Everyone wants a healthy gut, but steps you can take to achieve it aren't always clear. I asked four doctors who specialize in digestive health what gut health rules they wish everyone would follow.
The golden rules of gut health
1. Don't overeat
According to integrative medicine doctor and gastroenterologist Marvin Singh, MD, one of the reason why so many Americans have digestive probs is because they simply overload their systems. "Don't overeat and do leave time for the gut to rest," he advises. It's why he personally is a fan of intermittent fasting; it allows the body a chance to chill out so it isn't constantly working to digest food.
2. Keep your diet clean
Dr. Singh says toxins and additives are enemies of gut health; humans aren't meant to be consuming these unnatural substances. "Stick to real, whole, clean, and organic foods he says. Jacob Skeans, MD, a gastroenterologist at Ohio State University’s Wexner Medical Center, agrees whole heartedly, advising everyone to eat less sugar. "A Western diet is high in sugar which negatively influences the gut microbiome," he says.
If you're unsure which items to prioritize buying organic, check out the video below:
3. Eat more fiber
You knew this one was coming, right? "Adding fiber to your diet helps normalize bowel movements, lower cholesterol, lower blood glucose levels, and aids in weight loss," Dr. Skeans says, adding that upping your intake in leafy greens, flax seeds, and whole fruits can help you get there. He's into high-fiber products too, but he says to increase fiber slowly, as doing it all at once can cause bloating or cramps.
4. Eat the rainbow
Integrative medicine doctor and Happy Gut author Vincent Pedre, MD, wishes everyone would add more color to their plate, especially with a variety of fibrous fruits and veggies. "Eating the rainbow ensures you are getting the right dose of dietary fibers and antioxidants to keep your gut flora and your body healthy," he says.
5. Prioritize minimizing stress
Not all of the golden rules of gut health pertain to food. Dr. Singh says that there's a direct relationship between how stressed someone is and their digestive health—the mind-gut connection is real. "The microbiome and your gut motility respond to stress and can become imbalanced when there is chronic stress so this is an important concept to follow," he emphasizes. Dr. Skeans echoes this, saying, "I frequently find that abdominal symptoms and levels of stress, anxiety, depression go hand in hand. Focusing on improving your mental state can dramatically help with gut symptoms."
6. Be judicious about antibiotic use
Tara Menon, MD, a gastroenterologist at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, wishes doctors and patients would use antibiotics less liberally, as they can wreck havoc on gut health. "Of course, antibiotics have a very important place in medicine and they are oftentimes needed to fight off dangerous infections. However, they should only be used when indicated, as antibiotics can not only kill off bad bacteria, but also good bacteria," she says. "Frequent or unnecessary antibiotic use can cause an imbalance in our gut bacteria, which can negatively impact gut health."
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