Optimize Nutrition for Gut Health

Wondering why you always feel bloated, have irregular bowel movements, or feel like your gut health is out of whack? Does you feel like this after eating just about anything? If so, you’re in the right spot! In this article, we’ll be discussing how to improve nutrition for gut health without needing to resort to a restrictive diet (read more here on why dieting is not sustainable).

gut health nutrition for gut health - a woman holding her stomach with an image of the lower gi tract

What is digestive health, or gut health?

To get a better understanding gut health, or digestive health, it’s important to how the digestive system works. The role of the digestive system is to break down food and absorb nutrients after you eat a snack or meal.

The digestion process actually begins in the mouth with the release of digestive enzymes in our saliva, and continues to the small intestine where most of the absorption takes place. Since your digestive tract (aka your gut) is essential for breaking down and absorbing nutrients, it’s important that it operates efficiently to optimize your nutrient intake.

When the digestive system is working right, this implies that your gut is happy. On the other hand, if you are experiencing constant bloating, indigestion, gas, diarrhea, unusual bowel movements, or other digestive symptoms, this means your gut isn’t too happy. It’s important to note that, while it might be a common sensation, it’s not normal to have these stomach issues after you eat anything. This is a sign that your gut needs help!

What are some general nutrition tips for good digestion?

The foods you eat can have a significant impact on your digestion. Therefore, it’s crucial to know about simple nutrition tips that you can follow to ensure you are optimizing your gut health.

  • Eat fiber-rich foods regularly. The recommended fiber intake for women is around 21-25 grams per day. Adding a wide range of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds to your diet can boost your fiber intake. There are two types of fiber–soluble and insoluble–that each play a unique role in your digestive system. Soluble fiber (i.e., whole grains, nuts, seeds, beans, lentils, fruits, and many veggies) help to slow down digestion, which helps with diarrhea, while insoluble fiber (i.e., whole wheat and grain products, vegetables, and wheat bran) helps to speed up digestion, which helps with constipation. We need the combined efforts of these two helps to normalize digestion and keep you full for longer! And go SLOW; don’t ramp up your fiber intake all at once! Gradually increase your fiber intake over the course of 2 weeks to reduce the risk of discomfort – it takes your body time to adapt to the new fiber levels.
  • Drink enough water. Eating fiber goes hand in hand with drinking enough water! Fiber and water work together in our body to regulate digestion so having one without the other won’t do it. When you increase your fiber,also increase how much water you’re drinkingto avoid constipation, bloating, and irregular bowel movements. The recommended water intake for women is about 2.7 liters per day (or 11.5 cups), which can fluctuate depending on your physical activity levels.
  • Move your body. Moving your body helps to get things moving in the gut, which aids in good digestion. Find an activity that keeps you movin’ and groovin’ that you enjoy. When you love the exercise you regularly engage in, you’ll be more likely to stick to it! If you don’t , you won’t.There are so many ways to be physically active–swimming with your friends, walking your dog, going to the gym, dancing, yoga, cleaning around the house, or joining an adult sports league–these all get your blood flowing and your heart rate up!
  • Reduce intake of added sugars (1). Eating too much sugar can be harmful to the lining of your gut, which can lead to inflammation and gut dysbiosis. Excess sugar can also alter your hormones, which play an important role in maintaining a healthy gut. So, when you’re craving something sweet, try eating more natural sugars, such as fruit!
  • Lower consumption of saturated fats (2). Diets that are rich in animal fats, dairy, and processed foods and low in fiber and healthy fats can lead to gut dysbiosis, inflammation, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and even cognitive problems. Substituting unsaturated fats for saturated fats, especially getting more omega-3 fats, can help to reduce the risk of digestive issues.
  • Practice mindful eating (3). Stress can have negative impacts on the body, specifically on digestive health. There are different types of stress–nutritional, mental, physical, chemical, and emotional stress. Practicing mindfulness has been shown to reduce stress levels, and in turn, reduce gastrointestinal problems. Furthermore, mindful eating focuses on eating slowly, listening to your hunger cues, having a mindful-eating environment, being in tune with your emotions while eating, and enjoying the food you eat, which can all contribute to improved digestion.
  • Avoid skipping meals. Many times, people tend to skip meals because they want to save their appetite for their girl’s night out dinner, they don’t have time to prepare a meal, or they think it’ll help them lose weight. When we skip meals, it’s more likely to experience cravings later in the day that leads to over-eating at night. Therefore, eating regular, consistent meals is important to regulate your digestion, and can in fact improve metabolism all together, which can help with gut health, weight management, and reduced risk of disease.

I am uncomfortable when I eat. What can I do about it?


