5 Easy Digestion-Boosting Daily Habits RDs Recommend for Gut Health (and Happiness)

Photo: Stocksy/Felix Chacon
Anyone who’s ever made gut health an afterthought should be familiar with the consequences of taking a reactive—versus proactive—approach. (I, for one, really wish I’d popped digestive enzymes before experiencing intense bloating from a recent late-night pizza order.) That said, rather than waiting for digestive distress or other signs of gut imbalance to strike, you can prime yourself for success by doing right by your gut from the moment you wake up each morning.

Ahead, see what two gut health dietitians recommend—and practice themselves—to support gut health and digestion upon rising.

Experts In This Article
  • Kara Lydon, RD, registered dietitian and blogger behind “The Foodie Dietitian”
  • Megan Rossi, PhD, registered dietitian and gut-health research fellow at King’s College London

5 RD-approved gut-healthy habits to try in the morning

"There are so many simple options for how you can boost your gut health first thing in the morning,” says Kara Landau, RD, of Gut Feeling Consultancy and nutrition advisor to the Global Prebiotic Association. “You just have to pick the one, or the few, that will blend most seamlessly into your routine.”

Here are some of the top morning lifestyle and dietary habits that can lead to major gut health gains.

1. Start your morning with a calming regimen

Many of us jump out of bed with a go-go-go routine, whether that entails scrolling through your inbox while you’re half asleep or rushing to get ready to head to work. However, these are less than ideal ways to kick off your morning on a relaxing note, and they can have negative repercussions for your mind and gut alike.

“The gut and the brain are connected through hundreds of millions of nerves, known as the enteric nervous system. This often means that what’s going on in our brain can influence what’s going on in our gut and vice versa,” explains Megan Rossi, PhD, RD, founder of The Gut Health Doctor. Rather than kicking off your morning in a rush or with stimulating activities, Dr. Rossi suggests replacing it with an activity that will prioritize the gut-brain axis. Think: journaling, meditating, or even taking a few deep breaths before climbing out of bed.

2. Move your body

Gentle forms of movement in the morning can also promote gut health. “Various activities have been seen to positively impact the diversity of gut bacteria, ranging from aerobic activities all the way to yoga,” Landau shares. Again, these benefits may be attributed to the gut-brain axis. “The calming and mental health benefits that come from these activities could be behind why the gut bacteria respond favorably to movement and mindfulness activity, resulting in increased probiotic abundance in the gut,” she continues.

P.S. She adds that mindful morning movements may be particularly beneficial for people struggling with IBS.

3. Get some sunlight

Taking a stroll may very well be one of the best morning habits for gut health, as you can reap countless benefits with each step. It’s calming while gently waking your body up for the day to come. All the while, you’ll enjoy gut-friendly perks from the sunshine vitamin.

“Many people think of getting morning sunlight as important only in relation to their circadian rhythm and assisting with hormones to keep them alert throughout the day,” Landau begins. “However, an interesting study in healthy female subjects showed that exposure to UVB rays—which boosted their serum vitamin D levels—was able to lead to significant positive changes in the abundance of a number of probiotic strains in their gut.” Plus, these results were more pronounced in the sunlight group than another group in which participants took a vitamin D supplement.

Since bacterial diversity is a key marker of gut health, Landau champions spending at least a few minutes outdoors each morning. Whether you take a short walk around the block or sit on your balcony, “Getting outside for a few minutes appears to be a fantastic option within people’s reach to support their gut health,” she explains.

4. Sip on coffee or tea

Now, for my favorite gut-friendly morning tip: enjoy a delicious cup of coffee. While Dr. Rossi emphasizes the importance of staying hydrated with H2O—for both digestion and overall health—she also advocates for caffeinating (so long as you can tolerate the stimulant). “Enjoy a cup of filtered coffee or tea in the morning, or decaf after noon,” she suggests. “They’re rich in phytochemicals, which your gut microbes love.” Even better, Dr. Rossi clarifies that moderate caffeine intake actually offers similar hydrating qualities to water.

If caffeine’s not your thing or if your gut is very sensitive, she advises opting for decaf coffee or tea, both of which will still provide good-for-you phytochemicals.

5. Build a breakfast with prebiotics and probiotics

Although probiotics tend to hog the spotlight in the gut health conversation, prebiotics are just as important since they feed beneficial gut bacteria. According to Landau, a sample menu for a prebiotic-rich breakfast could look like:

  • Overnight oats with crushed cashews
  • Sliced kiwi (hot tip: Dr. Rossi advises keeping the fuzzy peels on to triple the fiber content)
  • A teaspoon of green banana powder resistant starch

“This mix offers a blend of prebiotics in the form of resistant starch, soluble prebiotic fiber, and even polyphenols,” she explains. “All work together to feed a greater variety of the probiotics in your gut, enhance digestion and motility, and help balance your blood glucose levels.” Essentially, this plant-powered prebiotic brekkie is a veritable MVP for gut health… but you shouldn’t skimp on probiotics, either.

By eating probiotic foods for breakfast, you’ll “naturally add to the variety of gut bacteria that are present in your body, further enhancing your gut health from the moment you wake up,” Landau says. She then calls out kefir as her chief recommendation. “Kefir probiotics are particularly valuable in their ability to stick in your gut to grow and multiply, compared to many other probiotic-rich foods that are known to be more transient and only remain for a few hours. This may be due to the greater diversity in strains present, as well as the abundance of bacteria due to kefir being fermented for a longer period of time.”

Fortunately, there’s a variety of ways in which you can enjoy your kefir—with my own recent favorites being Buchi Kefir Soda and Lifeway Oat Kefir. Both are dairy-free, so they’re great options especially for those who have trouble digesting the animal byproduct.

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