The holidays are behind us, and perhaps you had some over-indulgence that made you feel not so great in your gut. Or, you may be looking to start new healthy habits to improve your gut and overall health. Let’s dive into five evidence-based strategies to improve or maximize your gut health.
5 Ways to Love Your Gut in the New Year
1. Say “no” to fad diets or detox programs
First and foremost, avoid falling into the trap of starting a fad diet or detox program. Or giving in to the pressure to eliminate entire food groups. No matter what the clever ads or other people say, these strategies are not based on science. Indeed, they are unsustainable and can even be harmful. There is no one-size fits all diet for gut and overall health. Furthermore, your body is very well equipped with all the detoxification mechanisms you need (your kidneys and liver mostly perform this important job).
2. Eat 30 plants a week
Secondly, if you look after your gut, it will look after you. That’s because your gut is home to trillions of bacteria that help influence pretty much any aspect of your health: gut health, immunity, metabolism, mental health, and more. The best way to take care of your gut is to feed your good gut bacteria their favorite food – fiber! Consequently, they can keep thriving and multiplying.
And the best way to do this is to eat a variety of plant foods: at least 30 different ones each week! These include vegetables, fruit, whole grains, legumes (beans, peas & lentils), nuts and seeds, and even herbs and spices. If you find that many of these foods cause your gut symptoms, work with a dietitian (like me) to figure out your triggers. This can help you expand the variety in your diet without experiencing gut symptoms. Furthermore, to the next tip…
3. Eat fermented foods
We know from research that adding fermented foods to your diet can improve the variety and abundance of your good gut bacteria and decrease several markers of inflammation. Therefore, you want to add foods that contain live bacteria every day. For instance, try yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha (just watch out for added sugar in many products), pickles, and miso. If you don’t tolerate lactose, there are lactose-free versions of yogurt and kefir. And, you can find low-FODMAP serving sizes of fermented vegetables.
4. Avoid focusing only on food
We are quick to blame the last meal or a specific food for our gut symptoms. Sometimes we may be right. But many times, there are other factors at play such as stress, lack of sleep, or exercise. Indeed, managing stress, moving our body in a pleasurable way, and having enough good-quality sleep, are also key to gut and overall health.
5. Be kind to yourself
Finally, start slow, with a few small changes. Practice self-compassion as you are working toward your goals and celebrate milestones and small wins along the way. It will feel less overwhelming and ensure that you keep at it and do not quit after a short time. Most of all, avoid negative self-talk and give yourself the love and compassion you would to a child or your best friend.
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