Health

I Tried These 3 Expert Gut Health Habits For 7 Days: Here’s What Happened

Hint: The results were impressive!

By: Dominique Michelle Astorino

Gut health has been top of mind for me for the past five or so years; after a yearlong bout of mystery digestive distress (comprising a deluge of different tests), a gastroenterologist found stress to be the culprit behind my digestive woes, painful bloating, and general malaise. 

Acupuncture, a GI-doc-prescribed probiotic, and different stress management techniques helped get me on track (and I still am benefiting from all of those today). Yet, with 18 months of pandemic living and stress and a routine that can’t seem to get totally back on track, I knew I was due for a gut health refresh. 

RELATED: The Best Foods For a Healthier Gut According to an RD

The Importance of Gut Health

ICYDK, gut health is at the forefront of medical research; evidently, there’s a lot more to it than researchers and doctors previously thought. In fact, the science is showing that your gut may be responsible for so much more than digestion; everything from immunity, mood, and sleep, to heart health, brain health, and even autoimmune disease

Did you have any idea that much was going on down there? Perhaps this is where the idea of a “gut feeling” came from… subconsciously, we knew all along!

A Sea of Research

Though there’s research available to indicate the importance of gut health now, more is emerging even as you’re reading this; we’re experiencing the unfolding of gut health data live. 

That said, there’s still a whole lot that’s unclear to us, and we’re still waiting to find out if there are any hard and fast rules that we need to follow to promote gut health and mitigate damage to our microbiome. For instance, we know now that diet can significantly impact the microbiome… but what do those changes mean? It’s not completely clear just yet. There’s also something called the gut-brain axis that researchers believe is the link between gut health and mood, but how do we best take advantage of that? Again — we need more research, but it seems to be quickly evolving! 

How Do You Improve Gut Health?

There are healthy habits you can start now that also serve as ways to improve your microbiome (at least, that’s what we think for now, with the information at hand!). To get a few tips, I reached out to registered dietitian nutritionist and digestive health expert Lisa Mastela, RD, MPH, founder of Bumpin’ Blends nutrition. As part of her dietetic practice and research, Lisa has treated patients with medical nutrition needs (diabetes, cancer, and more) with a focus on how to prevent disease through what we eat.

It turns out you don’t need expensive supplements to give your microbiome a makeover (although prebiotic fiber and probiotic everything are so en vogue right now). Here are her top three tips for gut health: 

#1 Eat The Rainbow

We know you’ve probably heard this before, but as it turns out, it’s the ultimate gut health tip. “My top recommendation for gut health is to eat a variety of veggies and fruits daily,” says Lisa. “Aim for five different colors of plant-based foods each day.” Think: orange sweet potatoes, red berries, yellow bell peppers, green avocados, purple cabbage. And rotate them! “Don’t eat the same ones every day,” she says. “Variety is crucial. Eating the same veggies and fruits every day doesn’t promote the kind of diversity we’re looking for with gut health.”

#2 Eat Prebiotic Foods

“I prefer prebiotic foods for a healthy gut, probiotics for damage control,” says Lisa. “Asparagus, leeks, onion, garlic, apples, sunchokes, bananas, and oats should all be in your daily mix.”

#3 Increase Hydration

“Hydration is even better than probiotics for your gut health,” says Lisa. And the best part? It’s free. Probiotics can be expensive — take it from someone who’s been on a name brand (because my doc told me to!) daily for over five years. My goal for the week: 100 ounces per day.

My 7-Days of Gut Health

I was pretty excited about starting this good-bacteria-fueled quest, in part because I had felt a bit off my game in the weeks leading up to this one. You know when you’re just ready to hit the reset button? That was me. 

And, I knew these three slight changes to my habits would yield good results for my health in so many ways — not just my digestion! We’re not reinventing the wheel here; eating a mix of fruits and veggies and drinking more water isn’t a novel concept, but it’s a powerful one. And sure, eating prebiotic foods sounds like an exotic addition or unique tip (and in some ways, it is!), but when it comes down to it, it’s eating apples and bananas. Seriously. 

Here’s what my meal diary week looked like: 

Day 1

Rainbow consumed: Purple cabbage, red bell peppers, yellow mango, orange carrots, green lettuce

Prebiotic foods: Oatmeal

Ounces of water: 100

Notes: Starting off on such a great foot, I had oatmeal for breakfast, chugged water all day, and grabbed the most delish “Thai crunch” salad that covered all my rainbow bases. I know you’re not supposed to eat the same thing every day, but I’m definitely getting this again.

