Why your healthy habits are messing with your gut health

These everyday habits could be the reason for your current (and future) digestive unrest.

You’ve sworn off winter comfort foods until next year, you’ve just signed up to a new fitness challenge and your annual spring-clean is well underway.

But while you’re prepping hard for summer, the choices you’re making now could be sabotaging your future gains – and it’s all down to your gut.

Responsible not only for your digestion but also your mood and immune system, your gut is so important to overall health that it’s considered to be your second brain.

And although keeping the collection of microbes in your gut (also known as your microbiome) in perfect harmony is essential, your everyday habits, even the supposedly “healthy” ones, can easily throw them off kilter. Here are five you may not have thought of…

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1. Fad diets

Not only are some restrictive diets unsustainable, they can also wreak havoc on your gut, so you may want to rethink that spring detox. According to dietitian and The Good Nutrition Co. founder, Nicole Dynan, carb-cutting eating plans such as the keto diet, deprive your microbiome of essential fibre.

“When we starve our gut bacteria, they have no choice but to eat away at our gut lining, which can lead to inflammation in the body,” Dynan tells Body+Soul. “Eating fibre-rich vegetables, fruit, wholegrains, cereals, nuts, seeds and legumes nourishes your gut bacteria, enabling them to look after your health.”

According to Dr Preeya Alexander, a.k.a. The Wholesome Doctor, a diet high in fibre can also decrease your risk of bowel cancer: “As well as fruit and veg, fermented foods can also help balance the good bacteria in your gut, so look for foods like kimchi and kombucha.”

2. Over-exercising

“Exercise has been shown to be beneficial for gut health by increasing microbial diversity, which is often used as a marker for health,” explains Dr Emily McGovern from the University of New South Wales. But while physical activity can support your microbiome, too much of it can have the opposite effect.

During a Monash University study, researchers found excessive exercise (two hours or more) may injure the cells of the intestine, which makes you more likely to develop gut issues. So if you’ve been hitting the gym in the name of a fitness reboot, you may want to take it down a notch. And no matter which type of exercise you’re planning, ensure you stay hydrated and fuel your workout with healthy carbs in order to keep your gut happy.

3. Keeping it (too) clean

Before you throw open the windows and prepare to deep-clean from ceiling to floor, consider this: common household cleaners may alter your microbiome.

According to Canadian researchers, children who are exposed to disinfectants (such as multi-surface cleaners) at least twice a week have an imbalance of gut bacteria, which may lead to obesity. Eco-friendly cleaners, however,weren’t found to have a negative effect on the gut, so opt for products with natural ingredients, or make your own by mixing together one part vinegar, one part water and a few drops of lemon essential oil.

4. Lack of ZZZs

You may be tempted to stay up later or start planning more activities now that the warm weather and longer days have arrived, but try not to make a habit of burning the midnight oil. A recent US study has shown that poor sleep can negatively impact your gut health.

In fact, the scientists found that those who score a better night’s snooze, have a more diverse gut microbiome compared to those who have trouble dozing off. As if you needed any other reason to hit the hay at little earlier tonight.

5. High stress levels

While it may be a busy time of year, giving yourself too many goals to tick off could lead to more problems down the track. “Studies have shown that stress can upset the balance of the gut, which can manifest as gastric symptoms,” Dr McGovern explains.

Dr Alexander agrees. “For patients with irritable bowel syndrome, feeling stressed or anxious can result in symptoms such as abdominal pain and diarrhoea,” she tells Body+Soul. Studies show that chronic stress may also significantly alter the composition of your gut bacteria and lead to negative behavioural and physiological changes. Dr Alexander recommends getting a better handle on your stress levels with regular exercise and meditation.

’30 grams’

That’s how many grams of fibre you need to consume each day to keep your gut happy. Not sure what that looks like? Dietitian Nicole Dynan reveals everything you need to eat to hit your target:

  • 1 bowl Sultana Bran (7g fibre)
  • 1 small banana (3g fibre)
  • 1 small packet popcorn (3g fibre)
  • 1 apple (3g fibre)
  • 1 wholegrain salad wrap with haloumi (7g fibre)
  • 1 cup strawberries (4g fibre)
  • 30g unsalted nuts (3g fibre)
  • Homemade chicken schnitzel+ salad (4g fibre)

Total: 34g fibre

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