5 Dietitian-Approved Tips For Better Gut Health in 2024

4 min read

5 Dietitian-Approved Tips For Better Gut Health in 2024

Gut health topics are all the trend right now... and for good reason! The trillions of microbes in your gut, along with their genetic material, make up your gut microbiome. Your gut, and all the bacteria, viruses, fungi, and archaea that live there, play a key role in your total health and well-being. An imbalance in the amount and different types of gut microbes could increase your risk of chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and inflammatory bowel disease. There's also a connection with brain and mood-related disorders such as depression, anxiety, dementia, Alzheimer’s, and Parkinson’s disease. [1]  [2]  [3]  [4]


Why exactly does an imbalance of your gut microbiome have such a big impact? For one, your gut helps enhance nutrient absorption from the food you're eating. The microbes in your gut make vitamins for your body and help with digestion. A well-balanced gut microbiome also helps regulate your immune system and manage your moods.[5]  [6] So if things are off, there's a lot that can go wrong. While the science is a wee bit complicated, keeping your gut microbes happy and balanced doesn’t have to be rocket science. 


So, as we head into a new year and you start making new healthy resolutions, here are 5 simple tips you can add to help support a healthier gut microbiome. 

1. Fiber Up! 

Science has revealed that the favorite fuel for the trillions of microbes in your gut is fiber! But there's a specific kind of fiber that your gut likes best: prebiotics. Certain prebiotic fibers selectively stimulate the growth and activities of beneficial microbes, such as Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium. [7] Many of your gut microbes contain specialized digestive enzymes that the human body does not. This allows the gut microbes to break down fiber-rich foods that have escaped “human” digestion in the small intestine. [8]


Here are a few ways to increase fiber in your diet:

  • Adding legumes (lentils, chickpeas, beans) to your plate daily
  • Selecting whole grain ingredients (whole wheat, whole oats) over refined white flour
  • Sipping on OLIPOP—a lower sugar, high fiber beverage (up to 9 grams of gut-loving fiber per serving)
  • Fueling on fiber-rich veggies and fruits each meal and at snack times 

Note: make sure you're increasing fiber gradually and drinking plenty of water. This will allow your body and the gut microbes to adjust to the diet change. 

2. Get Cultured

Adding live and active cultures to your diet via many types of fermented foods may add to the diversity of your gut microbes, a marker of good gut health! An interesting study by Stanford University researchers found that fermented food made with live and active cultures led to an increase in overall gut microbial diversity. [9]


Here are a few fermented foods with live and active cultures you can try: 

  • Yogurt
  • Kefir
  • Kimchi
  • Cultured cottage cheese
  • Kombucha
  • Vegetable brine drinks
  • Fermented veggies

3. Eat Plants. Lots of Them.

Did I say eat more plants? That's what The American Gut Project, a crowdfunded citizen science project that studies human poop (yup, you read that right!) says. In their recent study, they discovered that people who ate 30 different types of plants per week, versus those with 10 or fewer different plants per week, had greater gut bacterial diversity. As a reminder, gut bacterial diversity is a signature of better gut health. [10]


So how can you start adding more plants to your diet? Here are a few tips to up your plant diversity:


  • Select a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables to add to your meals. Different colors in produce often reflect different nutrients. This is good for you and your microbiota!
  • Enjoy a wide selection of fiber-rich seeds (hello chia, pepitas, hemp, and sunflower seeds!) and whole grains (quinoa, barley, buckwheat, brown rice, oats). 
  • Add nuts or nut butter to your snacks or meals. Add a smear of peanut butter to your whole grain toast or include a variety of nuts as a topper to your morning oats or over a delicious Greek yogurt parfait.
  • Explore new produce and keep your taste buds and your microbes curiously interested—add 2 new types of fruits and/or veggies to your weekly plate.

4. Move Your Body

Moderate exercise can help increase your gut microbial diversity and reduce inflammation. [11] Regular exercise can also get your gut moving—keeping you regular! Exercise helps control stress and offers improved sleep habits—two other key factors for keeping the gut microbiome in sync. Alternatively, intense or excessive exercise may actually increase inflammation and reduce gut health benefits—so keep things gentle and moderate. Exercise should be fun for you—if you don’t like to jog, try walking! 

