How To Have a Healthy Gut

Woman cooking vegetables on stove top Hover image

Nov. 30, 2023

The food you eat matters. Doctors often recommend diet changes to improve health. Changing eating habits can also help with some chronic illnesses.

This is because your gut health* impacts your overall health. Gut health refers to the gastrointestinal track or digestive system. This includes the esophagus, stomach and intestines. 

Hannah Guignard, a registered nurse and managed care coordinator at BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina, explains why gut health is important. 

Why is it important to have good gut health? 

The health of your gut impacts your body’s ability to properly break down the food you eat. This makes sure that your body gets the nutrients it needs. 

When we talk about gut health*, we mean the importance of the healthy bacteria that live in your digestive system. This collection of bacteria is known as a microbiome*. It is important to have a good balance of bacteria in your gut. 

Studies have shown the connection between a healthy microbiome and protection against diseases.* This is likely because of the importance of the gut to your immune system*. 

Inflammation triggered by the immune system has been linked to common conditions such as heart disease, certain types of cancer and some neurological conditions. 

Is gut health just the stomach?

All of our body systems are connected. Your gut helps break down food into key nutrients. 

For example, your gut breaks down bread into a single unit carbohydrate sugar known as glucose. Glucose is the primary source of energy for your body’s cells. 

It is essential to your body’s function. It fuels everything your body does from your heart beating to your muscles helping you breath in and out. The gut breaking down the bread into glucose is vital to every other body system. 

A healthy gut also helps keep your immune system working properly.

How can someone foster a healthy gut? 

Eating a healthy diet is key. Studies also show that water is important to your gut health. 

What foods are good for gut health?

Whole foods are great for your gut. These foods are high in fiber. They help grow the good bacteria in your gut. 

Examples of whole foods include: 

  • Fruits. 
  • Vegetables.
  • Plant proteins like beans. 
  • Healthy unsaturated fats like olive oil. 
  • Fish. 
  • Whole grains. 

The Mediterranean Diet* emphasizes plant-based foods and healthy fats. Eating foods that are good for your heart will also affect your gut. 

What foods are not good for gut health? 

Highly processed foods with a lot of additives are not very good. Other things to look out for include foods that are high in sugar, salt and saturated fat. Saturated fat mainly comes from animal sources like meat and diary. 

These types of food are not great for your gut because they upset the balance of good and bad bacteria. 

Are there other things besides food that impact gut health? 

Your emotions can affect your gut health. There is a big connection between your brain and your gut. This explains why when people get nervous, they often have knots in their stomachs or feel nauseous. In terms of controlling your gut health, though, food has the largest impact.  

Studies have shown that stress and depression can affect your gut*. It can lead to a “leaky gut.”*

What is a leaky gut? 

When your gut is healthy, it lets good molecules that your body needs into your bloodstream. It filters out what you don’t need as waste. An unhealthy gut* can leak those other, bad molecules into your bloodstream. 

This can make you sick or trigger an immune response. It can lead to inflammation. Inflammation is the marker of so many diseases. It is incredible how our gut can impact so many chronic conditions. It affects so much more than just our digestive system. 

Do medications affect gut health? 

Medications can affect gut health in all sorts of ways. The most common one is antibiotics. Antibiotics have a negative impact because they can kill off the good bacteria in your gut. It can lead to an overgrowth of other bacteria. This is why antibiotics should only be taken when necessary to treat bacterial infections. 

What are the signs for bad gut health? 

The most common signs are gas, bloating, diarrhea or constipation. The more serious signs are blood in the stool and weight loss. 

If you want to focus on improving your gut health, pay attention to how you feel after you eat certain foods. This will help you identify your triggers in your diet. 

You can start with a food diary. For example, you might get tired after eating processed foods. Or if you eat a salad with whole foods for lunch, you might notice your productive spikes. Use the brain-gut connection to your advantage! 

Are there supplements that help with gut health? 

Both probiotics and prebiotics can help with gut health. 

Probiotics are live cultures of microorganisms that are already found in your gut. When you add a probiotic to your diet, you are adding more of the good bacteria to your system. 

You can find probiotics in foods that you eat. It also can be found in fermented foods like sauerkraut or kimchi. Kombucha, a fermented drink, sometimes has probiotics. The most widely known probiotic food is yogurt. 

Prebiotics feed the good bacteria in your gut. Whole foods like fruits and vegetables serve as prebiotic fiber for our gut. What type and how much you eat affects the bacteria in your intestine. 

What are some common myths about gut health? 

That all bacteria are bad. Hopefully, it is clear that is not true. 

Or that digestive issues are normal. There is a genetic component to what may be “normal” to you in terms of bowel regularity. Experiencing chronic constipation or chronic diarrhea is worth talking to your doctor. 

And finally, that you need to take supplements to have a healthy gut. Your diet has a big impact. Being mindful of what you eat and focusing on eating those good-for-you foods is the best thing you can do for a healthy gut. 

*These links lead to third-party websites. These organizations are solely responsible for the contents and privacy policies on their sites.

Related Reading

Complementary Content