Day 2

Rainbow consumed: Red apple, red tomato, orange pumpkin, yellow zucchini, green broccoli, white cauliflower

Prebiotic foods: Oatmeal, honey crisp apple

Ounces of water: 105

Notes: I had a lot of raw veggies as a snack today! I forgot how much I love a good crudités (veggies and dip, with a fancy French name).

Day 3

Rainbow consumed: Green asparagus, blue/purple açaí berry, red strawberries, orange mango, yellow banana

Prebiotic foods: Asparagus, banana

Ounces of water: 96.5

Notes: I didn’t hit my water goal exactly, but I still felt pretty good about it! Also, blending up an açaí bowl with a rainbow of fruit helped me hit my goal today; I had asparagus with salmon at dinnertime. 

Day 4

Rainbow consumed:  Purple cabbage, red bell peppers, yellow mango, orange carrots, green lettuce

Prebiotic foods: Oatmeal

Ounces of water: 100

Notes: If you couldn’t tell from the rainbow notes… I got the salad again. It was too good to skip. I also doubled down on oatmeal because it’s fall, and it felt cozy! This time it was pumpkin spice oatmeal.

Day 5

Rainbow consumed: Red, orange, green, and yellow bell peppers, yellow banana, yellow pineapple, orange carrot

Prebiotic foods: Banana

Ounces of water: 98

Notes: I didn’t totally hit my five rainbow colors today; I was missing just one! But I had a super tasty carrot/pineapple/banana/ginger smoothie with coconut milk, and I have zero regrets! I also had a little 4-color rainbow of bell peppers with dip as a snack.

Day 6

Rainbow consumed: White garlic and sunchokes, yellow onion and potato, orange pumpkin, red apple, green spinach

Prebiotic foods: Garlic, onion, sunchokes, honey crisp apple

Ounces of water: 100

Notes: I made a DIY pumpkin coffee smoothie based on a PSL recipe I worked on a few weeks ago… not sure if that counts, but there is organic pumpkin purée in there, so I’m going with it on a technicality. I also whipped up a garlicky, oniony Jerusalem artichoke soup, and oh my gosh

Day 7

Rainbow consumed: Purple cabbage, red bell peppers, yellow mango, orange carrots, green lettuce, green Brussels sprouts

Prebiotic foods: Oatmeal

Ounces of water: 100

Notes: I can’t help it if the salad tastes this good!! I splurged and ordered a third time this week; it was such a simple, easy way to get all those glorious colors in one delicious bowl. Also, apparently, I’m a creature of habit because I ended the week with another cozy oatmeal for breakfast, too. 

The Result: Mental Clarity, Physical Vitality

Wow. With such a slight adjustment to my diet and routine, I’m truly impressed with how I’ve felt over the past week (and I don’t say that a lot!). The effect was slight but enough to get the ball rolling in a really positive direction. Allow me to explain…

The first day alone, I was excited to have a little bit of a program. No restrictions, just adding in the good stuff. This on its own was so empowering and inspiring. Then, maybe a day or so later, the boost in energy (in part, thanks to good sleep). And though it was slight, it was enough to make getting out of the house for a walk a little more doable and getting a quick workout in a little easier. In essence, it had a snowball effect. It was the spark I needed!

It has to be some kind of 360, harmonious effect; the sleep improvement, the boost in energy, the mental clarity, the optimism, and the mood boost. Then from there, the increased movement, better productivity (and thus, a better mood), and then even better sleep because of that! Little by little, these things really added up to just simply having a good week. 

And, without divulging too much, digestion was regular. Really hoping you catch my drift so I don’t have to elucidate. I wasn’t bloated, I felt light, and overall just felt healthy.

Do Try This at Home!

These tips are universally a good idea; more produce, more variety, plant-based foods, adding in the good stuff without restrictions, and hydrating more are all excellent ways to improve your health, vitality, and mental wellbeing. 

Start by making a list of the rainbow of produce and prebiotic foods you want to try. From there, you can plan a menu, stock up, and have everything you need on hand at the house (if you think about it, you could even make a charcuterie board your rainbow of the day!). Additionally, you can try what I did and find something healthy and colorful from a favorite restaurant and make smoothies, smoothie bowls, soups, and salads that are packed with a variety of plant-based treasures. 

It’s the simple tweaks that sometimes make a big difference, or at least helps get the ball rolling once we realize just how amazing healthy eating and supporting our gut leaves us feeling!