Have you heard the saying, “Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither was a healthy gut”?
Ok, maybe that’s not a real saying, but it should be!
Your gut is a dynamic and complex system, it takes ongoing work to keep it thriving and balanced. The good news is that small, consistent choices (that are easy and inexpensive) have a big impact. Rather than one silver-bullet supplement or magic cleanse, it’s your daily habits that set you up for success.
Here are 8 daily habits that support gut health.
1. Drink Lemon Water First Thing in the Morning
Water is essential for detoxification and bowel regularity, among other things. Lemon juice is acidic, meaning it helps break down your food, and drinking warm or hot lemon water is thought to get your digestive system moving.
As an added bonus, lemon juice is also shown to boost your energy levels, and smelling a lemon can help relieve stress.
2. Take a High-Quality Probiotic
Probiotics (the good bacteria in your gut) help you digest and absorb your food, as well as support immune function, balanced mood, thyroid function, hormone balance, and so much more.
Research has shown that probiotic supplements can help relieve or reduce the risk of IBS, IBD, diarrhea, H. pylori (a common cause of heartburn), and allergies.
I recommend a daily probiotic supplement with 30-50 billion CFUs (colony-forming units) if your goal is to maintain microbiome health. If you are repairing leaky gut or overcoming infections, a more concentrated probiotic may be recommended.
3. Eat a Prebiotic-Filled Breakfast
Prebiotics are plant fibers that your body can’t digest so they pass through your GI tract to become food for good bacteria. Research has found that they support the growth of beneficial gut bacteria, improve calcium absorption, and may enhance metabolism and carbohydrate digestion.
Green bananas, oats, asparagus, garlic, flaxseeds, chia seeds, tigernuts, and chicory root are all great sources of prebiotics and will help you feel full.
A fiber-filled protein smoothie is a great choice! Here’s one to try.
Gut-Healthy Green Smoothie
- 1 cup of your preferred milk – coconut, almond, cow, etc.
- 1 scoop of Unflavored Paleo Protein
- 1/2 a frozen green banana
- 1/2 cup spinach or kale
- 1 Tbsp chia seeds
Combine the ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth.
4. Try a Squatty Potty or Poop Stool
Many people “go” in the morning shortly after breakfast. Whenever it’s time to do your business, try placing a stool, such as the Squatty Potty, under your feet to elevate your knees above your hips.
X-rays taken during studies have shown this squat-like position straightens out your colon, reducing strain and making it easier to poop.
5. Space Out Your High-Intensity Workouts from Your Meals
Exercise is generally great for digestion because it helps activate your bowels. However, your digestive system needs to relax in order to move. High-intensity workouts, such as HIIT, can stress your body and lead to constipation.
If your bowels are a little sluggish and you practice HIIT, try moving your workouts further from mealtimes. You can also swap a few HIIT sessions for a yoga flow or a walk to get things moving.
6. Eat Mindfully
We often inhale our food while multitasking or sitting in front of a screen. Remember, digestion begins in your mouth! Chewing releases saliva and digestive enzymes that break down your food and help you absorb nutrients.
Instead of rushing through a meal or eating on the go, use it as an opportunity to pause. Eat slowly, while chewing well, in a peaceful environment (outdoors is a great choice!).
7. Find Ways to Diversify Your Plant Foods
Plant foods provide prebiotic fiber and many are also packed with antioxidants to decrease inflammation and oxidative stress. The more types of fruits and vegetables you eat, the wider range of nutrients you get.
Here are a few tips to get more plant foods into your diet:
- Supercharge your smoothies with pre-steamed frozen cauliflower, zucchini, or beets, ground flaxseed, chia seeds, or pepitas.
- Sneak vegetables into sauces like marinara and pesto.
- Enjoy banana nice cream, chia seed pudding with fruit, or avocado chocolate mousse as a dessert.
- If you tolerate legumes, try lentil or bean burgers (you can even do a half-and-half mixture with ground beef or bison).
- Replace pasta with veggie noodles.
- For a snack, opt for fresh fruit or veggies paired with a dip.
- Challenge yourself to eat a rainbow every day – Ex: a blueberry and strawberry coconut yogurt parfait at breakfast (blue and red), a burrito bowl for lunch with orange and yellow peppers, organic chicken, and cauliflower rice (orange, yellow, white), and grilled salmon with a kale, fig, and goat cheese salad for dinner (green and purple).
8. Unwind Before Bed
Chronic stress is bad for your health every way you look at it, including gut health. It decreases microbial diversity, increases inflammation, and inhibits the digestive process. Fitting stress relief into your day can be tough, but many of my patients find that before bed is an ideal time.
I shared 11 easy and effective ways to relieve stress last week. A few good options before bed include taking an Epsom salt bath, writing in your gratitude journal, listening to calming music, or following a short guided meditation with the Calm or Headspace apps.
BONUS Tip: If You Have Digestive Issues, Get the Right Testing
The tips above will help you build and maintain a strong foundation for gut health. If you are dealing with leaky gut, food sensitivities, or an underlying infection (such as SIBO, Candida, or intestinal parasites), you’ll need to address those with a targeted protocol.
Step one is to get the right testing so you know what you’re dealing with and can treat it appropriately.
I cannot stress this enough — test, don’t guess!
I see so many patients who’ve wasted hundreds of dollars on gut supplements, cleanses, or online programs for imbalances they don’t have. In some cases, these protocols have even made the problem worse.
A functional medicine provider can determine which tests are indicated based on a thorough history and your current symptoms, such as a comprehensive stool test, organic acid profile, food sensitivity testing, or a leaky gut test.
About the Author: Dr. Seth Osgood is a Doctor of Nursing Practice, Board Certified Family Nurse Practitioner and Institute of Functional Medicine (IFM) Certified Practitioner. Dr. Osgood received his post-graduate training in Functional Medicine through the IFM and from working with Dr. Amy Myers. He has helped people from around the world improve their health utilizing a Functional Medicine approach.
Want to work with Dr. Osgood and the GrassRoots team? Become a patient in our West Lebanon, New Hampshire Functional Medicine clinic, our Burlington, Vermont Functional Medicine clinic, or our Austin, Texas Functional Medicine clinic!