6 Easy Ways to Improve Your Gut Health


Hot take: the digestive system might be one of the most important systems in our body. Yeah, that’s right—take a backseat, brain and heart!

In all seriousness, though, the digestive system is one of our body’s main lines of defense against disease and supports our immune system, brain health, blood glucose levels, heart health, and more.

When we start to see changes in our gut health, this is often one of the first signs of potential illness or an indication that we may be missing key nutrients in our diet.

So, what do you do if you notice these changes or just want to generally improve your gut health?

Well, in this article, we’ll dive into six easy ways you can improve your digestive health, explain why gut health is important in the first place, and describe the signs of a healthy or unhealthy gut so you know what to look for. 

Yup, your first steps toward better bowel movements start here. Hooray!

Why is Gut Health Important?

Our digestive health is one of the most important aspects of our overall health and contributes to the proper functioning of systems throughout the whole body.

A healthy gut contributes to:

On the other hand, poor gut health can contribute to a number of illnesses, including but not limited to:7

  • heart disease
  • chronic obesity
  • chronic fatigue
  • digestive disorders such as Crohn’s Disease, irritable bowel syndrome, ulcerative colitis, etc.
  • colorectal cancer

As interest and research on the benefits of a healthy digestive system continue to increase, there’s just one question we all want the answer to…

What Does a Healthy Gut Look Like?

Typically, you are the owner of a healthy gut microbiome if you have:

  • a normal amount of gas and bloating
  • regulated hunger cues
  • regular energy levels
  • consistent bowel movements (2-3 times per day)
  • smooth, sausage-shaped, and solid bowel movements that sink
  • pain- or discomfort-free bowel movements

But how do you achieve this healthy gut status? Per the latest research, a healthy gut typically contains a diverse microbiome.8

You see, our bodies are replete with trillions of beneficial bacteria that exist both inside and outside of our bodies. However, the bacteria in your gut are probably the most important.

These beneficial gut bacteria help us digest the food we eat by breaking it down into its component parts, making it easier for us to absorb all the nutrients that it contains.

But there isn’t just one type of gut bacteria—there are approximately 300 to 500 different species that can exist inside the human gut microbiome.9

The composition of these bacteria “populations” can even look different depending on the section of the digestive tract. In other words, the bacteria in our colons can look very different from the ones found in our small intestines.

But how do you achieve a diverse gut microbiota? We’re so glad you asked! You’ll find (most of) the answers in our list below. Skip here to read it now.

What Does an Unhealthy Gut Look Like?

Sometimes things can get thrown out of whack by a poor diet, antibiotics that strip away both good and bad bacteria, or even things completely out of your control, such as your genes and if you were born via c-section.10

If you begin to have some of these symptoms, it may be a sign that something is out of whack in your gut:

  • experiencing frequent nausea, indigestion, heartburn, or bloating after a meal
  • abnormal bowel movements such as frequent diarrhea or constipation
  • infrequent bowel movements (<1 per day)
  • rapid weight loss or weight gain
  • rapid or slow “transit time” (the time it takes for food to travel through your digestive system)

One of the more important items on this list is bowel movements. Yup, everybody poops! And how you poop can tell you a lot about your health since changes in color and consistency are often the first sign of an unhealthy (or healthy) digestive tract.

The Bristol Stool Chart is the medical standard for determining healthy stools. Use it to monitor your gut’s current state.

An infographic breaking down the Bristol stool chart.

If you’re experiencing these symptoms, you might be wondering if you can repair an unhealthy gut. The answer is (cautiously) yes, but with a few things to be aware of: 

  1. For many individuals, this may require a lifestyle change. Restoring gut health and then maintaining a healthy gut microbiota requires a lifelong commitment. This is not a fad diet that you go on for 30 days and then return to eating as you did before. Of course, you can still indulge in your favorite foods, but much of what you eat day to day will likely have to change.
  2. Not all symptoms can be solved with diet. If your symptoms persist, even with consistent lifestyle and dietary changes, it might be worth speaking with a medical professional (gastroenterologist, nutritional therapist, or registered dietitian, for example) to determine if further tests or changes to your diet should be made.
  3. Gut health is not one size fits all. What works for your sibling, work bestie, or favorite barista may not work for you. Figuring out the answer to improving your gut health can be a long process full of trial and error. So, be patient, and don’t give up if your poops aren’t solid and your bloating doesn’t disappear overnight.

