Healthy Gut

A Gastroenterologist Breaks Down 10 Gut-Healthy Habits To Try Throughout the Day

Erin Bunch

Photo: Stocksy/ Luis Velasco
Unless you're experiencing gastrointestinal distress regularly, it can be easy to overlook your gut health. But even if your tummy technically feels fine, the makeup of your microbiome could be quietly impacting your mood, cognitive function, sleep, and more. And while you may have adopted a gut-healthy morning routine or learned to take care of your stomach's flora and fauna at night, you might be ignoring opportunities to optimize your microbiome throughout the day. Fortunately, Niket Sonpal, MD, an internist and gastroenterologist in New York City and faculty member at Touro College of Medicine, offers his best advice on how to improve gut health midday below.

How to improve your gut health midday

1. Eat fiber-rich meals and snacks

Fiber is critical to gut health. "It's like weight lifting for the colon," says Dr. Sonpal. "It keeps it in shape and gives you good, clean bowel movements that happen without any issue."

Many of us, however, overestimate our fiber intake. So, he recommends spending a couple of days documenting the amount of fiber you eat daily, and then adding from there if necessary—the United States Department of Agriculture recommends women consume 25 grams per day and 38 grams for men. Ensuring that whatever snacks you eat between meals are fiber-rich—e.g., whole grains, seeds, fruits, and vegetables—can help you bridge the fiber gap throughout the day.

2. Stay hydrated all-day

Water is fiber's best friend—the latter can't work without the former. "People who don't drink enough water throughout the day become constipated, so their bowel movements become hard and painful," says Dr. Sonpal.

In addition to making sure you hydrate before you start sipping coffee in the morning, he suggests buying an insulated 32-ounce cup, filling it up with water every morning, and sipping on it all day. "You'll be peeing a lot, but your bowels will thank you for it," he says.

3. Pay attention to probiotics

Your digestive system needs "the right amount of good bacteria" in order to perform optimally, so Dr. Sonpal recommends adding probiotics to your diet. These can be taken in supplement form or added into your diet in the form of foods like kimchi, yogurt, tempeh, and miso. Pickles, for example, are a great probiotic snack choice to reach for between meals.

4. Opt for gut-healthy desserts

While it's natural to crave sweets after a meal—digestion can zap your energy, and sugar provides a quick fix—Dr. Sonpal says you might want to skip out on a post-lunch dessert unless it's specifically designed to help your gut do its job. "Everybody likes dessert, so try to make your dessert work for you," he says. "I always tell patients that, for example, probiotic yogurts are good tasting, they're great for your stomach, and they do a great job of being a dessert, too."

5. Make sure you're moving

Here's the thing; being sedentary isn't great for your muscles, and Dr. Sonpal says that the core muscles are what help your colon contract. So, the more you move, the more your stomach and organs will contract. "One of the things I tell people is that if you are in a sedentary job, find ways to stand up and walk around—walk during lunch, take walking breaks, or get one of those standing desk risers," he says. Whatever you can do to add movement into your otherwise chained-to-the-desk day, in other words, will help improve your digestion.

6. Don't lie down immediately after eating

On that note, it's important not to lie down directly after eating, especially if it's a bigger meal like lunch. This can be difficult to resist, as the body's circadian rhythm can cause you to feel sleepy in the afternoon. But our bodies are designed to digest in the upright position, so taking a snooze on a full stomach can cause discomfort, gas, bloating, and other gastrointestinal symptoms. People who suffer from acid reflux are particularly vulnerable to issues from taking a siesta after lunch; the valve between their esophagus and stomach doesn't function properly, and laying down can exacerbate the issue.

7. Swap your midday coffee for green tea

Coffee isn't bad for your gut, full-stop. In fact, it contains healthy acids and antioxidants that have prebiotic properties to feed the good bacteria in your belly. With that said, Dr. Sonpal notes that too much caffeine can constipate you and cause gas and heartburn.

Each person has a different threshold, so trial and error are required to figure out when you're overdoing it. Dr. Sonpal's suggestion? Switch from coffee to green tea after noon, as the caffeine content tends to be lower in the former than it is in the latter. And if you notice that your stomach is particularly sensitive to caffeine, you may want to work on eliminating it altogether.

8. Go to the bathroom (don't hold it)

Many of us have abandoned offices due to the pandemic, but for those returning, Dr. Sonpal says it's important to note that holding your bowel movements in all day is not okay. "The colon's whole job is to absorb water, so the longer poop stays inside, the more it's going to absorb water and the more you're going to feel uncomfortable," he says. "It's better out than in, and there's nothing wrong with pooping—everybody poops!"

If you really don't want to be faced with the prospect of pooping at work, you can try to adopt habits that will help you have a regular bowel movement each morning before you head into the office, including talking to your doctor about how your medications might be affecting your regularity, and increasing your fiber intake.

9. If something feels wrong, make a doctor's appointment

The number one thing I, personally, have needed to do for my gut health is visit a freaking doctor. If you're in a similar boat, you should consider making an appointment during your next break if you're able. "If you're experiencing constipation and you tried regular things out [with no results], or you're just noticing that you're just not having good gut health, see a friendly neighborhood GI," says Dr. Sonpal.

10. Manage stress when it crops up

Your gut and brain are connected, which means what goes on in your midsection affects your mood, and vice versa. In other words, if you are a ball of stress or anxiety, you are likely to experience some digestive issues. So it's important to take time out in your day to breathe, literally (through breathwork) or figuratively (through other stress management tools).

Not sure what, exactly, to weave into your day in order to better your mental health for the sake of your stomach? Try meditation, exercise, somatic release, journaling, or any of these five-minute stress-relieving activities.

 

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