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Your gut is always trying to tell you something. Whether it’s growling, grumbling, or quiet, your gut is highly responsive to everything from your meal choices to your mood.

In fact, the gastrointestinal (GI) tract — a.k.a. the digestive system — is one of the body’s most important barometers of health. An estimated 70 percent of our immune system cells live in the GI tract.

With a little TLC, we can all have happy bellies. Eating certain foods and avoiding stress triggers is a good start to keeping your gut functional and comfortable.

And when trouble arises? Here are some tips to get your GI tract back on track.

Your gut naturally contains a host of invisible organisms. This little world is what scientists call the gut microbiome. These organisms are mainly fungi, viruses, and parasites, and a few bacteria.

Some of these microbes are associated with certain illnesses and diseases, but others are important for your health and digestion. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), your gut performs best when populated with a diverse variety of microbes.

You can help your gut’s microbiome stay balanced by eating foods that promote the development of “good” bacteria and fungi. Many high fiber foods, known as prebiotics, create a gut environment that helps these beneficial bugs flourish.

Here are a few examples of prebiotic foods. These are recommended by Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health:

  • asparagus
  • bananas
  • beans
  • garlic
  • leeks
  • onions
  • whole grains (like barley, oats, and wheat)

Believe it or not, many “funky” foods — including that zesty deli pickle in your lunchtime sub — may boost gut health.

When foods ferment, helpful microbes grow on them, nourished by the sugar molecules in the food. Many experts think these microbes, called probiotics, can help contribute to a healthy gut environment.

Consider adding the following delicious fermented foods to your diet:

  • kefir
  • kimchi
  • kombucha
  • pickles
  • sauerkraut
  • yogurt

Staying active and minding your mental health may make your belly feel better, too.

Evidence suggests that exercise may help balance your gut. Findings show that regular aerobic exercise — like brisk walking or biking a few times a week — can help good bacteria in our guts flourish.

A level mood can also help keep your stomach healthy. Neurons in the brain are connected to those in the gut — one reason why you might feel “butterflies” in your stomach when you’re anxious.

According to the American Psychological Association (APA), stress can also disrupt digestion and is associated with concerns ranging from momentary gassiness to chronic bowel issues.

Dysbiosis is a fancy term for when your gut microbe balance is out of whack.

Experts say this can happen when you catch a bacterial or parasitic illness, take a long course of antibiotics, or are under heavy-duty stress.

Symptoms of dysbiosis include:

  • abdominal discomfort
  • bloating
  • diarrhea
  • gas

You may develop one or more of these symptoms persistently. These symptoms can be associated with certain digestive conditions like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), Crohn’s disease, or ulcerative colitis.

If you’re experiencing chronic digestive symptoms, it’s important to get checked out by your healthcare professional to rule out an underlying medical condition.

We all go through periods when we’ve avoided proper nutrition and self-care, and our bellies may protest in response.

Research from 2017 shows it’s possible to restore gut bacteria balance and improve certain digestive symptoms through dietary and lifestyle modifications, including:

  • increasing fiber intake from whole food sources
  • managing stress levels
  • hydrating sufficiently
  • getting enough sleep
  • staying active

For everyone — particularly for people with irritable or inflammatory bowel concerns — reducing sugar intake is a good idea. In excess, certain sugars like fructose (in fruits and processed sweets) and lactose (from dairy products) may worsen stomach discomfort.

There’s a reason why we “feel things in our gut.” Issues with your digestion can often be the first sign that you’re ill or anxious.

But your gut is resilient. It may be quick to make noise when upset but will respond readily to healthful changes. Adding more high fiber and fermented foods to your diet, cutting back on sugar, keeping up with exercise, and managing stress can all help keep your gut microbiome balanced — and your belly at peace.