25 Easy Gut-Healthy Habits You Can Adopt in a NY Minute
Taking care of your gut health is essential to your whole body's well-being. Your gut microbiome, that inner world of trillions of microbes living synergistically within your digestive system, has been linked to the health of nearly every single other system in your body. The state of your microbiome directly influences various aspects of your well-being, including sleep, skin health, mood, focus, immune response, and cognitive function. That influence could be positive or negative, depending on how your microbiome operates.
This substantiates not only the importance of maintaining a healthy gut microbiome but also is evidence of systems biology: the nature of the different systems in your body that work together to enable you to operate efficiently, feel your best, have the energy to get through your day, and achieve your goals.
There are many foundational practices for healthy gut function, and we have a helpful list of 25 of them. While you may be familiar with many of these, we’ve thrown in a few extras that you may not be aware of. Try something new! You may be discovering your favorite gut health habit to practice for the rest of your life.
Eat the best foods for your gut (and stay away from the worst):
Eat a piece of fruit with breakfast. Including fruit in your morning meal routine automatically gives you a leg up for the day. Instead of choosing the traditional breakfast fare of pancakes, waffles, or muffins, which can give you starchy carbohydrates and the instant energy to start the day, fruit is packed with complex carbohydrates plus fiber. This combination offers you the energy of natural sugars and the fiber that fills you up and allows those carbohydrates to trickle into your system, rather than hit all at once and leave you with a sugar crash. Pair your fruit with some protein, such as an egg or whey, or plant-based protein powder.
Include fiber-rich foods like whole grains, legumes, and vegetables in your meals. Getting enough fiber in your daily diet is essential for a healthy gut microbiome. Your microbes use that fiber as food to create metabolites that are very beneficial for your digestive system, including butyrate, a compound that helps protect and maintain the delicate lining of your intestines.
Design your daily diet around whole, minimally processed foods. Avoid excessive consumption of sugary and ultra-processed or packaged foods, and instead eat meals based around whole foods (organic whenever possible). It's one of the best ways to improve your gut health. Sweeteners like agave nectar, corn syrup, and white sugar, as well as processed foods that contain ingredients like trans fats, carrageenan, nitrites, and nitrates, are all known to be harmful to the microbiome.
Limit (or eliminate) your intake of alcohol. Alcoholic drinks such as beer, hard liquor, grain alcohol, and wine, while fun to enjoy every once in a while, can cause inflammation throughout the whole body. Excessive alcohol intake can affect your gut microbiome composition and function, as well as increase intestinal permeability.
Include a variety of colorful fruits and veggies in your meals for diverse nutrient intake. Eating a wide variety of fruits and vegetables in a rainbow of colors helps ensure that you’re getting enough of the different phytonutrients that are provided by these plants, such as free-radical-fighting anthocyanins from deep purple blueberries, betalains for heart health from beets, or chlorophyll and carotenoids for a healthy inflammatory response from spinach or kale.*
Limit your intake of high-fat and fried foods. Foods high in saturated fats and fried foods like burgers, fries, doughnuts, potato chips, chicken nuggets, and packaged snack foods contain extraordinary amounts of fat, calories, sodium, and sugars. They are not even close to whole foods and are bereft of a truly essential ingredient for good gut health: fiber.
Limit your intake of artificial sweeteners. With the discovery and development of artificial sweeteners, dieters have discovered a way to have their cake and eat it, too. But artificial sweeteners like aspartame, sucralose, and saccharin have been found to interact with gut microbes in negative ways, possibly contributing to glucose intolerance. Even sweeteners that are not derived from sugar, such as stevia and erythritol, are also found to have potentially negative effects with long-term use, including possible connections to metabolic disorders.1
Find out which “healthy” foods may actually be harmful to your gut right now. Yes, the whole of the internet touts the health benefits of foods like spinach, almonds, broccoli, and cabbage. But what if you knew that one or more of these whole foods were interacting with your gut microbes to produce metabolites that are harmful to your gut health and whole body health? Your microbiome is unique to your biology, and your microbial community makeup doesn’t match anyone else's (even if you have a twin). How you respond to broccoli is different from how someone else responds, and not all “healthy” foods may be healthy for you right now. You can find out which ones are and which are not with a simple, at-home Viome Intelligence Test.
