It seems like everyone has been talking about the importance of gut health lately. From the benefits of taking probiotics to the importance of consuming high-fiber foods, gut health has been at the top of many minds—including medical professionals and dietitians. And for good reason. According to research, a healthy gut is massively important for your mental health and mood, for staving off chronic disease, and even as simple as experiencing better digestion.
With so much on the line, it seems that properly taking care of your gut health and your microbiome (which controls your body's metabolism and digestion) should be a top priority for a healthy life. And yet, there are some pitfalls people can easily fall for when it comes to their gut health that can have the completely opposite effect.
In order to avoid these unhealthy eating habits and create a healthier, happier gut, we spoke with our medical expert board members Tammy Lakatos Shames, RDN, CDN, CFT, and Lyssie Lakatos, RDN, CDN, CFT, also known as The Nutrition Twins, on what you should watch for when it comes to enjoying your meals, and some healthier solutions to adopt instead. Here's what they suggest, and if you're looking for even more healthy eating tips, be sure to check out our list of The 7 Healthiest Foods to Eat Right Now.
"The first step in digestion is chewing and when you don't thoroughly chew your food ([when] you eat quickly), the digestive system isn't primed to release enzymes needed to break it down," say The Nutrition Twins. "This means you're setting your body up for bloating, diarrhea, heartburn, acid reflux, cramps, indigestion, gas, nausea, and more, as larger pieces of unchewed food enter the digestive system at a time when there aren't enough enzymes to disassemble them."
Eating too many sugary foods
"Sugar negatively impacts the gut microbiome and can lead to chronic inflammation, weakening the stomach lining," say The Nutrition Twins. "Some research has shown that by disrupting the gut microbiome, sugar can lead to inflammation of the colon and inflammatory bowel diseases like Crohn's disease."
"One of the best ways to decrease sugar in the diet is to start by making small changes," they suggest. "For instance, instead of having 2 cookies for dessert, have one. Or better yet, swap cookies for naturally sweet-tasting fruit, like berries or apples, which feeds the good bacteria in your gut."
Not eating enough vegetables
"Vegetables contain healthy fibers that feed the good bacteria in your gut, stimulating their growth and strengthening your gut lining," say The Nutrition Twins. "The good bacteria in the gut help to fight inflammation throughout the body. And it appears that cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and cabbage are particularly helpful for feeding good gut bacteria."
If you don't love to eat vegetables, both Tammy and Lyssie recommend finding ways to add vegetables to meals you already love—like stuffing sandwiches with extra veggies or tossing vegetables into a stir fry or an omelet.
Standing while eating
How many times have you stood near the pantry or fridge snacking on something when hungry? It probably happens more times than you think, and according to The Nutrition Twins, you can easily overeat or eat too quickly when standing—bringing us back to the first point.
"Most people who eat standing up, eat very quickly," say The Nutrition Twins. "Not only do they often end up eating more food than their body needs, [but they also] don't give their brain the adequate twenty minutes to recognize that they're full. Because they eat quickly, they also don't chew well, so they don't prime their digestive tract for adequate enzyme release, and the food isn't broken down, causing gut troubles."
Plus, eating while you stand is also conducive to stress eating, which can cause issues with your digestion as well. According to The Nutrition Twins, it puts your body in "'fight or flight' mode, which shuts down digestion to prioritize dealing with the stress. This wreaks havoc on your healthy gut. As food sits in the gut longer, bacteria have a field day on it, fermenting it and causing inflammation that wears on the gut lining."
On that same note, stress eating in any capacity can create an unhealthy gut—and definitely an eating habit you should avoid.
"The body digests food best when it is relaxed," say The Nutrition Twins. "Digestion is slowed during stress (just like the 'fight or flight' scenario when standing and eating), so the body can deal with more pressing matters. However, this means undigested food is left sitting in the stomach which can lead to an upset stomach while also allowing 'bad' bacteria in the gut to thrive on the undigested food."
To help with stress eating, both dietitians recommend doing some deep breathing practices before eating to calm yourself from any external stress. According to them, this "stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system to trigger relaxation."
Exercising right after a meal
"Digestion requires blood and energy and when you exercise your muscles compete for those resources," say The Nutrition Twins. "You can get a cramp and indigestion as blood is diverted away from the gut; digestion is shut down to prioritize fueling the muscles."
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