broken down by live organisms, such as yeasts and bacteria. This is what gives them their typical acid flavour and refreshing crunch.
Beyond being tasty, fermented foods are excellent probiotics as they are packed with lactobacilli. These bacteria have been found to drastically improve gut function by restoring gut microbiome composition, reducing inflammation, and preventing gastrointestinal problems.
No matter where you live, you can surely find plenty of fermented foods to add to your diet. Some of the best fermented foods for gut health are:
- Wakame seaweed
- Dry curd cottage cheese
If you haven’t tried all (or any!) of these, don’t be shy! They’re all delicious and simple ways to introduce more healthy bacteria to your gut. If your local grocery store doesn’t have many fermented foods, try checking a health store nearby.
3. Diversify Your Diet
If you think that eating more fruits and vegetables is the best way to improve your gut health, you’re only half right. Yes, adding more fruits and veggies to your diet will result in a healthier gut, but it won’t necessarily balance your gut microbiome.
See, increasing the proportion of plants in your diet is only about half the battle. According to science, the number one indicator of gut health is actually the diversity of plants in your diet. So not only should you try to eat more plants, you should try to eat a wider variety of plants.
Think of it this way. There are anywhere from 200 to over 1,000 different species of bacteria in our guts. For a balanced microbiome, we should try to improve the number of healthy bacteria as well as the types of healthy bacteria in our gut.
Just as animal species consume different diets (i.e., you can’t feed a vegetarian diet to a lion or a chicken breast to a turtle), so do the bacteria species in your gut. Consuming a wide variety of plants will maximize your chances of keeping different bacteria species in your gut well-fed and happy. This, in turn, will do wonders for your gut flora.
4. Mind Your Oral Health
Most people don’t realize how important oral health is for the entire body. In fact, you may not have expected oral health to play such a critical role in your gut microbiome. The truth is, the mouth is the main gatekeeper of our body, controlling much of what goes into it and especially what makes it to our digestive tract.
Just like our guts, our mouth hosts billions of bacteria, some of which are good and some of which are harmful. Your goal is to minimize the harmful bacteria in your mouth by brushing your teeth, flossing, and getting professional cleanings regularly.
This is because we swallow plenty of saliva during the day, all of which make it to our digestive tract. If we do not pay attention to our oral hygiene, we may accumulate an unhealthy amount of bad bacteria that will inevitably make it to our gut microbiome. So, if you’re looking to supercharge your gut microbiome, you can start right away by brushing your teeth more frequently!
5. Keep Your Body Moving
You’ve probably heard a million times about the health benefits of regular exercise: weight loss, lowering the risk of heart disease, managing blood sugar, and much more. But did you know that exercising regularly is also a great way to work on your gut microbiome?
Beyond the typical health benefits of regular exercise, you can trust on a regular workout routine to benefit your gut flora. As exercise improves digestion, reduces the risk of health problems, and stimulates the production of serotonin, it’s easy to see how working out could help you improve your gut microbiome. However, let’s look at what the science says.
A 2014 study found that athletes had a much more diverse microbiome than non-athletes. Although this could be attributed to a difference in the diet between the two groups, a 2017 study also found evidence of a causal relationship between exercise and improved gut health.
Since then, numerous studies have found links between more active lifestyles and improved gut health. A systematic review published in 2022 concluded that exercise can beneficially modify the gut microbiome in both young adults and older adults. So, if you want to improve your gut health, you should try to include at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity in your daily routine.
6. Eat More Chocolate (With Polyphenols)
Bet you didn’t expect to find chocolate on this list, huh? Before you get too excited, we don’t mean that you now have an excuse to go out and eat as much chocolate cake and candy bars as you’d like. In fact, you should only be looking at dark chocolate with minimal amounts of milk, sugars, and artificial sweeteners and flavourings if you want a gut health boost.
One of the main reasons why dark chocolate is so good for you is that it contains polyphenol, which is a micronutrient that has been found to increase gut bacteria. As such, dark chocolate rich in polyphenol is actually a probiotic food!
However, more recent findings suggest an even deeper positive effect of dark chocolate on our gut health. New findings were presented at the American Chemical Society that suggests that the antioxidants and fibre found in dark chocolate may actually be fermented in our gut to create powerful anti-inflammatory compounds.
So if you’re someone who enjoys a little dessert after your meals, you should try to replace your go-to sweets with some all-natural dark chocolate treats for improved gut health.
7. Drink More Black and Green Tea
Remember polyphenols, the micronutrients in dark chocolate that we mentioned above? Well, they’re not just found in dark chocolate. Polyphenols are found in a wide variety of plants, and black and green tea are another excellent source of these probiotics. Let’s talk about them a little more.
As you now know, polyphenols are considered probiotics as they help introduce new bacteria to your gut. However, they are a special type of probiotic as they are intimately related to the Akkermansia Muciniphila bacteria. This type of bacteria is extremely important as it helps keep the linings of your small intestines strong and healthy.
Our gut barrier is covered in mucins, which Akkermansia eats and turns into SCFAs. Almost paradoxically, the fact that Akkermansia eats away at the mucins that protect our digestive tract actually speeds up cell regeneration. This cell regeneration is essential for overall health, as it’s in charge of absorbing nutrients into the body. That’s why consuming foods rich in polyphenols is so important.
