Expert-Backed Ways to Boost Your Gut Health
- Written By:Michele Ross
If you haven’t hopped aboard the microbiome-balancing wagon just yet, you’ll want to start ASAP. While it makes sense that a balanced gut is key to promote optimal digestion (especially if you struggle with bloating, diarrhea, IBS, and the like), a healthy gut is also a key component of supporting mental health, hormonal balance, immunity, clear skin, and so much more. Simply put, boosting your gut is a surefire way to promote wellness across the board—but there’s a lot more to it than simply popping a probiotic and calling it a day.
To learn how to effectively boost your gut through diet and lifestyle, we asked Sarah Greenfield, RD—a functional medicine dietitian who specializes in all things gut health—for her top tips.
1. Clear out bad bacteria
Again, balance is the name of the game when it comes to a thriving gut. With that said, you can’t load up on the good without getting rid of the bad first. “The best place to start when it comes to optimizing gut health is to ensure you have a balanced gut microbiome,” Greenfield begins. She says that the best way to get a clear picture of the state of your gut is through stool testing—especially with a functional practitioner and if you struggle with digestive distress, have autoimmune conditions, and/or your doctor has yet to get to the root causes of your imbalances and symptoms. However, if stool testing isn’t an option right now, Greenfield suggests adding antimicrobial herbs to your wellness regimen.
“I love using oil of oregano, thyme, berberine, allicin (an extract from garlic), and wormwood to clear out bacteria, yeast, and pathogens that are negatively impacting the microbiome,” she shares.
2. Diversify the gut microbiome
Greenfield continues to say that a diverse gut microbiome is a healthy one—and one of the best ways to promote gut diversity is to adhere to a diet rich in dozens of fruits, veggies, and plant-based foods. “I like to aim for 40 different types of produce weekly to feed all the different strains of bacteria in the gut,” she explains.
While that target number may sound daunting, you’ll come to find that it’s easier to reach this goal than you think. For instance, if you love apples, stock up on a mix of Granny Smith, Fuji, Pink Lady, and other varieties. You can also switch up the base of your salads from romaine one day to dinosaur kale the next to baby kale the day after. Moreover, you can shop for (or make) different varieties of trail mix or mixed nuts, as well as integrate different types of rice and grains into your meal prep rotation. As an added bonus, you can rev up your intake of fermented foods such as kimchi and sauerkraut to do double duty on the plant-based, pro-diversity front.
3. Take a high-quality probiotic based on your needs
Perhaps you already take a probiotic supplement, or maybe you need some advice on where to start. On this front, Greenfield takes care to note that not all probiotics are created equal. “Live strains make up the majority of our actual microbiome, whereas soil-based are what we are exposed to from the natural foods we eat,” she explains. “If you have a weakened gut, focusing on soil-based probiotics is ideal because these are often better tolerated and can help reseed the gut.”
However, if your gut isn’t completely out of whack, you can still stand to benefit from live strain probiotics. In any case, you’ll just want to make sure that the probiotics in your chosen supplement have the right strains and amounts of those strains that have been clinically proven to boost gut health and/or support your specific concerns, such as immunity or skin inflammation (think breakouts and redness).
4. Replace minerals
Unfortunately, sometimes it’s not enough to eat nutrient-rich foods since our ability to absorb these nutrients can be compromised. As Greenfield explains further, “With weakened gut function and depleted soil, it can be hard for our bodies to get everything they need from the foods we eat.” For this reason, she particularly advises being more mindful of your mineral intake throughout your quest to boost your gut health.
“I love using fulvic and humic acid to give the body additional minerals and support overall gut function,” she shares. Moreover, in addition to their ability to support your gut, she adds that minerals “help restore energy production, immune regulation, and inflammatory response.”
5. Find healthy ways to manage stress
Stress equals inflammation—full stop. Not only does it take a major toll on your mind and mood, but also your body. “Stress management arguably might be the most critical aspect of a good gut and good health,” Greenfield explains. In terms of the former, she says that chronic stress can actually end up decreasing the diversity of the gut microbiome, essentially undoing or eradicating all of the hard work you’ve done up to this point—including adopting the tips above. “When gut diversity decreases, our ability to produce neurotransmitters (aka feel-good compounds) decreases as well,” she continues. In short, the gut will have a harder time staying balanced, making stress management an essential component of any gut-restoration protocol.
The good news is that stress management is highly customizable based on what works for you—so long as it’s in the realms of good health. Yes, winding down with a glass of wine after a long day here and there can be part of your stress-reduction plan, so long as you don’t go overboard and also make sure to fit in other healthy habits, which include but aren’t limited to:
- Listening to music
- Cleaning and organizing
- Sticking to a skincare routine
- Catching up with friends and family
To achieve better gut health and well-being across the board, be sure to check out Sarah Greenfield’s gut restoration group program and 1:1 client offerings, which are based on the pillars of functional medicine.