Gut check: How to eat your way to a healthier, happier gut


by Jessica Smosna, RD, LD   and Rajesh Shah, MD

May 25, 2021

You may have heard the saying that “your gut is your second brain,” and there’s good reason behind that. The bacteria in your gut are key for lifelong health, which is why you want to promote healthy bacteria through diet and lifestyle. Your gut bacteria support weight and metabolism, promote optimal brain functioning, create vitamins that regulate your immune system, and more! Let’s dive in to the building blocks of good gut health.

A healthy diet is the foundation of good overall health and a healthy gut. The main goal of a healthy diet is to provide balanced nutrition, maintain a healthy weight and reduce the risk of many chronic diseases, such as heart disease and obesity. In summary, here are five ways to improve your gut health:

Eat colorfully.

Eat a variety of vegetables throughout the day and consider eating a variety of colors, which not only looks more appetizing but also provides a variety of micronutrients. Supplement this with eating whole fruits and grains. These recommendations should provide adequate fiber in your diet, which is around 25 grams for women and 35 grams for men. But you may also consider supplementing with over-the-counter products or incorporating psyllium husk and/or ground flax seed into your diet for an extra boost of fiber.

Focus on protein rich foods.

Focus on dairy foods and protein. Common dairy foods include milk, yogurt and cheese. You may consider lactose-free versions if products containing lactose cause you any uncomfortable gastrointestinal symptoms. If you experience symptoms from lactose-free products, such as bloat, foggy brain or fatigue, skin disorders, weight gain and sinus issues, you can try goat or sheep milk products, which are less inflammatory.

Great choices for protein rich foods include lean meats, poultry, eggs and seafood, along with some vegetables such as beans, peas and even nuts. Speak with your doctor or dietitian about how much of these foods you should eat.

Limit foods known to cause gut symptoms.

Try to limit the intake of added sugars, saturated fat (from processed food items) and sodium since these foods tend to cause more gut symptoms, such as abdominal pain, bloating and diarrhea.

Drink more water.

Most people don’t drink enough water throughout the day, but it should be a goal everyone strives for. Water helps to move food through the intestines and promote good gut health. The general recommendation is to drink 8 cups of water throughout the day. You want to consume the majority of your fluids between meals, ideally consuming no more than eight ounces shortly before, after and during meals. In practice, I tell people to have enough water so when you urinate the urine appears almost clear.

Take care of your body.

Sleeping for 7-8 hours per night helps your body rest and recover from the day. Exercising helps promote digestive motility, improves mood and boosts overall long-term health. Finally, taking time to relax and remove stress from the day is important. Many people carry stress in the intestines and come to see me for various digestive symptoms, including abdominal pain, nausea and diarrhea. Finding ways to minimize stress, such as exercise, meditation or yoga can be great tools to care for your gastrointestinal system.

There you have it — start these five simple habits today to start building a healthier gut. If you continue to experience uncomfortable digestive symptoms, a digestive specialist can help. Find one near you today.

About the Author

Jessica Smosna, RD, LD, is a registered dietitian at Baylor Scott & White Specialty Clinic – Westlake. She completed her undergraduate studies at Bradley University in Peoria, IL, and her dietetic internship through the University of Houston. She is passionate about working with people to heal and repair their gut. Along with a healthy lifestyle, Jessica believes vitamins N & L (nature & laughter) are key for optimal health.

Rajesh Shah, MD, is a gastroenterologist on the medical staff at Baylor Scott & White Clinic – Buda Medical Center and Baylor Scott & White Medical Center – Austin. His clinical interests include inflammatory bowel disease, colorectal cancer screening, chronic diarrhea, gastroesophageal reflux disease and fatty liver disease. Schedule an appointment with Dr. Shah today.

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