- The gut plays a crucial role in health, including digestion, absorption of nutrients, and immune function.
- Eating foods rich in prebiotics and anti-inflammatory foods, reducing stress, and limiting trigger foods are science-backed ways you can work on gut healing.
- A registered dietitian can guide you through an elimination diet and create a personalized nutrition plan to support gut healing.
The gut microbiome is the collection of microorganisms—bacteria, viruses, archaea, and yeasts—that live in your digestive tract. Although research continues to evolve in the area of gut health, scientists have found that the balance of bacteria in your gut plays a significant role in your health, including digestion, nutrient absorption, immune function, and more.
Humans have evolved with these microbes to have a symbiotic relationship where the trillions of microbes found in our gut also benefit our health. Multiple factors influence gut microbes—but diet plays a significant role.
An imbalance of beneficial bacteria (known as dysbiosis) can impact health in several ways, including mood changes, food sensitivities, skin issues, low energy, and digestive issues. Over time, dysbiosis is linked to chronic conditions like inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) or irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
In other words, keeping your gut healthy is essential for overall well-being. Optimal gut health requires a combination of lifestyle changes and dietary adjustments. While this process can look different for every person, here are 7 steps you can take to heal your gut.
Gut health is complex, so it's best to work with a registered dietitian (RD) to address your individual needs. Nourish offers personalized nutrition counseling and accepts the most popular insurance carriers. If you're living with a chronic digestive condition, consider booking a virtual appointment with a registered dietitian.
7 Science-Backed Strategies to Heal Your Gut Naturally
The best approach for gut healing is to find what works for you. These evidence-based strategies support a healthy microbiome, so you may consider starting with one and experimenting with what works best for your body.
1. Eat Prebiotic-Rich Foods
Prebiotics are undigestable fibers that your gut bacteria ferment and use as energy. The fermentation process results in healthy changes to the bacteria, which benefits you as the host. One of the best ways you can support long-term gut health is to include a variety of prebiotic fibers to your diet.
Some research suggests prebiotic fibers can help shift bacteria balance to favor beneficial species and increase the production of short-chain fatty acids (SCFA). SCFA are metabolites produced by the gut microbiota during the fermentation of dietary fiber. These compounds can have various health benefits, including reducing inflammation, maintaining the integrity of the gut wall, and supporting immune function.
Foods high in prebiotics include:
If you are living with a gut health condition, adding a lot of prebiotic fiber could cause discomfort. Even those without digestive concerns should go slow when adding fiber because it can lead to gas and bloating. When adding prebiotic-rich foods, start with small portions and work your way up.
2. Take Probiotics
Probiotics are live microorganisms with health benefits. They are found in certain foods, like yogurt and kefir, and in some supplements. Probiotic supplements contribute to a healthy gut balance by introducing beneficial strains of bacteria. There are hundreds of strains, and each one provides different benefits. For example, some bacteria may support healthy blood sugar levels, while others could help with symptoms of IBS.
Choosing the right probiotic supplement can be confusing. Strain matters, the quality of the product is critical, and the dose should be sufficient to make a difference.
Nourish offers personalized nutrition counseling and accepts the most popular insurance carriers—consider booking a virtual appointment with a registered dietitian specializing in gut health to help you find the right product for your body.
3. Manage Stress
Chronic stress is closely related to gut health, partly explained by the close relationship between your gut and brain (called the gut-brain axis). The gut-brain axis is a bidirectional pathway linking your digestive system and brain. Your gut health can influence your brain and mental health and vice versa. Studies suggest stress can worsen symptoms of digestive health conditions like IBS.
It's not always easy to simply banish stress from your life. We live in a world where stress can feel unavoidable, but there are steps you can take to become more resilient so your body (and gut) is better equipped to handle it. Yoga and breathwork are two popular stress-management techniques, but if those don't appeal to you, anything that brings you joy, like dancing, spending time in nature, or catching up with old friends, works.
4. Consume Anti-Inflammatory Foods
Gut inflammation is a key factor in digestive and metabolic health conditions. Inflammation is linked to gut dysbiosis and can adversely impact the integrity of the intestinal wall. Anti-inflammatory foods can help calm inflammation and reduce symptoms associated with these conditions.
Inflammation is linked to multiple factors, including infection, chronic stress, and imbalanced gut bacteria, but diet can also be an effective strategy to counter inflammation in the gut. The Mediterranean diet pattern is a popular research-backed approach to reducing inflammation. It emphasizes consuming fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, healthy fats like olive oil and nuts, fish, and lean proteins.
You don't need to adhere strictly to any one diet pattern—just consider adding the above foods into your daily routine. Other anti-inflammatory foods include dark leafy greens, berries, garlic, ginger, and turmeric.
5. Try an Elimination Diet
Elimination diets can be a powerful tool for gut healing, as they involve temporarily removing foods that may be causing inflammation or irritation in the gut. You can pinpoint specific intolerances or sensitivities by removing potential triggers and systematically reintroducing foods. This process can help reduce symptoms like bloating, gas, and diarrhea while promoting healing in the gut.
Working with a registered dietitian when following an elimination diet is critical for success, as they can help you choose the right foods to eliminate and ensure you get the nutrients you need. Sometimes people stay in the elimination phase too long because they are worried their symptoms will come back, but a dietitian can coach you through the process so you continue to feel well.
6. Avoid Trigger Foods
Once you've gone through the elimination diet process and identified which foods may be causing irritation or inflammation, avoiding them is important. Sometimes as the gut heals, food sensitivities can change, and you may be able to tolerate foods that didn't work for your body in the past.
While there are common trigger foods—like gluten, dairy, eggs, and soy—these can vary from person to person. Not everyone needs to avoid the same foods for gut healing (another reason why elimination diets can be so powerful).
7. Include Fermented Foods
Fermented foods like kefir, kimchi, miso, and sauerkraut provide a natural source of probiotics. Studies suggest that consuming these probiotic-rich foods may help improve symptoms of digestive issues like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), reduce inflammation in the gut, and support immune function. Adding fermented foods to your meals can be a simple and effective way to support gut health.
What Does it Mean to Have a Healthy Gut?
At a basic level, a healthy gut is free from digestive symptoms like bloating, gas, constipation, or diarrhea. You'd have regular bowel movements and feel good after eating meals.
Beyond digestive symptoms, a healthy gut can influence other aspects of health, like immune function, heart health, skin, energy levels, and mental health. If you're struggling with any of these, optimizing your gut health may help in addition to other supportive interventions.
Gut health research is still in its infancy in many ways, but experts agree that diversity is one of the most critical factors for a healthy gut. This means a variety of beneficial species within your microbiome that work together to support your body.
How Does Food Affect Gut Health?
Food is one of the most powerful influences on gut health. A recent study examining the fecal microbiota of healthy adults from the American Gut Project found that those who ate more total vegetables, beans, whole grains, and dairy had a more diverse microbiome. The American Gut project also found that people who ate more than 30 different types of plants each week had greater microbial diversity.
As you learned above, fiber and anti-inflammatory foods can also work together to support gut health. On the other hand, some research suggests that diets high in processed foods, animal products (that take the place of plant foods), sugar, and alcohol negatively impact bacterial diversity and promote higher levels of gut inflammation.
How a Dietitian Can Help
Gut health is complicated, and understanding your personal needs can be difficult. Working with a registered dietitian can make it easier to build a personalized plan and troubleshoot challenges. Get started today.
There's no simple answer for how to heal your gut because, as with anything with health, your gut healing journey should be individualized to your needs. That said, there are steps you can take to support the process and create a foundation of long-term gut health.
Diet is the primary way to keep your gut healthy—including many prebiotic-rich, anti-inflammatory plants along with fermented foods to fuel your microbiome can go a long way. Probiotics can also add valuable support, but ensuring you have the proper strain for your health goals is key.
If you are experiencing significant gut-related symptoms, an elimination diet to identify trigger foods can help you feel better and allow your gut time to rest and heal.
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