Here’s How to Improve Your Gut Health

1. Eat More Fiber

The health benefits of eating more fiber cannot be overstated. Study after study shows that increased fiber intake can:

But how does fiber do all of this? Well, that could be a whole article in and of itself. 

And, wouldn’t you know it, we have a very well-written article from our in-house Registered Dietitian, Camrbia Glosz, that talks all about what fiber does.

To summarize, fiber is a plant-based material that our bodies can’t digest, but this doesn’t mean it’s useless—far from it, in fact.

Fiber’s primary purpose is to help regulate digestion by slowing things down. This gives the intestine the time it needs to absorb all the necessary nutrients. At the same time, fiber helps keep things moving so we have regular bowel movements.

It also feeds our microbiome, which helps our gut bacteria produce short-chain fatty acids that support our gut lining.

In the absence of fiber, bacteria may begin consuming the mucus lining of our digestive tract which can create inflammation and lead to a hypothetical syndrome called “leaky gut syndrome.”15 

Lastly, fiber also slows down the absorption of glucose, helping our body better regulate blood sugar levels.

Unfortunately, even with the abundance of fiber-rich food available to us, much of the American diet consists of ultra-processed and sugary foods that lack fiber.

As a result, many Americans do not eat nearly enough fiber and, consequently, may suffer from a variety of digestive issues.

This is why consuming more fiber is the first item on this list—it is the building block to improving overall gut health.

To get adequate fiber, nutritionists recommend eating somewhere between 18-38g of fiber per day, while the World Health Organization and Food and Agriculture Organization (WHO/FAO) recommend an average of 25g per day.13

Slowly introduce more fiber into your diet, adding around 5g of fiber per day to your normal diet. 

Not sure where to start? Here are some excellent high-fiber foods to try.

2. Eat Probiotic Foods

If your gut health is suffering, it could be that you lack enough diversity in your gut microbiome or you have an overgrowth of harmful bacteria, also known as dysbiosis.16

To repopulate your gut microbiota with more of the “good guys,” it may be beneficial to consume more microbes in the form of fermented foods. 

Probiotic supplements have been extremely popular for many years, and studies show that they can increase microbiota diversity and improve some gastrointestinal ailments.17,18 

However, fermented foods may have more overall benefits since they contain more nutrients that may benefit new and existing microbes.19

Some probiotic foods include:

  • Sauerkraut
  • Kimchi
  • Fermented dairy products (like kefir, yogurt, buttermilk, and sour cream)
  • Refrigerated pickles
  • Fermented vegetables 
  • Kombucha 
  • Tempeh
  • Sourdough made with real starter (does not contain yeast or preservatives)
  • Miso paste

We understand that not everyone appreciates the taste of fermented foods. If that’s you, there’s no harm in taking probiotics. Here are a few of our top recommendations for both women and men.

An infographic listing six tips on how to improve gut health.

3. Eat Prebiotic Foods

Nope, don’t get confused; this isn’t a repeat of the previous section. We’re talking about PREbiotics.

This is the stuff that fuels our gut microbes, keeping them fat and happy so we can stay healthy.

If you already have a solid gut microbiome or you’re trying to encourage the establishment of a healthier one, prebiotics are essential.

And, no, this isn’t yet another supplement you have to run to the store for (well, unless you count the grocery store). 

Prebiotics can be found in many of the foods you probably already eat, including:

  • Onions
  • Potatoes
  • Apples
  • Oats
  • Beans
  • Lentils
  • Asparagus

4. Avoid Potential Allergens and Intolerances

We don’t yet fully understand why food allergies exist, but we do suspect there is a relationship between allergies and our microbiome.20

If you eat certain foods and notice unusual bloating, abdominal pain, gas, diarrhea, nausea or vomiting, or fatigue, it might be wise to cut those foods out and see if your digestion improves.