I am guessing you can relate to feeling bloated, gassy, or constipated after eating certain foods, or maybe all the time – its not uncommon. Roughly 40% of Americans’ daily lives are disrupted by digestive issues, according to multiple surveys on the prevalence of GI disruption. These symptoms are related to your gut health directly and the good news is there are steps you can take to reduce or eliminate these symptoms! We’ve compiled a handy list of common symptoms and simple, easy, practical strategies to help you take charge of your health:

  • Bloating – Take it slow, chew your food thoroughly, get moving, stay hydrated, and limit processed foods loaded with added sugar and saturated fats.
  • Indigestion – Opt for smaller, more frequent meals, cut back on caffeine and alcohol, avoid certain medications, and go easy on liquids during meals.Gassiness – Get active, limit sugary and fatty processed foods, and identify and avoid trigger foods (like dairy).
  • Constipation – Slow down while eating, chew thoroughly, exercise more, stay hydrated, limit processed foods, load up on high-fiber foods, and consider adding probiotics to your diet.
  • Diarrhea – Limit processed, sugary, and fatty foods, steer clear of trigger foods (like dairy), introduce probiotics, and cut down on caffeine and alcohol.
  • These may seem almost too easy, but the key here is consistency. You can’t just do these once, you must make them a regular practice. Think about it this way: you don’t just eat once, you eat regularly. Your gut works hard and rarely, if ever, gets a break. So do these practices regularly, too, to help relax and take care of your gut to improve the symptoms noted. Now that you have these practical tips on deck, you can reclaim control of your health and leave those symptoms behind!

What else plays a role in our gut health? The microbiome?

The microbiome is a community of over a trillion different microorganisms that naturally live in our gut. There are actually more bacteria cells in our bodies than our own cells! The bacteria that live in our gut can either be good or bad for our body. So it benefits us to ensure that our good bacteria is taken care of and nurtured. When the good bacteria are healthy they prevent bad bacteria from taking up residence in our bodies.

The symptoms we discussed earlier in relation to gut health are often linked to a condition known as dysbiosis or ‘leaky gut,’ which occurs when there’s an imbalance in the population of good bacteria in the gut to bad bacteria. I know it may sound strange, but we actually have a symbiotic, or mutually beneficial, relationship with the bacteria that live in our gut–we need them to survive! This means that we both help each other to make sure we are optimizing our health, specifically our digestive health. When we take care of our gut community by feeding them nutrient-rich foods, they return the favor by helping us produce hormones, proteins, energy, and other important nutrients that our bodies use on a daily basis.

In addition, maintaining the good bacteria in our gut looks different on an individual basis. There are cases in which individuals have celiac disease, wheat allergies, or lactose-intolerance, so they are put on special diets that are necessary to reduce the risk of stomach issues. However, contrary to popular belief, eliminating gluten, high FODMAP, or lactose for those without chronic health conditions is not the solution to achieving a balanced gut microbiome. Cutting major food groups from your diet before consulting with a registered dietitian or healthcare professional may lead to stress, inflammation, and gut health issues

Do prebiotics and probiotics help our gut? If so, how?


Prebiotics, found in foods like garlic, onion, asparagus, are like food for the friendly bacteria in your gut. Probiotics, which are live microorganisms in fermented foods and yogurt, help these good bacteria thrive. Together, gut-friendly compounds help to regulate bowel movements, reduce inflammation, reduce the risk of gastrointestinal diseases, help to restore the gut after taking antibiotics, and inhibit the overgrowth of bad bacteria–which are all beneficial functions for our gut (4)!

Plus, the addition of prebiotics and probiotics to your diet can have a positive impact on hormone production in the body. In fact, the gut provides us with 95% of total serotonin (“the feel-good hormone” in the body), so when our gut is happy, we are also happy! It’s important to note that even though they can be beneficial for the body, everyone’s body is different, and we all have different experiences, especially when it comes to food. For instance, sometimes eating more prebiotics and probiotics to your diet may not solve gut health issues because you may need to look at the root cause of the situation rather than eating prebiotics and probiotics that are feeding the harmful bacteria in the gut. You’ll have to listen to your body and observe how it reacts to different foods

Learning about the gut can be overwhelming, but you are not alone. I’m here to help you on your nutrition journey. If you’re prepared to boost your health and well-being, improve your eating habits and cooking skills, and gain the confidence to make the right nutrition and health choices for yourself, consider joining my EMPOWER program. And if you’re unsure of what you want, let’s just talk it out and see if we are a good fit for each other.

References

  • Arnone D, Chabot C, Heba AC, et al. Sugars and Gastrointestinal Health. Clin Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2022;20(9):1912-1924.e7. doi:10.1016/j.cgh.2021.12.011.https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/34902573/
  • de Queiroz Cavalcanti SA, de Almeida LA, Gasparotto J. Effects of a high saturated fatty acid diet on the intestinal microbiota modification and associated impacts on Parkinson’s disease development. J Neuroimmunol. 2023;382:578171. doi:10.1016/j.jneuroim.2023.578171
    https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0165572823001571?via%3Dihub
  • Cherpak CE. Mindful Eating: A Review Of How The Stress-Digestion-Mindfulness Triad May Modulate And Improve Gastrointestinal And Digestive Function. Integr Med (Encinitas). 2019;18(4):48-53.
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7219460/
  • Markowiak P, Śliżewska K. Effects of Probiotics, Prebiotics, and Synbiotics on Human Health. Nutrients. 2017;9(9):1021. Published 2017 Sep 15. doi:10.3390/nu9091021
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5622781/

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