Editor’s Note: Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical or mental health condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read in this article.
We’ve all heard the phrase “listen to your gut“, but have you ever actually thought about why we say that? Our guts are a lot more powerful than we tend to give them credit for, and they do so much more than simply digest the food we consume (we’ll get into the specifics in a minute). Supporting your gut health has recently been receiving a lot of mainstream internet buzz, but it’s important to know that it’s not just another trendy wellness kick or toxic diet culture play. Gut health really does matter, and it can seriously transform your entire well being.
Especially as a mom, taking care of yourself is beyond important. Not only do you want to feel great so you can live your best life, but you also want to be the best version of yourself to take care of your little ones. Honing in on your gut health is something that everyone has the ability to do—you just have to know where to start. So, we’ve created a mini guide to a heathy gut to help you both understand what’s going on, and what you can do to get it going. Read on for an easy-to-digest 101 on gut health for moms:
What exactly is gut health?
As explained by the Cleveland Clinic, gut health essentially refers to the health of your entire gastrointestinal (GI) tract, as well as the health of the microorganisms living within it. Whenever you consume a food or liquid, your body works to break them down into vital nutrients as they move through the digestive process (proteins, fats, carbs, vitamins, etc.). Then, those nutrients are used by the microorganisms living in your small and large intestines to fuel your body’s biological cycles and processes. In short, if your gut and those microorganisms aren’t being taken care of, your body cannot properly absorb and utilize the nutrients you need to feel your very best.
Gut health goes beyond the importance of consuming healthy foods—it makes sure that your body can actually put those healthy foods to good use.
The benefits of having a healthy gut
While having a healthy gut obviously improves digestion and nutrient absorption ability, there’s an entire laundry list of how it improves so many other aspects of your well being. Here are some major ones highlighted by Northwestern Medicine:
A decrease in general discomforts
Neglected gut health has proven to lead to abdominal pain, bloating, and acid reflux, as well as headaches, fatigue, and even joint pain.
Strong gut wall = a stronger immune system
Beneficial gut flora (AKA good gut bacteria) protects the rest of the body from potential pathogens by strengthening the gut wall and acting as a layer of cells and chemical barriers that block harmful infections. Basically, your entire immune system is given the potential to function in a more reliable and efficient way.
Can decrease the likelihood of serious digestive disorders
Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and other illnesses are all associated with intestinal inflammation, which is a result of poor gut health. Taking that into consideration, it’s still important to note that the risk for these conditions can be brought forth by genetics or other factors in an individual’s biological composition.
Improvements in mood and mental health
Your gut is a central component of your nervous system, sometimes even being referred to as the body’s “second brain”. There are about 100 million nerve cells that line your GI tract, all of which communicate with the brain in your central nervous system to relay the health status of your gut and immune system. But, these nerve cells also produce neurochemicals, such as dopamine and serotonin, that can heavily effect your mental well being. A healthy gut will also efficiently release other major neurotransmitters (glutamate, norepinephrine, etc.) that act as our body’s natural opiates. A healthy gut really does have the ability to set you up for a happy mind.
Signs of an unhealthy gut
Occasional stomach problems don’t necessarily mean your gut is in bad shape, so how are you supposed to know if you have an unhealthy gut? Aside from an upset stomach or bloating, here are some symptoms and signs commonly associated with poor gut health from Frederick Health Medical Group:
- Chronic fatigue and/or struggling to stay asleep
- An intolerance to certain foods (struggling to digest particular foods can be caused unhealthy gut bacteria)
- Extreme food cravings
- Unintentional weight loss or weight gain (caused by bacteria overgrowth or lack of nutrients)
- Frequent mood changes
If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, be sure to consult with your doctor or a healthcare professional before coming to any conclusions on your own.
How to improve your gut health
Luckily, the ways in which you can most likely improve your gut health are simple changes and adjustments you can easily incorporate into your everyday routine. As long as you are listening to your body and are being consistent in these habits (once again suggested by Frederick Health Medical Group, you will be fostering the perfect environment for noticeable improvements:
- Consider getting personally tailored advice from your doctor (they’re there to help!)
- Limit processed foods and sugar
- Eat slowly and chew thoroughly
- Eliminate foods your body is intolerant to (then slowly reintegrate into your diet once you feel your gut health has improved)
- Get a proper amount of sleep
- Take probiotic supplements (probiotics promote the growth of healthy bacteria in the gut—because these can be provided naturally by certain foods, be sure to consult with your doctor before taking them.)
Foods to support your gut health
Both probiotic and prebiotic foods actively feed your beneficial gut flora. What’s the difference? According to SCL Health, probiotics are living strains of bacteria that help increase the amount of gut flora in your digestive system, while prebiotics are a specialized plant fiber that act as food for the gut flora by stimulating its growth. In other words, probiotics are adding flowers to your gut garden, and prebiotics are keeping those flowers watered.
Here are some examples of both probiotic and prebiotic foods by Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia so you know what to pick up on your next grocery run:
- Sour cream
- Cottage cheese
- Whole grain options (bread, pasta, crackers, etc.)
- Flax seeds
- Leafy greens
- Oat products (oatmeal, granola, oat flour, etc.)