How to improve your gut health
A healthy gut is about more than what you eat. Health editor and qualified nutritionist Tracey Raye takes us through the basics of how to support your gut from managing stress and probiotics to the best foods to include in your diet
Want to improve your gut health? Get inspired by our top gut healthy recipes and favourite breakfasts to support your digestion plus browse our list of high fibre foods and learn more about how fibre affects your gut health, or why not listen to our gut health special podcast series?
Gut health has been en vogue for quite a few years now, and for good reason. Scientists have discovered that instead of being a simple part of the digestive system, the gut is actually central to several important systems in the body, including brain function and mental resilience, skin health, hormonal balance and even supporting a robust immune system.
The terms ‘gut microbiome’ or ‘gut flora’ are often used in the context of gut health, and simply refer to all the microorganisms such as bacteria and fungi, living within your intestines. Most of us house roughly 300-500 different species of bacteria within our digestive tract, with some of these being potentially harmful and others beneficial or even essential to our health and well-being.
As it's such a dynamic system, it can be hard to define exactly what constitutes a healthy gut; however, something that researchers can agree on is that diversity of gut flora is key. So, what lifestyle choices can support gut diversity?
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How to improve your gut health
1. Manage your stress
Did you know that excess stress can impact the diversity of your gut flora? In fact, stress may even reduce beneficial bacterial species such as lactobacilli. While our bodies are relatively well-equipped to deal with a little bit of stress, it can impact the health and balance of our gut in the long-run. For this reason, try to identify and manage the causes of your stress – you may find that all you require is some more structured relaxation time.
2. Embrace dietary diversity
Are you a habitual eater who generally eats the same few meals every week? Even if these meals are balanced with plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, choosing the same foods repeatedly isn’t necessarily the best thing for your gut. This is because different foods contain a variety of fibres and nutrients that feed different strains of bacteria in your gut. Therefore, in order to maintain bacterial diversity, you want to consume as great a variety of healthy foods as possible.
3. Move your body regularly
Regular exercise is important for a variety of reasons, as it contributes to muscle tone, mental well-being and heart health (to name a few), but did you know that higher fitness levels can also have a beneficial effect on your gut health by supporting bacterial diversity?
4. Consider an enzyme or probiotic
While you can’t ‘supplement away’ issues with the foundation of your health (i.e. a healthy diet and lifestyle), taking a probiotic or digestive enzyme may be a welcome support. Some individuals can find benefit from digestive enzymes which aid the body’s natural ability to breakdown proteins, fats and carbohydrates, while probiotics can support a healthy balance of beneficial bacteria.
There are plenty of foods that contain natural enzymes such as bananas, papaya and pineapple, while things like kefir (check out our recipes here), sauerkraut, yogurt and tempeh offer a source of probiotics. If you are interested in considering a supplement, speak to your dietitian or nutritionist for advice on the right one for you.
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Tracey Raye is the health editor for olive and BBC Good Food. Tracey, MSc, is a registered nutritionist, holding a master’s degree in personalised nutrition. She is passionate about harnessing the power of all things health and well-being in a way that enhances, rather than limits, our lives. She covers our nourishing recipes and collections, oversees our health strategy and stays adrift of the latest health and lifestyle trends in order to bring you the tools and inspiration you need to find what health means for you.
Tracey Raye is the Health Editor for Olive and BBC Good Food. She oversees all health, nutrition and fitness related content across the brands, including the bi-annual Healthy Diet Plan, monthly Health Edit newsletter and health column in the magazine.