Behold: An Integrative Gastroenterologist's 3 Daily Gut Health Habits
Look, gut health is complicated. Your gut impacts so many bodily functions, after all (mood, skin, metabolism, etc.), and your microbiome is home to trillions of species of bacteria; it makes sense that there's still so much we don't know about the ever-evolving world of gut health.
But that doesn't mean caring for your gut requires an overly complex routine. In fact, the best gut-healthy habits are actually quite straightforward! "My three ride-or-die [habits] are really simple," shares integrative gastroenterologist Robynne Chutkan, M.D., author of The Anti-Viral Gut, on this episode of the mindbodygreen podcast. "Dirt, sweat, veg."
Below, Chutkan breaks down her gut health nonnegotiables:
First up: Spend time outdoors. "[Get] exposure to nature, soil, microbes," Chutkan explains. "That can be you sitting outside hugging a tree, or it can be [that] the food you eat is grown in microbially rich soil."
You see, soil microbes are the foundation of our food system. Microbially diverse soil helps crops absorb nutrients from underground—which, in turn, makes them more nutrient-dense. "Go to the farmers market and get the funny-looking carrots with the dirt on them, and that have little fingers coming out of 'em," Chutkan jokes. And if you can't make it to your local farmers market, try to buy organic wherever you can. "Dirt is essential for our microbiomes," she adds.
According to Chutkan, exercise is also super essential for gut health. "If we're not moving, neither are our bowels," she notes. (Namely, increasing your metabolism increases your intestinal motility, or intestinal contractions that allow you to poop.) "Our digestive tract is a main organ of elimination. We want to be eliminating things, not just products of digestion but also viruses that may get into our bodies. We want to keep it moving."
Not only that but aerobic exercise can even increase the amount of bacteria in your digestive tract1 and contribute to overall bacterial diversity. Other research has shown that the more physically fit you are, the more diverse your microbiome is. Try to aim for 2.5 to five hours of exercise per week, experts say, and do your best to incorporate physical activity into your everyday routine.
Finally, Chutkan encourages us to add more veggies to our plates—at least 30 different kinds, to be exact. "Head toward that goal of 30 different plants a week, and you'll be in good shape," she notes. Here, she's referencing a 2018 study by the American Gut Project that found eating 30 or more different plant foods per week was associated with a healthier microbiome.
That may seem like a lofty goal, but according to Chutkan, it's not totally unattainable. "You get credit for that 30 with fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes, grains, herbs, spices… It all counts," she says.
Simply eating more plants is already a step in the right direction, but if Chutkan had to play favorites, she recommends getting enough MACs (or microbiota-accessible carbohydrates2). "Think beans and greens for the MACs," she explains. "Things like oats, chickpeas, lentils, split peas—all of those are fantastic… Leafy greens are important, too, but really the kind of stringy, fibrous greens, so broccoli with a stem, asparagus [with] the stalk, celery, all that stringy fiber."
If you're looking for a specific grocery list, feel free to check out our gut health meal plan here.
Caring for your gut doesn't have to feel like a giant undertaking; in fact, you can easily incorporate gut-supporting habits into your daily routine. Even if you do nothing else, a "dirt, sweat, veg" mindset should help kick-start your journey to stellar gut health.