The 10 most surprising gut health facts we learned this year


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One of the major perks of writing about wellness for a living is that I literally learn something new every single day. Sometimes the intel is merely amusing, but other times it can be life-changing—especially when it comes to improving gut health.

Nothing dominated the wellness conversation in 2019 quite like gut health. At Well+Good, we’re on a first-name basis with some of the best gastroenterologists in the country because we call them up so often asking for their insight. We’ve scoured dozens and dozens of studies offering up information on what foods help with “leaky gut.” We’ve tried at-home microbiome tests first-hand. We’ve consulted registered dietitians who work specifically with clients with irritable bowel syndrome asking for their best food tips to improve gut health. As a result, we’re ending the decade armed with a lot more gut knowledge.

Improve gut health with 10 surprising tips we learned this year

1. BROCCOLI SPROUTS ARE THE GUT-HEALTHY ADD-IN YOUR SMOOTHIE IS MISSING

Broccoli sprouts are so great for gut health that Will Bulsiewicz, MD, a gastroenterologist and author of Fiber Fueledadds them to his smoothie every morning, calling them his “secret weapon.” “Broccoli sprouts release a phytochemical called sulforaphane. It heals the gut, reduces inflammation, and [could help] fight cancer,” says Dr. Bulsiewicz. Talk about an amazing ingredient we’ve all been sleeping on!

2. EATING A WIDE RANGE OF PLANTS IS KEY

A team of scientists looked at 11,000 people’s gut microbes and their corresponding eating questionnaires and found that the people with the healthiest guts ate more than 30 different plants a week. The takeaway here: not only is a plant-based diet good for your gut, but diversity is key. Improve gut health by putting this tip into action by thinking outside the salad bowl, filling up on legumes, nuts, and herbs as well as greens.

3. YOUR TEETH-BRUSHING SKILLS AFFECT YOUR GUT

Not all gut health tips are food-related. Case in point: the fact that your dental hygiene affects your gut health. “Multiple studies, including one conducted by Cornell University, have found that harmful forms of bacteria that grow in the mouth often make their way into the gut or even the bloodstream,” says Niket Sonpal, MD, a board-certified internist and gastroenterologist. It turns out that brushing your teeth does more than keep your smile pearly white.

4. EATING SUGAR LITERALLY CHANGES YOUR MICROBIOME

You’ve likely heard many of the reasons why sugar is public enemy number one in terms of health, linked to causing inflammation, obesity, and cognitive decline. One reason *why* it’s linked to, well, everything horrible, is that sugar literally alters the microbiome, upping the amount of bad bacteria in the gut and killing off the good bacteria. So yeah, not great.

A dietitian’s guide to gut health:

5. POOP SHOULDN’T FLOAT

What, you thought you were going to read a whole article about gut health without any poop talk? This fact comes courtesy of Dr. Sonpal, sho says if your poop floats, it could be a sign that there’s too much fat in your diet. If it floats essentially every time you go, it could also indicate that your intestines are damaged, so make an appointment with a gastroenterologist to be safe.

6. THERE’S A fOOD PYRAMID MADE WITH GUT HEALTH IN MIND—AND OPRAH IS A FAN

While the OG food pyramid is pretty outdated at this point, the psychobiotic food pyramid was made with gut health in mind. Grains, veggies, and fruit make up the pyramid’s base while sugar and red meat are at the top, meant to only be eaten in moderation. Oh, and of course there’s a layer devoted to fermented foods, too.

7. BONE BROTH IS THE DIETITIAN-APPROVED FOOD FOR HEALING LEAKY GUT

Fermented foods and fiber are the all-stars of gut healthy food, but registered dietitian Nour Zibdeh, RD says there’s another powerful one she always has in her fridge: bone broth. “Bone broth has a high concentration of the amino acid glutamine that improves the function of the intestinal barrier and the structure of intestinal cells,” Zindeh says, adding that it boosts the mucus layer that protects the lining of the gut. In other words: it keeps your gut walls strong, which is key for good digestion.

8. ASAFOETIDA IS THE UNDERUSED HERB THAT BEATS BLOAT

Tell someone you have a tummy ache and chances are they’ll recommend a cup of hot water with lemon or ginger tea. Both are clutch remedies for beating bloating, but according to gastroenterologist Jacqueline Wolf, MD, so is asafoetida, an herb many haven’t even heard of, let alone use. “Asafoetida is an herb that tastes like garlic and onions,” she says. And unlike garlic and onions, it’s low-FODMAP.

9. SOUND AFFECTS YOUR GUT

Listen up: According to Jarrod Byrne Mayer, a certified sonotherapist from Brooklyn Healing Arts, the sounds you hear before, during, and after a meal affect how well your body processes food. The reason is due to the mind-gut connection; the vagus nerve directly connects the brain with the gut. Research has shown that alarming noises can cause digestive spasms. Keep your eating environment calm will actually help your body digest food easier.

10. RIGHT NOSTRIL DOMINANCE BREATHING CAN HELP WITH DIGESTION

Something else that can help with digestion is the way your breath. Right nostril dominance breathing is often used in Ayurveda as a guide in this way. Even if you’ve never noticed it before, your breath is rarely evenly flowing through both nostrils; one is typically more powerful. When the right nostril is dominant, this means the Ayurvedic “inner fire” is activated, and that digestive heat will help break food down more efficiently.

Want to see what else we learned this year? These are the best sex tips experts told us in 2019. And these are the best skin care tips we learned.

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