This will help you identify food intolerances and allow your gut to function properly. In some cases, you may even be able to add certain foods back if your gut microbiome was damaged and just needed some time to repair.

This might be hard if you love certain foods that make you sick (I so empathize with the lactose intolerant), but improving your gut health will be worth it.

5. Reduce Stress Levels

Everyone knows that stress is bad. So, I get that this advice might sound a bit contrived, but it’s still worth mentioning since stress can have such an immense effect on your digestive system.21

With stress comes an increase in multiple stress hormones, such as cortisol and adrenaline. 

When stress becomes chronic, these hormones remain high for a sustained period, leading to multiple health issues, including but not limited to impaired gut health.

Stress can impact your gut in many ways, including:

  1. Changes in gastrointestinal motility: things moving too fast or too slow
  2. Increase in visceral perception: increased perception of physical sensations in the gut
  3. Changes in gastrointestinal secretion: mucus membranes have a harder time regenerating
  4. Increase in intestinal permeability: lack of mucus can lead to “leaky gut”
  5. Negative effects on intestinal microbiome: reducing healthy bacteria and could allow for harmful microbes to flourish

It’s also worth mentioning that stress can make your hunger hormones go all screwy, leading you to crave things that are probably not the best for your gut health.22

So, in short, if you care about your gut health and you’re trying to keep it healthy or repair it, find an activity that helps you relax.

Some common destressing activities are:

  • Exercise
  • Meditation
  • Journaling
  • Showers or baths
  • Reading
  • Video games

If none of these tickle your fancy, try to find something that decreases your heart rate. This is an easy way to not only improve your gut health but your mental health, too.

Another added benefit of reducing stress is improved sleep, a surefire way to support your gut health.

6. Eat the Rainbow

Maybe this should have been first on this list, but it also doesn’t hurt to leave the best for last, right?

This advice will cover many of the finer points in this list with the added benefit of feeding your body nutrients—such as essential vitamins and minerals—that may support your gut microbiome and intestinal health.

To clarify, by “eat the rainbow,” we mean you should increase the diversity of your diet by adding lots of different fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains to your meals.

We realize this may not be feasible for some due to time and financial constraints, but adding a bit of color to each of your meals can be easy if planned ahead and be a vast improvement for many who are not already doing so.

For example, adding a bowl of berries to your usual breakfast—such as strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, and blackberries—can add several key nutrients to your diet, including vitamin C, fiber, and plentiful antioxidants.

Bake a sweet potato alongside a protein and a leafy green vegetable, and you’ve got yourself a filling vitamin- and mineral-packed lunch or dinner.

If you’re on a budget or short on time (or both), don’t mistake frozen vegetables or fruits for being lower quality. In fact, some of these might have greater nutrient density since they are allowed to ripen at their source and are frozen immediately, preserving their nutrients.

By making just a few changes to your diet and adding in more “color,” you can increase your intake of fiber and essential nutrients that can improve your gut health.

Gut Health FAQs

How do you know your gut is unhealthy?

There are many signs of an unhealthy gut, but the most prominent are digestive problems such as bloating, indigestion, heartburn, acid reflux, nausea, diarrhea, constipation, excessive gas, and abdominal pain.

Some of this can be caused by a poor diet that is too high in sugars and processed foods, an overgrowth of harmful bacteria, a lack of fiber, or ingesting foods that your body cannot tolerate.

Is coffee bad for gut health?

Coffee has both positive and negative effects on the body and gut health. While there is a large amount of research indicating coffee poses very little risk to our health overall, it can act as a laxative and stimulate bowel movements in some individuals, and cause loose or watery stools.23,24 Coffee (or caffeine) intake may also increase the odds of some individuals developing irritable bowel syndrome.25 Overall, it’s up to each individual to decide if coffee is good or bad for them. If you don’t experience the diuretic/laxative effects of coffee, then keep drinking it. If you do, you may consider drinking less or seeing if the creamer or other ingredients you’ve added may be the culprit. 

