Does any of this sound familiar?
“Gut health” has become a buzz phrase over the past year or two.
You have probably heard this phrase but you may not know what it means (or why it matters to you as a mama!).
To put it simply, a healthy gut can influence your overall health and wellness beyond just your digestion.
Gut health can be influenced by food, stress, toxin exposure, and our environment.
Let’s break it down further, shall we?
What is Gut Health?
Gut health refers to the status of our digestive system. Research has shown that our digestive health influences so much more than just our actual digestion.
A healthy gut can influence lung health, mood, heart health, achieving a healthy weight, autoimmune diseases, and more!
Our gut contains more than 50 trillion bacteria, which is ten times the amount of human cells in the body. This is referred to as the gut microbiome.
The bacteria on our gut work to digest food and extract the vitamins and minerals. They also fight against infections and bad germs.
In order to achieve optimal gut health, we need to have the correct balance of gut bacteria. This is done by feeding the good bacteria, avoiding destruction of good bacteria, and decreasing inflammation.
If you have frequent digestive issues, infections, excessive fatigue, blemished skin, sugar cravings, or frequent headaches, these may all be signs that your gut health needs improvement.
How to Improve Gut Health
1. Don’t Be Too Clean
Yes you read that correctly.
Excess cleanliness can significantly affect your gut health! We live in a world obsessed with germ avoidance and the use of hand sanitizer.
The truth is that overuse of antibacterial cleansers can kill off the good bacteria needed for optimal gut health.
This can happen in two ways. Excessive cleanliness can destroy the good bacteria in your environment, thus reducing your exposure to them. Additionally, the skin can absorb antibacterial products, which can then destroy the good bacteria in your gut.
Research has shown that diverse bacteria exposure is good for kids health. Kids who grow up with pets in the home have lower rates of environmental allergies.
A recent study also discovered that children who hand wash dishes (and are thus exposed to the germs of the dirty dishes) have lower allergy rates, as well!
Mom Tip: Don’t feel bad if you can only manage to bathe your kids once or twice per week! It turns out you are probably doing them a favor. And don’t bother being too clean yourself, either. Keep on rocking that dry shampoo!
2. Don’t Clean Your House
Let me clarify. Don’t clean your house too often or with harsh chemicals.
Harsh cleaning products can over sanitize the environment. This can kill good bacteria, thus decreasing your exposure to them.
Harsh cleaning chemicals can also be inhaled or absorbed through the skin, destroying your gut’s good bacteria. Not to mention there are higher rates of asthma and breathing problems among kids and adults who are repeatedly exposed to cleaning products.
What to do instead? Use a “green-friendly” brand of cleaning products, or better yet, make your own with safe ingredients such as vinegar, castille soap, essential oils, and water.
Mom Tip: A spotless home is overrated (and it turns out the 5 second rule is more true than we thought…).
3. Eat Real Food
This is one of the best things you can do for your overall health. I think it’s become fairly common sense that our food has become extremely processed and pumped with additives.
I strongly encourage you to eat how your great-grandmother ate.
The majority of your food choices should be whole, unprocessed foods. Choose organic and pasture/grass fed when possible. This will ensure the lowest amount of pesticide and antibiotic exposure possible.
The best food choices for gut health include high fiber veggies, slow carb veggies like sweet potatoes and winter squash, healthy fats, nuts, plant proteins such as chia seeds, and clean proteins such as free-range poultry, wild-caught fish, and grass-fed meats.
Another group of foods that are great for gut health are fermented foods (sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir etc) as they contain lots of probiotics, which can be super healers to the gut.
Do your best to avoid foods such as sugar, artificial sweeteners, processed carbs (flour), dairy and gluten, all of which can cause inflammation in the gut. In addition, corn and soy have extraordinarily high incidents of being genetically modified (GMO) with high rates of pesticides.
Mom Tip: Eating healthily doesn’t have to be complicated. Opt for foods that don’t come with a label. If they do, be mindful of added sugars, sweeteners, and processed ingredients.
4. Food Can Make You Happy…Or Not
One of the most shocking facts about is that your mood is partially regulated in your gut.
The hormones responsible for our moods are neurotransmitters, including serotonin. There are many neurotransmitters in our brain, but it turns out that 95% of our body’s serotonin is produced in the gut.
The gut has been referred to by researches as our “second brain.” Good gut health can lead to a better mood. Contrasty, poor gut health can be a contributor to a depressed mood.
Mom Tip: There are many factors that contribute to our mood. You potentially have the power to improve your mood by improving your gut health.
5. Avoid Antibiotics When Possible
Antibiotics are medications that either kill off bacteria or stop their growth.
Unfortunately, they cannot differentiate between good and bad bacteria. This means that taking an antibiotic can be very disruptive to gut health by killing off good bacteria.
When a health care provider has determined that you need antibiotics, be sure to support the gut during and after the course of medication by eating probiotic-containing foods.
It’s also important to be aware of antibiotic exposure through the food that we eat.
Many conventional meat and dairy products contain antibiotics. Antibiotics are given to conventionally farmed animals to prevent infections. This decreases the animal’s good bacteria. Eating antibiotic-containing foods can also decrease the good bacteria in our own gut.
Mom Tip: Support your and your children’s gut health when taking necessary antibiotics. Avoid additional antibiotic exposure by choosing organic and pasture-raised animal products whenever possible.
6. Travel Can Affect Your Gut
Small changes in your surroundings can affect the makeup of your gut bacteria. Travel and exposure to public places can increase the diverse exposure to bacteria.
This can be both good and bad.
Exposure to good bacteria can create a more healthy gut. However, visiting a new place increases the chances of exposure to a bad bacteria that your gut hasn’t met before.
This could lead to… (I’m gonna go there) traveler’s diarrhea. You can help prevent this by eating probiotic-rich foods before, during, and after your travel.
Mom Tip: Traveling to new places can be good for you and your family’s gut. Understand the risk of traveler’s diarrhea and support your gut in advance through gut-friendly foods.
7. Reduce Stress
I realize this is easier said than done, but decreasing stress can do wonders for your gut health (and overall health).
However, I’m talking about more than perceived stress here.
Yes it is incredibly important to do what you can do to decrease the amount of stress you feel in your daily life.
But it is also beneficial to reduce the amount of stress on your body. This could be too much strenuous exercise or too little sleep at night.
Mom Tip: Your #GutHealthGoals for yourself and family should include a long night of deep sleep, daily mindfulness or meditation, and some yoga and stretching.
We’ve only just scratched the surface of gut health. Hopefully these tips have given you a good foundation to make some gut-healthy changes in your and your family’s habits!
What’s the one change you’re looking forward to making? Share with us in the comments!