Learn more about how improving gut health benefits overall physical fitness and mental health.
There are so many ways that gut health can go off the rails. Processed sugar, alcohol, or even a gluten allergy developed later in life can all turn our stomachs upside down and create daily discomfort. It’s crucial to understand that within each of our digestive tracts lives an intricate ecosystem that plays a pivotal role in our overall well-being.
There are over 500 million neural connections within the gut! These connections in the stomach, which are usually found within the brain, mean that what we eat impacts not only our digestion but our overall thought processing and mood! Originally, scientists thought that chronic gut issues were caused by anxiety and depression, but now research is showing that it’s likely the other way around.
We’ve all experienced poor gut health, although we may not have realized that it was the cause of our stomach pain and bloating, brain fog, or frequent trips to the bathroom. These are all classic symptoms of poor gut health: fatigue and difficulty focusing, irregular and painful bowel movements, or chronic stomachaches and bloating.
The gut is home to trillions of microorganisms, including bacteria, fungi, and viruses, collectively known as the gut microbiota, or microbiome. This diverse array of microorganisms aids in digestion, of course, but also makes nutrient absorption possible, regulates the immune system, and yes, influences mood, too.
When we disrupt the balance of this ecosystem by eating foods that cause gas and kill important bacteria, the consequences are felt throughout the whole body. In the most severe cases, poor gut health contributes to the development of autoimmune diseases, allergies, and mental health issues like depression and anxiety. The gut creates ripples through the entire body, influencing both physical and mental well-being.
Physically, poor gut health leads to a variety of discomforts, ranging from painful bloating and gas to more serious conditions like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). These chronic illnesses can develop at any time in life, and although some people may be genetically prone to them, what we eat can help prevent these diseases. Mentally, an unhealthy gut can lead to mood swings, depression, anxiety, and an increase in the stress hormone cortisol. It’s clearer now, more than ever before, that what we eat to fuel our bodies has a major impact on the way we experience life.
Many people don’t realize how much power their gut has over their physical state. By investing in a high-quality diet we foster a diverse microbiota. The best foods for your gut health are rich in probiotics, prebiotics, and fiber, which nourish and support the beneficial microbes in your gut, creating an altogether healthier microbiota.
Probiotic supplements have seen an upswing in popularity in recent years as more people are figuring out how to heal your gut. Probiotics are live bacteria and yeasts naturally found in fermented foods like yogurt, kefir, kimchi, sauerkraut, and kombucha. These "friendly" bacteria introduce beneficial bacterial strains to your gut, helping to restore balance and promote digestive health.
Prebiotics, on the other hand, are non-digestible fibers found in foods like garlic, onions, leeks, asparagus, and bananas. To maintain a healthy array of probiotics, we must also consume foods high in prebiotics. They serve as fuel for the probiotics, which consume the prebiotics to survive and multiply.
Fiber, in general, is a staple of a healthy gut. Foods like whole grains, oats, beans, and fruits are rich in dietary fiber. As you’ve probably seen, thanks to the many fiber bar ads on TV, fiber supports regular bowel movements, but it also aids in the removal of waste and toxins from the body. This is why juice cleanses aren’t always all they’re cracked up to be!
This is one of my favorite recipes for when I’m feeling under the weather, unmotivated, or bloated. It includes some of the best foods for upset stomachs and foods to avoid bloating.
The turmeric provides anti-inflammatory properties, while the fiber-rich brown rice and chickpeas support digestive regularity. The yogurt is full of healthy probiotics, and the range of vegetables supplies essential nutrients and prebiotics.
If I drink one too many sugary drinks, coffees, or cocktails, this is usually my lunch the following day. My homemade fermented soda pairs well with this dish, or as a refreshing beverage alongside a snack, as it provides extra probiotics and refreshing carbonation.
Gut health isn’t something that can be fixed in a day, but it’s something I’m always working towards. Avoiding foods that cause gas and bloating while consistently introducing more diverse fruits and vegetables is an easy way to begin nurturing a healthier microbiome.
I’m a businesswoman, philanthropist, NASM personal trainer and Primal Health Coach, and more. My mission is to provide women with the tools they need to improve their physical and mental fitness. Take a look at more of my healthy recipes or my top fitness tips and tricks.