What are the 3 superfoods for your gut?

Your gut will thank you for eating more:

• High-fiber foods: split peas or lentils
• Probiotic foods: kimchi or sauerkraut
• Prebiotic foods: potatoes or asparagus

What foods are hardest on the gut?

There are many foods that can be difficult to digest or can even damage your digestive system, at least temporarily.

Some foods to avoid or eat in moderation are:
• Spicy foods
• Deep-fried or high-fat foods
• Ultra-processed foods high in additives and preservatives
• Refined sugars
• Alcohol
• Artificial sweeteners
• Red meat

  1. Wiertsema, S. P., van Bergenhenegouwen, J., Garssen, J., & Knippels, L. M. J. (2021). The Interplay between the Gut Microbiome and the Immune System in the Context of Infectious Diseases throughout Life and the Role of Nutrition in Optimizing Treatment Strategies. Nutrients, 13(3), 886. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu13030886
  2. Akshay, A., Gasim, R., Ali, T. E., Kumar, Y. S., & Hassan, A. (2023). Unlocking the Gut-Cardiac Axis: A Paradigm Shift in Cardiovascular Health. Cureus, 15(12), e51039. https://doi.org/10.7759/cureus.51039
  3. Clapp, M., Aurora, N., Herrera, L., Bhatia, M., Wilen, E., & Wakefield, S. (2017). Gut microbiota’s effect on mental health: The gut-brain axis. Clinics and practice, 7(4), 987. https://doi.org/10.4081/cp.2017.987
  4. Appleton J. (2018). The Gut-Brain Axis: Influence of Microbiota on Mood and Mental Health. Integrative medicine (Encinitas, Calif.), 17(4), 28–32.
  5. Sadagopan, A., Mahmoud, A., Begg, M., Tarhuni, M., Fotso, M., Gonzalez, N. A., Sanivarapu, R. R., Osman, U., Latha Kumar, A., & Mohammed, L. (2023). Understanding the Role of the Gut Microbiome in Diabetes and Therapeutics Targeting Leaky Gut: A Systematic Review. Cureus, 15(7), e41559. https://doi.org/10.7759/cureus.41559
  6. Aoun, A., Darwish, F., & Hamod, N. (2020). The Influence of the Gut Microbiome on Obesity in Adults and the Role of Probiotics, Prebiotics, and Synbiotics for Weight Loss. Preventive nutrition and food science, 25(2), 113–123. https://doi.org/10.3746/pnf.2020.25.2.113
  7. Zhang, Y. J., Li, S., Gan, R. Y., Zhou, T., Xu, D. P., & Li, H. B. (2015). Impacts of gut bacteria on human health and diseases. International journal of molecular sciences, 16(4), 7493–7519. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijms16047493
  8. Deng, F., Li, Y., & Zhao, J. (2019). The gut microbiome of healthy long-living people. Aging, 11(2), 289–290. https://doi.org/10.18632/aging.101771
  9. Quigley E. M. (2013). Gut bacteria in health and disease. Gastroenterology & hepatology, 9(9), 560–569.
  10. Ríos-Covian, D., Langella, P., & Martín, R. (2021). From Short- to Long-Term Effects of C-Section Delivery on Microbiome Establishment and Host Health. Microorganisms, 9(10), 2122. https://doi.org/10.3390/microorganisms9102122
  11. Tucker L. A. (2018). Fiber Intake and Insulin Resistance in 6374 Adults: The Role of Abdominal Obesity. Nutrients, 10(2), 237. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu10020237
  12. McRae M. P. (2017). Dietary Fiber Is Beneficial for the Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease: An Umbrella Review of Meta-analyses. Journal of chiropractic medicine, 16(4), 289–299. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jcm.2017.05.005
