If you find a meal makes you lethargic and bloated or you get cramps when you’re stressed or anxious, you’re not alone. There are so many lifestyle factors and foods that can affect your gut, leading to abdominal pain and bloat, and a compromised gut can even weaken your immunity too, putting you at risk of sickness. (Definitely not something we want amidst this recent COVID-19 outbreak!)
Yet, you can learn how to improve your gut heath without stocking up on probiotics and fancy supplements for your gut, which can surely add up. We may not all have the budget to spend as freely on items that promote good gut health. That’s why finding free solutions is key, so you can treat your gut well and be more comfortable in your skin without breaking the bank.
Here are a couple of great ways to stay healthy and have smoother digestion, without going out of budget.
That’s right—set the alarm to unwind at night and aim for enough shut-eye to keep your gut in check.
“Some studies have linked inconsistent sleep patterns, lack of sleep, and chronic sleep deprivation to inflammation in the gut that can negatively impact the gut microbiome,” says Maggie Michalczyk, MS, RD, a dietitian in Chicago.
Plus, sleep plays an important role in regulating our hunger and fullness hormones, helping us to make stronger nutrition choices throughout the day. And by eating more nutritious and wholesome foods, you’re improving gut health too! So, it’s a win-win.
“If you’ve ever noticed that you tend to crave more sugary foods when you’ve sleep deprived this could be part of the reason. Those sugary snacks and fast food fast frequently is not doing your gut any favors,” Michalczyk says. Aim for 7-8 hours each night and you’ll get enough zzz’s to boost gut health, free of charge!
You do not need to spend money on pricey fitness boutique classes or programs as long as you can get moving in your own home or outdoors for a run.
“Exercise has been shown to promote diversity in the gut microbiome as well as encourage the growth of the good bacteria in the gut,” Michalczyk says.
Plus, exercising also reduces inflammation, which is known to have a negative impact on the gut. “One study showed daily exercise positively impacted the gut microbiome in as little as 6 weeks,” she explains. That’s major.
“We know working out is good for you physically and mentally and helping your gut is definitely an added benefit too,” Michalczyk adds.
And you can simply go for a free run outdoors or stream a live workout. There are plenty online that cost nothing—and if you do want one that does cost something, you can find ones that are relatively inexpensive and come with other perks, such as a tracking app or other features related to eating plans, too.
Keep added sugar low
“Added sugars and other processed foods are known to have a negative impact on the gut due to their high fat content, limited fiber, and limited nutritional value,” Michalczyk says. And added sugars are also associated with increased levels of inflammation, which encourages the overgrowth of bad gut bacteria and kills off the good.
So, ditch them and eat natural sugars instead (and in moderation) as well as low-sugar foods, like veggies, lean protein, good fats, and high-fiber grains and foods, like beans and legumes.
“Start small by seeing if there are simple swaps you can make to decrease the amount of added sugars in your diet. Reach for things that are naturally sweet instead like fruit that also contain fiber, which the gut loves too,” she says.
“We know stress can take a toll on our health in many different ways and gut health is definitely one of them. Repeated elevated cortisol can disrupt microorganisms in our gut and lower our immune system,” Michalczyk says.
Consider adding a meditation or journaling practice into your day to keep stress levels in check. Do whatever activity can help bring comfort—it can be cooking a meal, watching TV, taking a bath, or working out. Anything to ease tension will do the trick.
Eat foods high in probiotics and prebiotics
“Gut bacteria loves to feast on fiber—think things like oats, and the fiber found in most every fruit and vegetable,” Michalczyk says. “In terms of probiotics in food, yogurt contains them as well as kimchi and sauerkraut, and prebiotics are found in foods like bananas, garlic, onion and asparagus,” she says.
You probably have these already at home but if not you can add them to your shopping list to whip up some healthy and delicious meals! The money for them is what you’d spend on groceries anyway, so think of it as a free or relatively inexpensive way to improve your gut health and fuel yourself at once.