Your guide to understanding your gut and making it healthier.
Why You’re Here: You’re struggling with digestive issues, you want to be proactive about your gut, or you’re just intrigued by the buzzword that everyone’s talking about.
What’s Inside: Consider this Toolkit your starting point for tackling your gut health, one step at a time. We created it knowing that the best way to understand something fairly complex is to break it down into smaller pieces and start where you feel comfortable.
How To Use It: This isn’t a prescription, so feel free to take or leave the ideas we share depending on what your body tells you and which habits fit your life best.
FIRST THINGS FIRST
You’re not going to get gut healthy overnight, but you can get started and make progress. With topics as complicated as gut health, our approach is to start wherever feels the most attainable and least intimidating. Not sure? Listen to your body. If you’re bloated, start there. If you’ve been sick a lot recently, look into immunity and gut health. If you have no idea what’s related to gut health and what isn’t, start with an overview and consider what you’re eating, too.
Gut health isn't just about your digestive system, it's also been called "The gateway to health" and "The second brain" because it can be influenced by more than what you eat and it can influence more than your usual stomach problems. When you think about your gut, it's important to have a more holistic approach. It can feel more overwhelming but will be more effective when it comes to finding solutions.
WHAT TO DO
The best next step is the one you take, whether that’s a little something you do today, a habit you start tomorrow or the plan you make for long-term health. Here are some ideas for each.
Cut down on tap water by replacing your water filter or getting a new one altogether. We like SOMA - especially because it keeps us on schedule for changing out the filters. Eat some dark green veggies - you don’t even have to eat a salad to do it.
Start a gut healthy habit like drinking Apple Cider Vinegar or kombucha, eating fermented foods such as kimchi, yogurt or taking a probiotic. If you’re trying out ACV, we suggest starting small with a teaspoon of ACV in a glass of water with a little bit of lemon.
Learn more about your mysterious gut, talk to your doctor about your lifestyle, diet and stress level, and find out if you might have leaky gut. Find gut healthy do's and don'ts you buy into and recipes that you can rely on. Drink ACV in the mornings and be mindful of keeping fermented foods in your diet. “Eat Dirt” by Dr. Josh Axe, or “Mind-Gut Connection” by Dr. Emeran Mayer are good places to start.
What’s the deal with bloating?
Bloating can feel like an air bubble is trapped inside your stomach, or like you have a tight belly and you often feel full due to gas. You might be constipated and not even know it. And many women are facing a chronic underlying condition that goes beyond bloating, according to John Hopkins Medicine.
You might have fewer bowel movements than you usually do—a symptom of constipation. Even if you do have regular bowel movements you can still be constipated, however other symptoms include pain when you start or finish a bowel movement, stool that resembles rocks or pebbles or not feeling like you are empty following a bowel movement.
When you’re constipated you might feel abdominal pain and bloating, often because as the stool sits in your colon, that gives the bacteria longer time to ferment there, so you get gassier and more bloated.
People who are gut sensitive, have IBS and might experience symptoms such as cramping, pain or diarrhea.
It’s also important to recognize that, sometimes, you can mistake and mix up bloating and inflammation. The reason is that both conditions are associated with similar symptoms, and both could signal other real issues your body might be facing.
There are a few steps you can take to address bloating. Make sure to have an annual pelvic exam with your doctor, sometimes gynecological conditions can cause bloating, including problems with your ovaries or uterus. Changing your diet can often be the first line of defense. So, talk to a health professional about changes you might make to track your diet and find out if you might be allergic or having physical reactions to any foods.
Why is sugar so bad?
Sugar can a have a series of impacts on your body depending on what you have going on, how much you consume and what those sources are. Eating whole foods that have natural sugars, including fruits, vegetables, grains and dairy is OK, according to Harvard Health. That’s because your body can digest these foods slowly. Added sugars, however, are another story.
Having too much sugar can be bad for you, especially if you have diabetes or a diabetes-related condition, including high blood fat levels, then consuming sugar will increase your blood sugar and triglycerides, a type of fat in the blood. This is a risk factor for heart disease, Dr. Zachary Bloomgarden, professor at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City, tells Live Science. People who have diabetes are struggling to produce insulin or are resistant to it. Eating sugar will increase blood sugar without insulin. But it’s also in conjunction with blood sugar, triglycerides and lipid levels.
Sugar also has a lot of calories. And if you drink soda, for example, or any food high in added sugar, then you’re consuming a lot of calories. Cutting sugar can be a way to help repair your gut health and also address any possible stress or depression.
How is my gut health related to my stress?
Chilling out can ultimately help repair any stress-related gut health problems. Your immune system is connected to stressors you might experience, sending out messages to your brain and causing inflammation by sending inflammation messages to different parts of your body. So, if you are stressed all the time then your gut might be weakened and less able to respond to foreign agents. A 2014 PLOS study even found that bad sleep alters the microbes in your intestines. You can start to address that by getting consistent sleep and breaking a sweat to try and immediately address your stress level and gut health.
What are some affordable foods that are good for my gut health?
Eating well for your gut doesn’t mean you have to eat pricey foods. Fermented foods such as kimchi, sauerkraut, kefir, kombucha, miso, tempeh (naturally fermented soy beans), yogurt and pickles or pickled cucumbers are all affordable options that can help improve your gut health by incorporating them in your diet.