Even if you’ve just tipped a baby toe into the wellness scene, chances are you’ve heard about the importance of gut health. If you’re deep in the wellness world, you might have even gone so far as to try an at-home gut testing kit. Considering that gut health is connected to everything to immunity and brain health to mood and digestion, it’s not such a wild idea.
As much attention as gut health receives these days, gastroenterologists Niket Sonpal, MD, and Michael Dann, MD, say they still see a lot of people making some common mistakes that are actually working against them. Here, they share some surprising gut health mistakes even the wellness obsessed make.
5 common gut health mistakes, according to gastroenterologists
1. Not drinking enough water
So much attention is given to what to eat to improve gut health that Dr. Sonpal says sometimes what to drink is left out of the conversation. He says the most important liquid for your gut isn’t kombucha or anything fancy: it’s plain old H20. “If you don’t drink enough water, you can experience constipation or stomach cramps,” he says.
Water intake is especially important to keep in mind when you’re increasing your fiber intake (often a first step for supporting gut health). Otherwise, you’re more likely to feel bloated and gassy. “You want to aim to drink between two and three liters of water every day,” Dr. Sonpal says.
2. Consuming too many sugar-free products
While many people know that sugar can kill the good bacteria in the gut, Dr. Sonpal says a lot of people don’t realize that some of the ingredients in sugar-free products aren’t great for gut health either. “Most of us aim to keep our sugar intake lower. In doing so, we tend to consume too many sugar-free substitutes, like sorbitol and xylitol,” he says. “These can be hard for the body to break down and can lead to bloating, gas, and diarrhea.” His advice is to use natural sweeteners instead, such as honey or dates.
3. Immediately assuming the worst
Dr. Dann says that, often, patients will come in complaining of bloating and have essentially already diagnosed themselves with SIBO or another super serious condition—only to learn that they’ve scared themselves for no reason. (Yet another reason to say no to Dr. Google!) “A lot of times, bloating is a symptom of a basic issue, like a food allergy,” he says. If you’re experiencing bloating on a regular basis, his tip is to take a food allergy test. Keeping a food journal may also help you pinpoint foods you are sensitive to—which can help cut out the guesswork at the doctor’s office.
4. Eating too fast
This is another common habit that Dr. Sonpal says can lead to feeling bloated. “It’s often something many of us do when we’re eating while working at our desks,” he says. “Eating too fast can cause acid reflux and, in addition, not allow your body to signal to your brain that it is full.” Eating slower and chewing food completely before swallowing makes it easier to digest—and will minimize bloating and other digestive discomforts.
5. Drinking too many caffeinated beverages
Dr. Sonpal says there’s nothing wrong with starting your day off with a cup of coffee. But if you continue to refill your mug throughout the day, your gut likely won’t be happy. “Too much caffeine can act as a laxative,” he says, adding that it’s also acidic, which could cause heartburn in some people. “Everything in moderation,” he advises.
Eating enough fiber and probiotic-rich foods are still important gut health rules to follow. But avoiding these mistakes is crucial too. And when you keep them in mind, you benefit your whole body. After all, everything comes back to gut health, right?
Looking for more expert intel on gut health? Here’s your 101 guide on the subject:
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