6 Ways to Improve Your Gut Health Naturally

I’m delighted to have partnered with the National Mango Board on this blog post. All opinions are my own.

In recent years, gut health has become a dominant topic in nutrition science. The more we learn, the more we realize that our stomachs have more of an effect on our overall health than we ever thought possible. From diabetes to cancer to autism, there’s a good chance that your overall gut health (or microbiome) is associated with every disease you can think of. While there are certainly some “bad bugs” you don’t want growing in your gut, there are a lot of useful microbes along for the ride.

Here are six ways to improve your intestinal health — the natural way.

Mangos: Providing antioxidants, fiber, and over 20 different vitamins and minerals, a one cup serving of mango has been well-documented to exhibit anti-inflammatory activities and aid in digestion. In addition, a recent study published in the Journal of Nutrition looked for the first time at the effect of mango on gut health in mice fed diets that differed in fat content. For mice in the high-fat diet group, mango supplementation was found to prevent the loss of beneficial gut bacteria often induced by a high-fat diet. Try adding some mango to your diet by slicing one up for a snack, blending in a smoothie, or add diced mango to a chopped salad, yogurt parfait, or homemade salsa for some refreshing tropical flavor.

Broccoli: While other cruciferous vegetables like kale and Brussels sprouts have stolen the culinary limelight lately, a recent study suggests that broccoli should not be overlooked as a food for gut health. In a study that used both cooked and raw broccoli, rats showed positive changes in their colonic flora (organisms living in the digestive tract) after only four days of consumption. Another interesting finding was that the changes were reversed after four days without consuming broccoli. More research is necessary to see how this would affect humans, but consistent intake of broccoli might be a good way to improve your gut health. Personally, my favorite way to eat broccoli — and most cruciferous vegetables — is roasted with a bit of olive oil, garlic, salt, pepper, and fresh herbs.

Whole Grains: Not only do whole grains contain important nutrients like protein, fiber, and B vitamins, they also improve bowel health by helping to maintain regular bowel movements and promote growth of healthy bacteria in the colon. Whole grains (like barley, brown rice, buckwheat, and quinoa) contain the germ, endosperm, and bran, of the grain; whereas, refined grains only retain the endosperm. A recent study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that participants who were fed a diet rich in whole grains for two weeks saw improvements in their stool weight and frequency, as well as gut bacteria, compared to people who were fed a diet with refined grains. Try to get more whole grains in your diet by starting at breakfast: swap out a processed cereal for a bowl of quinoa or oatmeal topped with cinnamon and fresh fruit.

Kefir: With a name derived from the Turkish word “keif” (meaning “good feeling”), this fermented dairy beverage is not a new invention, but it is finding increasing popularity in the U.S. as a way to improve intestinal health. Kefir is super rich in probiotics, and research suggests that these probiotics contribute to a healthier gut by supporting the growth of good bacteria as well as challenging the development of disease-causing bacteria. Since many flavored Kefir products on the market can be loaded with added sugar, look at the label and choose one with 12 grams of sugar or less per cup. In addition to simply drinking Kefir, it also works well in smoothies, dips, and homemade baked goods like pancakes or muffins.

Coffee: If you’re like me, the aroma of a morning cup of Jo is worth getting out of bed for. And while too much of a good thing is, well, too much, recent studies have pointed to the health benefits of coffee in moderation. In addition, there is evidence to suggest that coffee may have a positive effect on the gut as well. In one study, bacteria living in the gut were compared in mice that were given coffee, a probiotic, or water. Compared to water, coffee consumption changed the types of gut bacteria by decreasing the amount of potentially harmful types of bacteria while increasing the amount of a type of helpful bacteria. The coffee was prepared from whole beans, so consider grinding your own at home to cut down on the oxidation of important compounds.

Maintain an Active Lifestyle: In addition to including specific foods in your diet for a healthy gut, how much you move appears to be important as well. A study published in 2017 divided female volunteers into two groups based on their activity levels: active and sedentary. The definition for sedentary activity was that of the World Health Organization, which is less than 30 minutes of activity three times a week. At least three hours of exercise weekly was considered necessary to be classified as active. When gut bacteria was analyzed, there was an inverse relationship between sedentary activity and microbial “richness,” meaning that people who displayed the most sedentary habits were more likely to have fewer identified species of helpful bacteria in their gut. So keep up the good work if you are already exercising, but consider this one more reason to add a few brisk walks each week to give your bacteria a boost.