Always stay hydrated:
Drink water when you feel thirsty. Water assists many of the body's functions: transporting nutrients to cells, lubricating joints, protecting organs, and more. There is no particular time of the day that's best to hydrate, nor is there an ideal temperature for the water you ingest during the day. What's important is that you drink water whenever you feel thirsty (and even when you don't), as this is your body’s urgent signal that you have a water deficit, and you should hydrate.12,2
Ensure you get the precise nutrients your body needs right now:
Consume foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3s are essential for health, yet your body cannot make them on its own. Add servings of fatty fish (the highest is mackerel, with nearly double the amount of salmon!), flax or chia seeds (5050 mg per serving!), or walnuts to your weekly diet. Studies have discovered a strong association between Omega-3s and gut bacteria diversity, as well as a number of healthy bacteria species in the gut microbiome.*3
Use natural herbs and spices in your cooking. Fragrant herbs and spices like ginger, hot peppers, and peppermint are known for their digestive benefits, including helping improve digestion, promoting microbial diversity, and supporting gut-related immune system health.*4,5,6
Find out the precise nutrition your body needs right now. While off-the-shelf multivitamins may be a little helpful, they are formulated and dosed using a population model, or one-size-fits-all approach, which allows for mass production that benefits the multivitamin producer more than the consumer. Everyone’s body and microbiome are unique, and your supplements should be as unique as your biology. A Viome Intelligence Test can give you a precise, personalized formula of vitamins, minerals, amino acids, food extracts, herbs, enzymes, and biotics selected just for you, based on your test results, to support and optimize your health and wellness.*
Biotics are essential too!
Incorporate fermented foods like yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, or kimchi into your diet. Fermented foods like yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, and kimchi give your gut much-needed infusions of probiotic strains and prebiotic fibers your microbiome may be craving for smooth, healthy digestion.
Include sources of prebiotic fiber like oats, asparagus, garlic, and bananas in your meals. This will give your microbiome the essential nutrients needed to create short-chain fatty acids (called postbiotics) like butyrate, acetate, and propionate. These short-chain fatty acids nourish the cells of your colon, help reduce the risk of metabolic issues, and support healthy digestion.*
Make sure you’re getting the right probiotic strains and prebiotic fibers. Eating the right prebiotic foods, consuming fermented foods, and taking the best biotics formulated for your unique microbiome will ensure that you’re getting what your body needs for optimal digestion.*
Movement and lifestyle habits are important
Move your body. Physical activity supports a healthy gut. Take a short walk after meals to aid digestion. Take breaks from sitting for extended periods and engage in light physical activity throughout the day. Aim for at least 30 minutes of movement daily. Studies show that active people have greater diversity in their gut bacteria, as well as more beneficial bacteria overall.7
Get plenty of good-quality sleep. Avoid eating too close to bedtime, to allow for proper digestion. Three hours should give you enough time to digest without leaving you hungry before bed. Keep a regular sleep schedule and aim to get at least seven to eight hours each night. Take note of your sleeping position: Sleeping prone (on your stomach) is not considered the best for digestion overnight, causing excess pressure on your stomach.8 If you suffer from acid reflux, sleeping on your left side with your upper body raised slightly with a wedge pillow can help alleviate any burning sensation during sleep.8
Save restaurant meals for special occasions. Cooking meals at home using fresh ingredients allows you to control exactly what you eat. Even when you are able to put in special requests, you can’t control everything that happens in a restaurant kitchen. You may be eating ingredients that are not beneficial for your biology, as well as ingesting higher amounts of fats, sugars, and sodium.