5. Stress Less for Success

Chronic stress can impact the microbes residing in your gut. The gut and brain are highly linked via the gut-brain microbiome axis, a bi-directional pathway between the gut and brain. Gut microbes create key brain chemicals called neurotransmitters that regulate your mood. These chemicals include dopamine which plays a role in focus and feelings of pleasure, GABA-aminobutyric acid (say that 5 times fast) which has calming effects, and the precursors of serotonin, a “feel good” chemical. [4]


Simple changes for good stress management include:

  • Do yoga!
  • Try a daily meditation exercise.
  • Engage in a specialized deep breathing technique, called diaphragmatic breathing. 

What is diaphragmatic breathing? This breathing pattern stimulates the vagus nerve (the key connection between the gut and brain). It helps move your body from the stress mode of “fight or flight” to “relax and digest mode”. Like learning a foreign language, deep breathing exercises take some regular practice to fine-tune—but the benefits are truly life-changing! 


Let’s make 2024 the year for better gut health and a healthier you overall! Give these tips a try and remember that small and simple changes in your daily life can have a big impact on a healthier gut microbiome.



Sources

  1. Cabrera, Cristian et al. “Modifiable Risk Factors for Dementia: The Role of Gut Microbiota.” Current Alzheimer research vol. 18,13 (2021): 993-1009. 
  2. Roe K. An alternative explanation for Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease initiation from specific antibiotics, gut microbiota dysbiosis and neurotoxins. Neurochemical Research. 2022 Mar;47(3):517-30.
  3. de Vos WM, Tilg H, Van Hul M, et al Gut microbiome and health: mechanistic insights. Gut 2022;71:1020-1032.
  4. Chen Y, Xu J, Chen Y. Regulation of Neurotransmitters by the Gut Microbiota and Effects on Cognition in Neurological Disorders. Nutrients. 2021 Jun 19;13(6):2099. doi: 10.3390/nu13062099. PMID: 34205336; PMCID: PMC8234057.
  5. Belkaid Y, Hand TW. Role of the microbiota in immunity and inflammation. Cell. 2014 Mar 27;157(1):121-41. doi: 10.1016/j.cell.2014.03.011. PMID: 24679531; PMCID: PMC4056765.
  6. Appleton J. The Gut-Brain Axis: Influence of Microbiota on Mood and Mental Health. Integr Med (Encinitas). 2018 Aug;17(4):28-32. PMID: 31043907; PMCID: PMC6469458.
  7. Roberfroid M et al. Prebiotic effects: metabolic and health benefits. Br. J. Nutr. 2010;104(S2) Suppl. 2:S1–S63.
  8. Rowland I, et al. Gut microbiota functions: metabolism of nutrients and other food components. Eur J Nutr. 2018 Feb;57(1):1-24.; PMCID: PMC5847071.
  9. Wastyk, Hannah C et al. “Gut-microbiota-targeted diets modulate human immune status.” Cell vol. 184,16 (2021): 4137-4153.e14. 
  10. McDonald D, et al. American Gut: an Open Platform for Citizen Science Microbiome Research. mSystems. 2018 May 15;3(3):e00031-18. doi: 10.1128/mSystems.00031-18. https://ucsdnews.ucsd.edu/feature/whats-in-your-gut
  11. Clauss, Matthieu et al. “Interplay Between Exercise and Gut Microbiome in the Context of Human Health and Performance.” Frontiers in nutrition vol. 8 637010. 10 Jun. 2021, doi:10.3389/fnut.2021.637010
Cheat Sheet
  • Looking for a healthier gut in 2024? Load up on high-fiber foods like legumes, whole grains, veggies, and fruits. Fermented foods also add to the diversity of microbes in your gut. 
  • It’s also important for a healthier gut and body to exercise regularly and manage your stress levels. 
  • And don’t forget about OLIPOP for an extra pop of fiber! 
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