I don't know about you, but it's not easy to go through life without hearing about gut health. The concept of gut health refers to your digestion, nutrient absorption, and the bacterial composition of your gut's microbiome, according to the Mayo Clinic. These factors work in tandem to support your consumption of nutrients, process waste, power your body, and protect you from illness. Still, it seems like I spot a new "gut health" specialized food during every trip to the grocery store and see a ton of TikToks packed with confusing gut health tips.
If the popularity of gastrointestinal health has you thinking about your own microbiome, you might find the most recent episode of The Well + Good Podcast really enlightening. Ella Dove, Well + Good's director of creative development, sat down with Will Bulsiewicz, MD, a gastroenterologist and New York Times bestselling author of the books Fiber Fueled and The Fiber Fueled Cookbook and Brigitte Zeitlin, RD, a registered dietitian based in New York City, to chat about all things gut health.
Overall, the experts emphasized just how adaptable your gut is and what you'll notice when your body is trying to tell you that something is "up." Plus, they offer some reliable gut health-maintaining tips.
"Your gut is adapted to your routine, it's adaptable and changeable, but you need to go slowly. Small choices in a specific direction can allow your gut microbiome to catch up," says Dr. Bulsiewicz. For example, he explains, if you have been on the Paleo diet and want to stop so that you can eat beans and legumes—you might feel funky at first. He mentions that your digestive system is a lot like your musculoskeletal system in that it needs time to build up strength and tolerance. "If you eat a bunch of something you're not used to, your body might react with gas, bloating, or pain," he says. Taking it slow is the best way to shift your lifestyle without tummy trouble.
3 signs your gut is trying to tell you something
Feeling bloated constantly
"Pay attention to how you feel: Signs of bloating constantly might point to a food intolerance or something going on in your gut," says Zeitlin. Bloating is a complex word, but in gastroenterology, it refers to feeling uncomfortably full, gassy, and water retention. Sometimes this is a natural response to your diet, an illness, or your environment. It might be a fluke symptom that resolves on its own. The best way to get to the bottom of your bloating, according to Zeitlin, is to keep a food journal. This can help you connect the dots between what you're eating and what is making you feel less than great.
Brain fog, according to the Mayo Clinic, is a reduced sense of cognition and increased distractibility or feeling like you can't concentrate. It can come from a lot of things like medication side effects, lack of sleep, COVID-19, dehydration, or, as Zeitlin points out, food intolerances.
This is another place where a food journal is going to come in handy, Zeitlin says. When you experience brain fog from food, it can arrive when you eat or a little while after. Having a food log and symptom notes for your day can help you figure out if your brain fog is coming from your diet or something else. Also, of course, you can bring the notes to a provider.
Constipation is a gut red flag, according to Dr. Bulsiewicz. It doesn't necessarily mean there's something seriously wrong, but it is a sign that there is a "kink" in your digestive system. It, again, can come from a lot of things like dehydration, lack of fiber, too much fiber, or food intolerance. Try to drink water, light movement like walking, or do some yoga stretching to encourage a bowel movement.
Your gut is very complex and resilient—just like you. These experts recommend not seeing gut health advice in extreme black and white terms. There are a lot of people with gut health opinions out there, but, at the end of the day, you know yourself and your body best.
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