Some other plants that are rich in polyphenols are:
- Red grapes
- Red onions
Next time you have a meal, switch out your soda or juice with some hot or iced green tea to maximize your gut health benefits.
8. Take a Probiotic Supplement
Despite what vitamin companies may claim, there is no single probiotic supplement that will fix dysbiosis. In fact, studies have found that probiotic supplements have poor resistance to stomach acids and vile, making them ineffective solutions to gut health problems.
However, consuming a probiotic supplement could help reverse the short-term negative effects of taking antibiotics. Studies have found that taking probiotics along with a course of antibiotics can be effective at preventing antibiotic-associated diarrhoea (AAD), which is a common side effect of a drastic reduction of gut bacteria.
So, taking a probiotic supplement can be a good idea if you have to take antibiotics or suspect that your gut microbiome may be under stress for any other reason. An example would be if you go on vacation and temporarily eat junk food or any foods low in nutritional value. While you should try to maintain a stable diet as best as you can, a probiotic supplement could help prevent severe consequences.
9. Go Vegetarian
This is one of the most drastic recommendations on this list, but the science is definitely there to back it up. First, there is ample evidence suggesting that people who follow an omnivorous diet end up with a different microbiota composition than those who follow strict vegetarian diets.
Then, some studies have found that strict vegetarian diets help stave off metabolic diseases thanks to improved gut health and reduced inflammation. More recently, a 2019 study found that vegan and vegetarian diets are effective at increasing the production of SCFAs through increased consumption of plant fibre. In the study, this resulted in improved immunity, better integrity of the blood-brain barrier, and improved regulation of digestive functions.
In short, if you want to get serious about your gut health, you should strongly consider adopting a vegan or vegetarian diet. The increased consumption of plant fibre will support your gut microbiome and have a positive impact on your overall health.
It’s worth noting, however, that one could also go vegetarian without necessarily increasing their plant intake. You could live off of pasta, cheese, processed foods, and other vegetarian foods that are very low in fibre. Instead of focusing on becoming a strict vegetarian, you should try to approach it as a “plant-based diet,” where an overwhelming majority of your meals are made up of mostly or entirely plants.
10. Get More Sleep
Improving the quality and amount of sleep that you get is another critical way to support your gut health. An animal study from 2014 found that circadian rhythm disruption is closely associated with intestinal dysbiosis. This means that if you don’t have a regular sleep schedule or are chronically sleep-deprived, your gut health will suffer.
Although the relationship between sleep disorders and the gut microbiome continues to be researched, new studies have shown that there is a bidirectional axis between sleep hygiene and gut health. That is, your sleep quality can affect your gut microbiome just as your gut microbiome can impact your sleep.
Focusing on improving your sleep quality will improve your gut microbiome, which will, in turn, improve the quality of your sleep. Here are some ways to improve your sleep quality:
- Focus on sleep regularity. Try to go to sleep and wake up at the same time each day, regardless of social activities or work obligations. This will help your circadian rhythm stay consistent, which will improve how well you sleep.
- Eat for sleep. You should try to avoid heavy meals within three hours of bedtime, as an actively engaged digestive system can prevent the quality of your sleep. Stick to light snacks if you get hungry before bedtime.
- Avoid daytime naps. Although napping is many people’s favourite, we’ve all laid down for a short nap that turned into a three-hour slumber. This can be terrible for your circadian rhythm, so try to avoid naps if at all positive.
- Modify your sleeping environment. As best as possible, try reducing the light and noise within your room. If you have AC, set the temperature as low as is comfortable for you.
- Exercise during the day. Including physical activity in your daily routine can be a great way to help you fall asleep faster and enjoy more regular sleep. Outdoor workouts can also help better than indoor workouts.
- Manage stress. We’ve all tossed and turned for hours on end due to work or personal commitments or problems. If you can’t immediately resolve them, the best thing you can do is write them down on a piece of paper and allot some time in the future to deal with them.
No matter how busy your schedule is, getting more sleep is sure to pay off. Try the above methods for a healthier lifestyle and your gut is sure to thank you!
11. Avoid Alcohol
We live in a society that is highly dependent on alcohol consumption. From after-work drinks to Friday night celebrations, alcohol is almost inescapable. However, you should really think twice before you have so much as a beer or a single glass of wine, as alcohol consumption can have a significant negative effect on the gut microbiome.
Most of the negative effects of alcohol on the gut microbiome are due to intestinal inflammation, which alcohol consumption promotes significantly. In more drastic cases, people who suffer from alcoholism have been shown to have severely imbalanced microbiomes due to alcohol abuse.
Additionally, alcohol consumption has detrimental effects on other areas of our health that are closely related to gut health. For example, alcohol negatively impacts your sleep quality and can have severe negative effects on your oral health. Ultimately, it’s best to avoid alcohol as much as possible to maximize not only your gut health but your overall wellness.
