If everything we eat passes through our gut, it makes sense to embrace the good habits and ditch the bad habits that are causing our bellies commotion. In the gut, there are hundreds of species of bacteria; some are friendly, while others are not. Good digestion relies on friendly gut bacteria to destroy harmful bacteria and other microorganisms, while producing vitamin K, folate and short-chain fatty acids. If the gut flora contains too many harmful bacteria and not enough friendly bacteria, an imbalance can occur known as dysbiosis.
In general, avoid highly processed foods and opt for fruits, vegetables and cold-water fish whenever possible.
Try eating a diverse range of foods, which can alter your gut flora profile in just a matter of days. Eating more probiotic and prebiotic foods are important to balanced belly health. Probiotic foods include fermented foods such as yogurt, kimchi, kefir, miso and tempeh. Prebiotic foods rich in fiber include apples, legumes, onions, asparagus, barley, flax seeds, garlic, oats, nuts and bananas. You can take probiotic and prebiotic supplements to complement your diet and boost levels of beneficial bacteria. You can also check out all things gut at probiotics.com where I serve as an advisor. There you can take a survey and discover probiotics that match your specific gut needs.
Timing on when you eat is also important.
Researchers have found that intermittent fasting can increase the diversity of gut bacteria and eliminate inflammation. Consistently fasting may also strengthen your gut barrier. You don’t need a special diet program to do intermittent fasting, simply start eating later in the day and eat your last meal of the day earlier. For example, if your first meal is at noon and your last meal is at 8 p.m., you’ll be fasting 16 hours each day, which can go a long way for your gut health!
Physical activity has many benefits for your health but one interesting benefit for the gut is that it may alter gut bacteria, thereby improving gut health.
Studies have been done in both athletes and women to show the benefits. A study with a team of professional rugby players showed more diverse gut flora and twice the number of bacterial families compared to the control group. Another study compared the gut flora of 19 physically active women to 21 non-active women, suggesting that even low-to-moderate exercise intensities can be highly beneficial. The growth of beneficial gut bacteria including Bifidobacterium and Akkermansia, were found in people who exercised and were not seen in the inactive participants, which shows that regular physical activity is a positive move for gut health. Aim for a minimum of 30 minutes of moderate activity a day. Once you get moving you’ll be more motivated to keep moving.
As you may have guessed, stress is not good for the gut. What you may not realize is that lack of sleep can also take a toll on your microbiome.
The good news is you can tackle stress and sleep as a healthy belly habit. High stress is bad for the belly because it can increase sensitivity, reduce blood flow and alter gut bacteria. One study looked at college students’ pre- and post-final exams and found that high stress associated with exams caused a reduction in friendly bacteria, including Lactobacilli and the increase in harmful bacteria like, Clostridium. Research has uncovered that the body’s 24-hour internal clock, called the circadian rhythm, is critical to the balance of bacteria in your belly. Studies show sleep deprivation can disrupt the circadian rhythm, and this appears to have harmful effects on gut bacteria. Just two days of sleep deprivation can cause subtle changes to the gut flora and increase the number of bacteria associated with weight gain, obesity, Type 2 diabetes and fat metabolism. Some easy ways to incorporate more chill time into your day include taking 10 deep breaths, listening to soothing music, practicing yoga or tai chi, limiting screen time before bedtime, taking a relaxing bath and keeping a regular bedtime schedule with the goal to get at least 7 hours of sleep each night so your body and gut can reset itself.
BELLY BUSTERS TO BREAK
Bad dietary and medication habits can be hard to break, but the bottom line is that if you can stay away from these enemies of the belly you can improve the health of your microbiome. Here are five gut threats to avoid for better belly health:
- Alcohol: chronic consumption increases dysbiosis.
- Antibiotics: a single treatment can disrupt gut flora for months to years afterward.
- Cigarettes: studies show smoking cessation increased gut flora diversity.
- Sugar: a diet high in processed foods and added sugars can decrease the number of good bacteria in your gut. This imbalance can cause more sugar cravings that can damage your gut further.
- Antacids: reduces the diversity of bacteria in the gut and increases the risk of intestinal infection.