7+ Ways to Improve Your Gut Bacteria At Any Age
A healthy gut translates to good digestion, a strong immune system, and even an improved mood. It also leads to a healthier body and brain. So, we know how important it is to improve gut bacteria.
When bad bacteria are allowed to grow and thrive, they can quickly dominate, which leads to all sorts of unpleasant health issues. Some signs of a gut imbalance include:
- Gas and bloating 1
- Difficulty concentrating or learning 2,3
- Feeling tired
- Mood swings, depressed mood, or increased anxiety 4,5
- Skin issues 6
- Sugar cravings
- Circadian rhythm disruptions, which can lead to sleep problems
- Getting sick more often as the gut microbiome directly impacts immune functioning 7
- Weight gain 8
The next logical question then is how can we improve the balance of the hundreds of trillions of different bacteria and microbes living within the digestive tract?
7 Ways to Improve Gut Bacteria
1. Eat the Rainbow
Of course, that doesn’t mean opening a bag of skittles, M&Ms, or gummy bears (which only feed the bad bacteria). When it comes to colorful foods or “eating the rainbow,” it means reaching for a wide-range of vibrant vegetables and fruits.
Even if your diet is already rich in fruits and veg, if you’re eating the same ones day after day, it’s time to go outside of your usual go-to foods and explore a wider variety of foods from different groups. Variety is important as the more diverse your diet, the more diverse your gut microbiome.
Colorful foods tend to be higher in polyphenols, which are natural plant-based antioxidants. A few to include in your diet are berries, plums, cherries, beans, spinach, artichoke, nuts, and teas.
2. Nourish the Garden
Plant foods, which are rich in fibers (especially prebiotic fibers), phytochemicals, antioxidants, and micronutrients are particularly helpful for nourishing the garden in your gut.
Some of the most nutritious gut-supporting plant foods include leafy greens like kale and spinach and cruciferous vegetables like cabbage, cauliflower, and broccoli. But eating more plant foods in general as well as increasing the variety has been shown to better support a healthy gut. High-fiber foods are some of the best choices. These include chia seeds, flaxseeds, beans, lentils, and berries.
Prebiotic fibers feed the gut, which then metabolize to produce short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs). These fatty acids are then used by the body to support the cells lining the colon for a healthy and balanced immune system, lower cholesterol levels, healthy blood sugar levels, and even improved brain functioning.
Other foods rich in prebiotic fibers include sweet potatoes, leeks, onions, beets, carrots, asparagus, artichokes, and fennel. Those important fibers are also found in whole grains like oatmeal and amaranth. In general, the goal is to eat at least 25 grams of fiber daily.
That said, if you’re starting with a low-fiber, low-plant food diet now, you’ll want to slowly introduce these types of food over a couple of weeks to months to give your gut a chance to adjust. Otherwise, too much fiber too fast can lead to a buildup of gas, bloating, and discomfort.
3. Seek Out Fermented Foods
Fermented foods like yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi, miso, kombucha, sourdough, pickles, and more are made by adding yeasts or bacteria, which help break down the food and create good bacteria even before you eat the food. When you eat these foods, they in turn help increase the bioavailability of nutrients and reduce “antinutrients” that can interfere with vitamin and mineral absorption. 9
The probiotics then help shift the balance toward the good bacteria for greater gut health. A mere two tablespoons of sauerkraut, for example, can provide up to 1 million colony-forming units (CFUs) of good bacteria. 10,11 What’s more, fermented foods have been shown in research to be more resistant to stomach acid, so the foods are better able to travel through the GI tract into the small intestine, where they can colonize and thrive.
Yogurt has also been shown to help calm the digestive system and may even help relieve diarrhea, constipation, and other gut issues. 12
In addition to probiotic foods, you can also consider taking a science-supported probiotic supplement, especially if you’re already experiencing gut issues. Some research suggests probiotics may help restore the gut after using antibiotics, for example.
Whether you get probiotics from foods or quality supplements, they may help provide the gut with live good bacteria, which can travel into the small intestine to colonize and flourish to help restore balance. 13
4. Cut Back on Sugar
Sugar is great—if you want to feed the bad bacteria. In fact, sugar, along with refined fats, may be the worst offenders, wreaking havoc on the gut. 14,15 Cutting back on all types of refined sugars, especially those found in packaged and liquid forms, can help alter the microbiome to positively support the brain, cognitive flexibility, and behavior. 16
Beyond the obvious offenders like cookies, candies, and cakes, watch for hidden added sugars that tend to find their way into store-bought smoothies, nut butters, salad dressings, protein bars, and yogurts.
Trading out sugar for artificial sweeteners, however, isn’t the best solution. Artificial or manmade sweeteners like aspartame have also been shown in research to negatively impact the microbiome, which may interfere with healthy blood glucose. 17,18 In other words, these non-sugars may spike blood sugar levels even though they aren’t sugar.
If you want something dessert-like, choosing sweet berries or a serving of flavonoid-rich dark chocolate can not only soothe the sweet-tooth but help balance the gut as well.
However, it’s also a good idea to limit high-fructose fruits like apples, pears, and mangos if you’re prone to gas and bloating. Instead, enjoy berries, citrus fruits, and bananas, which tend to be easier to tolerate.
5. Prioritize Sleep
Getting enough (seven to nine hours) of quality sleep helps give the gut (and the rest of the body) time to relax and restore. 19 Sleep is also important for the body to better manage the effects of stress and reduce the risk of depression. 20
6. Exercise Regularly and Consistently
There are so many countless, priceless benefits of regular and consistent exercise: from improving mood to increasing energy levels to improving fitness to improving heart health to promoting gut health! 21 Research has even found that exercise alone can increase microbiota diversity, though the relationship with diet is also important. 22
How much exercise do you need? Aim for 2 ½ to 5 hours per week, including cardio and strength training. Not sure where to start? We have a host of excellent exercise plans for beginners to fitness enthusiasts, so you’re sure to find some activities you’ll fall in love with.
7. Cut Back on Booze
A glass of wine with dinner or a beer with friends after a bike ride may have has some positive effects for many people. But if that one drink turns into three or four, it can negatively affect the delicate balance in the gut. Overserving yourself regularly has also been associated with gastritis or an inflamed and irritated gut.
Other Ways to Improve Gut Bacteria
Other ways to help improve gut bacteria include:
- Eating fewer ultra-processed foods
- Cutting back on red meat, especially if it’s not grass-fed or pasture raised
- Slowing down when eating, which can help improve digestion and the absorption of nutrients
- Checking to see if you have any food intolerances or allergies
- Staying hydrated
- Consuming collagen-rich and collagen-boosting foods
- Spicing up your meals with turmeric, garlic, ginger, and other flavors
- Spending more time outdoors in nature
- Spending time with pets
- Meditating, mindfulness, and deep breathing to lower stress
- Avoiding unnecessary antibiotics and other medications
- Not keeping your body and home too clean, especially with the use of antibacterial sprays and soaps
- Practicing healthy oral hygiene0
Improve Gut Bacteria: A Recap
A healthy gut is vital to a healthy body. Ensuring the diversity and health of the gut has been shown to help prevent or improve symptoms of a variety of diseases, including obesity, diabetes, heart disease, excess inflammation, and autoimmune conditions. Fortunately, there are simple lifestyle changes and choices we can make every day to improve nearly every aspect of our health, including digestion, cognition, and physical and emotional well-being. 23