12. Avoid Sugar and Other Artificial Sweeteners
We’re sorry to say that we’ve got bad news for you if you’ve got a sweet tooth. Numerous studies have shown that a diet high in sugar is closely linked to a reduction in anti-inflammatory bacteria in the gut. This means that you should avoid refined sugar in your foods whenever possible to prevent gut health disruptions.
Unfortunately, zero-calorie artificial sweeteners are not off the hook, either. Recent studies have found that non-caloric artificial sweeteners can trigger glucose intolerance by negatively altering the gut microbiome. Glucose intolerance could result in high blood sugar levels and could eventually lead to diabetes.
If you just can’t help but have something sweet in your life, try sticking to fruits as they don’t contain artificial sweeteners and are packed with fibre that will help your gut. Some of the best fruits for gut health are:
And if you really depend on sweets and desserts, you may want to consider investing in a sorbet maker. These can be surprisingly affordable and will allow you to easily make delicious and healthy fruit sorbets right at home that will keep you and your gut microbiome satisfied!
13. Avoid Antibiotics Whenever Possible
The discovery of the antibiotic properties of penicillin is without a doubt one of the most monumental achievements in human history. Diseases that were once synonymous with a death sentence are now easily treatable with a simple course of antibiotics. However, you should also be careful not to take antibiotics unless utterly necessary.
As their name implies, antibiotics are effective at alleviating disease by suppressing bacteria. This bacteria is what causes the infections that the antibiotics are treating, so antibiotics do their job when they kill off bad bacteria. However, antibiotic medication is not selective when it comes to what bacteria they kill. As you seek to treat an infection, you will also inadvertently kill off healthy bacteria that your microbiome will sorely miss.
This is why it’s extremely important that you refrain from taking antibiotics unless prescribed by a doctor. And when you do get a prescription for a course of antibiotics, make sure you finish it off completely! Even if you want to prevent the antibiotics from killing off more bacteria when you feel fine, not finishing your antibiotics may actually make the remaining bacteria more resistant.
Instead, focus on eating a diet rich in probiotics and prebiotics when forced to take a course of antibiotics. You may also want to take a probiotic supplement, as studies have shown that probiotic pills can help treat and prevent digestive issues associated with antibiotic treatments.
14. Avoid Harsh Chemicals in Your Cleaning Products
You may be surprised to hear that cleaning your home a little too well can be detrimental to your gut health. This is certainly one of the more unconventional ways to benefit your gut microbiome, but the science is there. It’s also been tried and true for thousands of years.
Using products that are too harsh and eliminate too many bacteria can have a negative impact on your gut as you lose out on chances to interact with even more bacteria. Although you may have been raised on the belief that a clean house is a healthy house, this is not always the case.
In fact, studies show that interacting with soil can have a positive effect on our gut microbiome. Although it may sound yucky to us, humans had to deal with soil, dirt, germs, and bacteria on a daily basis for thousands of years. Thus, it shouldn’t come as a surprise to learn that some interaction with bacteria in our daily life can be positive for our health.
Even social interactions can help us exchange bacteria with friends, family, and even strangers. As gross as it may sound, rest assured that bacteria are impossibly small organisms, so there’s no way you could feel, see, smell, or taste any of the bacteria you exchange with people around you!
To maximize the gut health benefits from your environment, try switching to all-natural cleaning products. These will clean up well enough so that you don’t see any dirt or bacteria without actually removing so much bacteria that your home becomes a sterile environment. Your gut will appreciate the natural interaction with regular everyday bacteria!
15. Quit Smoking Cigarettes
You’ve probably heard of the myriad health problems that smoking can cause, but did you know that it can disrupt your gut microbiome as well? A 16-year study found that smoking cigarettes can trigger dysbiosis by reducing the number of healthy bacteria and increasing the number of harmful bacteria in our gastrointestinal tract.
Smoking can also lead to digestive problems such as heartburn and peptic ulcers, which will also disrupt your gut flora. Although cigarettes are thought to improve digestion, this is a harmful misconception. Smoking not only does not aid digestion, but it actively promotes digestive problems that can hurt your gut microbiome.
If you’re a cigarette smoker, one of the best things you can do for your gut health is to quit completely. If that’s not an option, you should strongly consider decreasing the number of cigarettes you smoke on a weekly basis to minimize the disruption to your digestive system.
Finally, this is a gut health recommendation that everyone should be happy with. Managing stress is an extremely effective way to improve your overall health–but especially your gut health.
Many studies have found a link between stress and gut health. These animal studies found that psychological, as well as environmental stress, can cause a significant drop in microbiota. If you suffer from chronic stress, you may want to look into addressing the root cause to improve your gut health.
Some ways to manage stress include:
- Regular exercise
- Deep breathing techniques
- Light stretches
- Progressive muscle relaxation
Practising any or all of the above can help you manage stress in situations that could disrupt your gut microbiome.
And if you’re looking for an all-in-one place to keep track of your gut health, you should download the OSbiome app today. Our app allows you to see an overview of where your gut health stands and keep track of your healthy habits.
Plus, if you order our Gut Health Test Kit, you can get personalized recommendations to supercharge your microbiome. Are you ready to discover your formula to a healthy gut? Order your kit today and start now!