6 “Bad” Things You Should Actually Be Doing for Better Gut Health, According to Experts

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Our everyday health and lifestyle habits can create harm or harmony for our gut microbiome—that’s where bacteria reside in your gut, numbering in the trillions. Emerging research continues to shine brightly on the powerful impact a well-functioning gut can have on whole-body health and wellness. “Promoting a balanced and diverse gut microbiome supports the immune system, enhances nutrient absorption and may even reduce the risk of developing certain gastrointestinal conditions,” says Avery Zenker, a registered dietitian at EverFlex Fitness.

Prebiotic sodas, probiotic supplements and digestive enzymes marketed to help curb gas and bloat may come to mind when you think of gut health. While these products may offer perks for some, there are several habits you can do every day to help keep your gut in tiptop shape.

In this article, health experts reveal things that could be more gut-supportive than you previously thought.

6 “Bad” Things You Should Actually Be Doing for Better Gut Health

1. Eating Plenty of Carbs  

Radical food restriction is not necessary, and it could be a slippery slope for your health. For example, avoiding foods that seem too high in carbohydrates or sugar is a common healthy-eating strategy. Often, carbs are thought of as “bad” when, in reality, there are several “bad” carbs that you should be eating because the nutrients they harbor are good for you. “When you lower your carb intake, you can miss out on fiber—non-digestible carbohydrates that have a beneficial effect on human health and a diverse microbiome,” says Marcie Vaske, M.S., LN, CNS.

Multiple types of fiber—including soluble and insoluble—work their magic on the gut to help keep you full, stabilize your blood sugar levels and prevent constipation. Additionally, another type of fiber called prebiotic fiber nurtures gut health as well. “Grains and starchy vegetables are fiber-rich foods that provide our gut with prebiotics that feed the good bacteria in our gut. Foods high in prebiotics include chicory root, Jerusalem artichoke, onions and asparagus,” says Vaske. 

Contrary to what you may have heard, you don’t have to restrict carbs to achieve your health goals. “Restrictive diets do more harm than good,” says Supriya Rao, M.D., managing partner at Integrated Gastroenterology Consultants. 

2. Eating the Peel

Apple, cucumber and carrot peels can pile up in many household trash or compost bins because of their texture, appearance or simply personal preference.  Depending on the produce, putting down the peeler and keeping the outer layers can be a good thing. “These outer layers are rich in fiber, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants which support gut health and overall well-being,” says Zenker. “Plus, vegetable skins serve up prebiotic fiber, nourishing your gut bacteria.” Though some skins may be too tough or rough to enjoy, others you may consider eating are the peels of carrots, potatoes, beets, eggplant, kiwi, cucumber, citrus fruit and some winter squash, according to Zenker. 

Make munching on skins more tasty by whipping up a smoothie or air-frying peels, like in our Crispy Potato Peel Chips recipe. 

3. Drinking Coffee

“Some people may shy away from coffee because they believe it’s harsh on the stomach, but moderate coffee consumption may have beneficial effects on gut function, potentially supporting digestion and positively influencing the makeup of your gut bacteria,” says Krista Wale, RD, LDN, owner of Louisiana Nutrition Associates. 

If you enjoy a morning brew and your body tolerates it well, it can offer health-promoting nutrients that have been studied for their effects on the gut. “Coffee is filled with polyphenols, a family of plant compounds that are active in the body and contribute to health by reducing inflammation and oxidative stress. They may be capable of increasing the amount of beneficial bacteria in your gut and have protective effects against harmful types of bacteria,” says Vaske.

Plus, no matter if it’s decaf or caffeinated, research shows that coffee may help one-third of the population with regular bowel movements, which are an important part of healthy digestion.

4. Getting Plenty of Sleep

If you ever resist sleep to catch up on work, exercise or binge-watch Netflix, you might understand that prioritizing quality slumber sometimes gets put on the back burner. “About 33% of Americans get less than seven hours of sleep,” says Rao. While we know we should be catching more zzz’s for energy, focus and a better mood, we may not realize that getting less than optimal sleep has impacts on the way our gut operates. “We know that sleep plays a vital role in many areas, including brain function, metabolism, appetite regulation and immune function,” says Rao. 

Research has show that there’s a special connection between your gut microbiota and sleep that happens via the relationship between your gut and brain, also known as the gut-brain axis. In fact, your gut is known as a “second brain,” and agents produced in the gut, like short-chain fatty acids, are known to communicate with the central nervous system. 

“When we experience sleep deprivation from low nightly sleep to shift work to even jet lag, this impacts our circadian rhythms, which in turn can change the diversity of our microbial and the structure of gut microbes,” says Vaske. 

So, is it better to forgo a bit of sleep to exercise or get something else done? “If you compromise your nightly sleep hours under seven hours to get up early and work out, the diversity of your gut microbes can become compromised, which can increase gut issues or put you at a greater risk of having gut disturbances,” says Vaske.

5. Avoiding Food Repetition

Often, we fall into a habit of adding the same exact items to our grocery pick-up orders, cooking identical meals each week and eating a monotonous diet. Overall, a consistent intake of nutrient-rich foods is the goal, and you can still be healthy and eat the same nutrient-rich foods every day. That said, eating a variety-filled diet may help strengthen your gut for ultimate wellness. “By embracing dietary diversity, we provide a broader spectrum of nutrients, nurturing the growth and diversity of gut bacteria. A diverse microbiome is closely linked to enhanced digestion, better immune function and reduced gastrointestinal and chronic metabolic disorders,” says Martha Theran, M.S., RD/LDN, at Pritikin Longevity Center. 

So, give your eating plan a little mix-up by selecting seasonal veggies to throw into a stir-fry, choosing a different type of nut to add to your trail mix, or air-frying a different kind of fish. “Just by changing up your diet, you can alter your gut flora profile in just a few days, so it pays to keep plenty of different fruits and vegetables, healthy proteins and fats in your daily diet,” says Vaske.

6. Eating Full-Fat Foods

It’s not uncommon for butter, ghee and coconut oil to get demonized for their high saturated fat content. Despite that, there’s no reason to banish them completely. According to the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, saturated fat should make up at most 10% of daily caloric intake, which is about 22 grams of saturated fat for someone following a 2,000-calorie diet. Surprisingly, both butter and ghee have butyric acid, a short-chain fatty acid known to promote gut health and lessen inflammation, so feel free to enjoy them in moderation and your gut may thank you. 

The Bottom Line

Remember, your path to better gut health isn’t limited to a 60-day supply of probiotic pills. Instead, focus on small changes in your everyday routine that you can sustain for the long haul. From adding new foods to your grocery list to enjoying coffee and even peeling less fruit, these “bad” habits may change up your digestion tune and support a thriving microbiome.

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