  13. Ioniță-Mîndrican, C. B., Ziani, K., Mititelu, M., Oprea, E., Neacșu, S. M., Moroșan, E., Dumitrescu, D. E., Roșca, A. C., Drăgănescu, D., & Negrei, C. (2022). Therapeutic Benefits and Dietary Restrictions of Fiber Intake: A State of the Art Review. Nutrients, 14(13), 2641. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu14132641
  14. Celiberto, F., Aloisio, A., Girardi, B., Pricci, M., Iannone, A., Russo, F., Riezzo, G., D’Attoma, B., Ierardi, E., Losurdo, G., & Di Leo, A. (2023). Fibres and Colorectal Cancer: Clinical and Molecular Evidence. International journal of molecular sciences, 24(17), 13501. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijms241713501
  15. Campos, M., MD. (2023, September 12). Leaky gut: What is it, and what does it mean for you? Harvard Health. https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/leaky-gut-what-is-it-and-what-does-it-mean-for-you-2017092212451 
  16. Walker, W. A. (2017). Dysbiosis. In Elsevier eBooks (pp. 227–232). https://doi.org/10.1016/b978-0-12-804024-9.00025-2 
  17. Latif, A., Shehzad, A., Niazi, S., Zahid, A., Ashraf, W., Iqbal, M. W., Rehman, A., Riaz, T., Aadil, R. M., Khan, I. M., Özogul, F., Rocha, J. M., Esatbeyoglu, T., & Korma, S. A. (2023). Probiotics: mechanism of action, health benefits and their application in food industries. Frontiers in microbiology, 14, 1216674. https://doi.org/10.3389/fmicb.2023.1216674
  18. Bodke, H., & Jogdand, S. (2022). Role of Probiotics in Human Health. Cureus, 14(11), e31313. https://doi.org/10.7759/cureus.31313
  19. Valentino, V., Magliulo, R., Farsi, D., Cotter, P. D., O’Sullivan, O., Ercolini, D., & De Filippis, F. (2024). Fermented foods, their microbiome and its potential in boosting human health. Microbial biotechnology, 17(2), e14428. https://doi.org/10.1111/1751-7915.14428
  20. Pantazi, A. C., Mihai, C. M., Balasa, A. L., Chisnoiu, T., Lupu, A., Frecus, C. E., Mihai, L., Ungureanu, A., Kassim, M. A. K., Andrusca, A., Nicolae, M., Cuzic, V., Lupu, V. V., & Cambrea, S. C. (2023). Relationship between Gut Microbiota and Allergies in Children: A Literature Review. Nutrients, 15(11), 2529. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu15112529
  21. Konturek, P. C., Brzozowski, T., & Konturek, S. J. (2011). Stress and the gut: pathophysiology, clinical consequences, diagnostic approach and treatment options. Journal of physiology and pharmacology: an official journal of the Polish Physiological Society, 62(6), 591–599.
  22. Chao, A. M., Jastreboff, A. M., White, M. A., Grilo, C. M., & Sinha, R. (2017). Stress, cortisol, and other appetite-related hormones: Prospective prediction of 6-month changes in food cravings and weight. Obesity (Silver Spring, Md.), 25(4), 713–720. https://doi.org/10.1002/oby.21790
  23. Poole, R., Kennedy, O. J., Roderick, P., Fallowfield, J. A., Hayes, P. C., & Parkes, J. (2017). Coffee consumption and health: umbrella review of meta-analyses of multiple health outcomes. BMJ (Clinical research ed.), 359, j5024. https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.j5024
  24. Brown, S. R., Cann, P. A., & Read, N. W. (1990). Effect of coffee on distal colon function. Gut, 31(4), 450–453. https://doi.org/10.1136/gut.31.4.450
  25. Koochakpoor, G., Salari-Moghaddam, A., Keshteli, A. H., Esmaillzadeh, A., & Adibi, P. (2021). Association of coffee and caffeine intake with irritable bowel syndrome in adults. Frontiers in Nutrition, 8. https://doi.org/10.3389/fnut.2021.632469 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *