These bacteria are incredibly important for your overall health. Unfortunately, there are certain bacteria that can contribute to disease. There are also many factors affecting the type of bacteria living in your gut.
Luckily, there are many things you can do to improve the balance of bacteria found in your digestive tract. The best probiotics for gut health can be highly effective, and combined with the nutritional and lifestyle choices listed below, can help you live a healthier life. Read on to learn how to maintain a healthy gut.
1. Take Probiotic Supplements
Probiotics are healthy live yeasts and bacteria in your gut. They’re good for your whole body, especially your digestive system.
When you lose good bacteria from your gut (for example, by taking antibiotics), you can help replace them with probiotics. Many kinds of bacteria are classified as probiotics, but most of them are in 2 common groups.
These include Lactobacillus, which is the most common probiotic, and Bifidobacterium. Lactobacillus can also typically be found in yogurt and fermented foods. Different strains of this bacteria are especially helpful for diarrhea, and it may help people who struggle to digest lactose, the sugar in milk.
Bifidobacterium is found in dairy products and can help ease symptoms of IBS and other conditions.
While you can get probiotics from food, dietary restrictions and personal preferences can make this difficult. This is why many people turn to probiotic supplements to improve their health.
The best probiotics supplements contain both live and active bacterial cultures, so be sure to check for this on the packaging. The recommendation is to select probiotics with at least 1 billion colony-forming units. Also, look for supplements that contain Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium.
You can easily shop for probiotic supplements online these days, and most providers can help you find the best probiotics for men or the best probiotics for women, and even for specific problems, like the best probiotics for IBS or constipation.
2. Eat a Diverse Range of Foods
Generally speaking, eating a wide range of foods leads to a diverse microbiome, which is key to keeping your gut healthy.
However, this doesn’t mean eating a diverse range of potato chips! The key is to eat lots of different healthy foods, with an emphasis on those that are particularly beneficial for the gut.
Unfortunately, most Western diets are not very diverse and are high in sugar and processed foods. In fact, around 75% of the food produced in the world comes from 12 plants and five animal species.
However, diets in rural areas generally tend to be much more diverse and richer in different plant sources. A few studies have shown that people from rural regions tend to have more diverse gut microbiomes than those in urban areas.
Therefore, if you tend to stick to the same foods, try mixing up your diet a bit. For example, if you usually choose apples and oranges, try adding in some berries and other fruits.
3. Eat Plenty of Vegetables, Fruits, Legumes, and Beans
Eating fruits and vegetables is one of the best ways to maintain a healthy gut. They’re high in fiber, which certain bacteria in your gut can digest, stimulating their growth.
Beans and legumes also contain a lot of fiber, so add these to your diet as well. Some high-fiber foods that can lead to better gut health include:
- Black beans, kidney beans, and other beans
- Whole grains
In addition to promoting a healthy gut, vegetables, fruits, legumes and beans are all rich in vitamins and minerals and relatively low in calories. Combined with the best probiotics for weight loss, like those that promote satiety and reduce inflammation, this can be an effective way to lose weight.
4. Eat Prebiotic Foods
Prebiotics promote the growth of healthy bacteria in the gut. They mainly consist of complex carbs or fiber that human cells can’t digest. However, certain bacteria species in the gut can break down prebiotics and turn them into fuel.
Many whole grains, vegetables, and fruit contain prebiotics. Some of the best sources of prebiotics include:
- Flax seeds
- Wheat bran
5. Eat Fermented Foods
Fermented foods have undergone the process of fermentation, which involves yeast and bacteria breaking down sugar.
Studies have found that eating fermented foods leads to more microbiome diversity, and it can also decrease inflammation. Some fermented foods to add to your diet include:
- Tempeh: Made from naturally fermented soybeans, tempeh is similar to tofu but has a nuttier flavor and firmer texture. It makes a great addition to curries and grain bowls.
- Yogurt: Yogurt is made through milk fermentation. Many companies are now making yogurts that are vegan and dairy-free.
- Miso: Miso is a fermented paste made from soybeans, rice, or barley. It’s bold and adds a nice umami flavor to foods. Miso is often found in soups, marinades, and salad dressings.
- Kombucha: Kombucha is a tangy fermented tea. It has a sour taste, but it’s also available in many flavors, so there are some sweeter options to enjoy as well.
- Kefir: Kefir is fermented milk that’s full of calcium and probiotics. It tastes a bit like a drinkable yogurt.
- Kimchi: Kimchi is a type of spicy Korean food. typically made from cabbage but also from other vegetables. You can find this food at Asian grocery stores or in the Asian food section.
- Sauerkraut: Sauerkraut is made from salt and cabbage and delivers a healthy dose of fiber and probiotics.
6. Eat Polyphenol-Rich Foods
Polyphenols are plant compounds that offer various health benefits, including reductions in cholesterol levels, inflammation, blood pressure, and oxidative stress.
Most polyphenols are digested by gut bacteria, and this digestion can lead to more good bacteria in your gut. Some examples of polyphenol-rich foods include:
- Red wine
- Green tea
7. Avoid Stress
It’s no secret that stress is bad for both your mental and physical health. Animal studies have shown that psychological stressors can disrupt intestinal microorganisms, even if the stress is only short-lived.
However, it’s not just psychological stress that can impact your gut. Other stressors include:
- Environmental stress (this can include extreme heat, cold, or noise)
- Lack of sleep
- Circadian rhythm disruptions
Avoiding stress altogether is nearly impossible, but there are things you can do to reduce it. Some common stress management techniques include meditation, exercise, deep breathing, yoga, healthy eating, and massage.
8. Get Enough Sleep
Getting plenty of good quality sleep does a lot more for your body than just making you feel rested. It can also improve your cognition, mood, and gut health.
In fact, a recent animal study found that sleep disruption and irregular sleep habits can have a negative effect on your gut flora. It may take some time, but there are many techniques you can implement to improve your sleep. This includes:
- Going to bed and waking up at the same time each day (try to keep this schedule consistent on weekends as well)
- Getting 7 to 9 hours of uninterrupted sleep each night
- Turning off your phone and avoiding screens one hour before bedtime
- Establishing a nighttime routine that lets your body know it’s close to bedtime (this could include drawing a bath, doing some gentle yoga, reading a book, or drinking some herbal tea)
- Avoiding caffeine before bedtime
- Avoiding alcohol, which can disrupt breathing patterns during sleep
- Exercising (ideally in the morning instead of at night)
9. Exercise Regularly
It’s well-known that regular exercise can contribute to weight loss, weight maintenance, and improved heart health. Research also shows that exercising can improve gut health.
More specifically, studies have shown that those who exercise regularly have a greater variety of gut flora than those who don’t. And as we mentioned above, exercise can reduce stress and improve your sleep patterns, both of which are known to impact your gut health. All of this means that exercising regularly, in addition to all the other benefits it brings, can help ensure a healthy gut.
10. Avoid Taking Antibiotics, if Possible
Sometimes, it’s necessary to take antibiotics to combat bacterial infection. However, they should be taken sparingly, as overuse can lead to gut microbiome damage.
There are natural alternatives to antibiotics which some find helpful, such as garlic, honey, ginger, cloves, oregano, or echinacea, but you should discuss these alternatives with your doctor before you make the switch.
Your gut health has a major impact on the rest of your body, and there are many steps you can take to improve your gut. Probiotic supplements are one of the easiest ways to improve your gut health, but ideally, you should use a combination of the above tips to improve your health.
A diverse range of foods with plenty of vegetables and pre- and probiotics, combined with a healthy lifestyle with regular exercise and enough sleep, can have an important positive impact on your gut health, leading to a longer, healthier, and more comfortable life.