Practice mindfulness for balance of mind, body, and spirit
Incorporate mindful eating practices. Chew your food slowly and thoroughly, and savor each bite. Chewing thoroughly (the usual recommendation is around 32 times per bite) allows the food to get broken down into smaller bits, as well as mixing with the saliva in your mouth. This allows your body to extract nutrients fully from your food and makes it easier to digest.9 Try to eat without the distractions of any devices, television, work, or other things that may take your attention away from your meal.
Practice deep breathing exercises. Diaphragmatic breathing helps benefit your physical, mental, and gastrointestinal health as it activates the parasympathetic system for relaxation and stress reduction. Other practices that incorporate breathing, such as yoga or meditation, are also great ways to keep your brain, lungs, heart, and GI system activated and reduce stress.
Listen to your body. Understanding how your body functions and reacts, especially to the food and supplements you eat, helps you take steps to adjust and improve your health habits. When you’re tuned into signals your body sends you, picking up on early signs of any gut imbalance happens quickly and makes it easier to course-correct, avoid the things that are setting off these signals, and stick to the nutrition that keeps you feeling good.
Bonus: New practices you may not be familiar with
Try sitting on the floor to eat. Sitting in Sukhasana—cross-legged—for meals may be beneficial. This position encourages you to sit up straight while you eat and helps aid digestion. While you’re seated this way, your body has to bend slightly forward to take a bite from your plate. This movement engages your core and contracts your stomach muscles, possibly making it easier for them to move your food through your GI tract.10
Avoid searching TikTok for the best gut health advice. Social media is not a good source of accurate, actionable gut health advice.
Try a little acupressure for better motility. Acupressure points Stomach 36 and 37, located on your shin, are points that, when stimulated, can help decrease stress in your body and activate the sympathetic to the parasympathetic nervous system (responsible for the "rest and digest" function). The technique, described by Dr. Shari Auth, DACM, LAc, is as follows: Locate the point at the top of the shin about a palm's width below the knee. "Stomach 36 is a big point, so best to use the first two fingers to dig deep. Gradually apply pressure using a circular motion, don’t be afraid to apply deep pressure here. You should not experience any pain but should feel some sensation. As the resistance releases, gradually apply more pressure. Breathe slow and deep as you do this, and then switch sides. Keep rubbing until you feel a release in the area. Move down the shin another palm width and do the same with Stomach 37."11
Discover which way your gut health is trending. Occasional gas, bloating, or heartburn, disturbed sleep, joint discomfort, and increased sensitivity to multiple foods are all warning signs the state of your gut microbiome may be impacting your overall health.* Finding out where your gut health is going is as easy as using an at-home Viome Intelligence Test.
1 Radcliffe, S. (2023). [Non-sugar sweeteners and weight management]. Health News, Healthline.com online.
2 Lang, A. (2019). Should you drink water first thing in the morning? Nutrition, Healthline.com online.
3 Sandoiu, A. (2017). [Omega-3 and gut microbiota diversity]. Medical News Today online.
4 Mashhadi, S. N., Ghiasvand, R., et al. (2013). [Effects of ginger in health and physical activity]. International Journal of Preventive Medicine. PubMed Central.
5 Kim, C-S., Kawada, T., et al. (2003). [Properties of capsaicin for health]. Cell Signal. PubMed.
6 Chumpitazi, B.P., Kearnes, G., et al. (2018). [Effects of peppermint oil on digestive health]. HHS Public Access. PubMed Central.
7 Mohr, A. E., et al. (2020). [Athletic gut microbes]. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. Taylor & Francis Online.
8 Ross, M. (2022). [Best - worst sleep position for digestion]. Well + Good online.
9 Cirino, E. (2020). [Chewing your food]. Healthline, Nutrition. Healthline.com online.
10 “Benefits of Sitting on the Floor while Eating.” (2019). Asian Institute of Medical Sciences.
11 Brown, K.J. (2020). [Acupressure points and motility]. Well + Good online.
12 "New Research Finds Thirst Is Not the Best Indicator of Hydration Level." News, University of Arkansas. news.uark.edu.