10-Day Gut Health Challenge
By Molly Pelletier, Gut Health Nutritionist, MS Dietetics Candidate
It is estimated that digestive discomfort impacts approximately 60% of the population.1 Digestive symptoms can be frustrating and confusing, with many factors contributing to overall gut health. If you are experiencing consistent pain and bloating, it is important to see your doctor. However, if you do not have a digestive condition, or simply experience occasional GI symptoms, there are science-backed steps you can take to improve your gut health and enhance digestion. The following 10-day gut health challenge can be used to calm inflammation, support gut health, and promote optimal digestive functionality.
Table of Contents
Day 1: Nourish Your Gut With Easily Digestible, Protein-rich Foods
During a “flare,” or increase in digestive symptoms, it is important that we still consume adequate calories and protein. If we do not consume adequate nutrition, our digestive system will not have the energy to properly digest and symptoms may actually worsen. However, in some cases such as acid reflux or IBS, eating a large volume of food may aggravate symptoms. Choosing easily digestible, nutrient-dense, and high-protein foods is a great choice during times of discomfort. For example, eggs, bone broth, tofu, sunflower seed butter, soy milk, and Clean Lean Protein by Nuzest are all highly bioavailable forms of protein.
Even if you do not experience digestive symptoms, it is also important to nourish your gut with adequate protein in order to support gut health. Our GI tract is a muscle and needs protein for muscle health. To support optimal digestion and prevent nutrient deficiency, high-bioavailable protein is an essential part of a gut-healthy diet.
Day 2: Incorporate Cooked Food
Some raw vegetables can be difficult to digest, causing bloating, gas, and other unwanted symptoms. As you begin to incorporate more fiber-filled foods into your diet, opt for cooked foods. By either roasting, steaming, or sautéing your foods, you begin the digestion process by breaking down fibers and starches within the food. This removes some of the burden from the GI tract and allows for more efficient digestion. Another tip to enhance digestion: chew your food completely! It sounds self-explanatory, however, chewing completely is often neglected due to busy schedules and quick meal times. Our food should be a soup consistency before swallowing in order to allow easier digestion and absorption.
Day 3: Be Mindful of the Gut-Brain Connection
Our brain and gut are connected via the physiological structures called the enteric nervous system, vagus nerve, and the sympathetic ganglia. Simply put, this means that the state of our mind impacts our digestion, and vice versa.2 Stress is a major factor which impacts many digestive disorders and can aggravate uncomfortable GI symptoms. Next time you begin to feel symptoms, take note: How are my stress levels?
Managing stress is an essential part of supporting a healthy gut and should not be neglected. Developing a mindfulness practice that helps you feel calm and grounded can help keep stress from building up. This could mean a guided meditation, a few minutes of yoga, or a walk in nature. For your next mindfulness break, try my 10-minute Guided Meditation for Relieving Stress and Anxiety.
Day 4: Create A Gut-Healthy Morning Routine
By Day 4, hopefully you have begun to feel relief from GI symptoms or perhaps some positive benefits of your nutrition and lifestyle modifications. However, now is the time to implement long-lasting habits that will support gut health, as well as overall health.
The morning is a powerful time to establish healthy habits, as well as set a positive tone for the day. Depending on your schedule, you may begin your day with a quick guided meditation using apps like Insight Timer or Headspace. If you have time, even moderate exercise has been shown to release healthy endorphins and drastically benefit gut health.3 A balanced breakfast composed of various types of plant-based foods, protein, and fiber is a great way to consume essential vitamins to support proper gut function. My favorite breakfast to start off the day is my Gut Health Green Smoothie, using Smooth Vanilla Clean Lean Protein By Nuzest.
Day 5: Implement Mindful Eating
Mindful eating can not only enhance the experience of a meal, but it has also been shown to lead to healthier food choices.4 In addition to these benefits, mindful eating can be very useful for individuals who struggle with digestive issues. Slowing down to fully process a meal, as well as becoming more aware of your meals, may also allow you to notice how certain foods impact your digestion.
Below are 4 steps to begin your mindful eating practice today:
- Sit down for your meal without technological distractions, screens, etc. Take 3-5 deep breaths before eating to tap into the “rest and digest” nervous system response.
- Chew your meal slowly, mindfully, and completely.
- Observe how you are perceiving the food, paying attention to each ingredient. Observe your hunger levels and how you feel during your meal.
- When you begin to feel full, stop eating. Take note of how you feel after your meal.
Of course, mindful eating can be difficult for those of us with hectic schedules. However, implementing even just one of these steps above can help increase mindfulness around food. Further, this mindful eating practice can help prevent overeating which often causes digestive discomfort.
Day 6: Start a Food Journal
Now that you have begun mindfully eating, you may choose to log your observations in a food journal. This step is useful for those with presumed food sensitivities or recurring symptoms. If you have frequent and recurring bloating, cramping, pain, or changes in bowel habits, it is recommended that you see your general practitioner. These medical professionals will be able to better address your case with a detailed food log that includes the type, amount, and time of the food eaten. Digestive discomfort can be confusing and therefore the more information available, the better. A food log can give valuable insight on whether or not there is a specific food aggravating your symptoms.
However if you do not have recurring digestive symptoms, you may choose to skip this step and proceed to Gut Challenge Day 7.
Day 7: Check in With Your Bathroom Habits
Did you know that even if you are having a bowel movement everyday, you may still be constipated? Approximately 20% of the US population is chronically constipated.5 Occasional constipation can occur due to lack of fiber, dehydration, and even psychological stress. Even if you do have a bowel movement every day, if they are incomplete this can lead to constipation. Constipation can further cause bloating, cramping, nausea, lack of appetite and other uncomfortable GI symptoms.6
There are three major lifestyle factors that can help promote regularity: fiber, fluid, and movement. Increasing fiber by increasing plant-based foods such as fruits, veggies, oats, legumes, and whole grains helps to bulk up stool and pass more efficiently through the colon. Fiber-rich foods also help to feed the microbiota in our gut, supporting a diverse and healthy microbiome. However, increasing fiber intake must coincide with an increase in fluid consumption. One type of fiber, water-soluble fiber, absorbs water in the intestines and helps to promote satiety as well as more complete bowel movements. As previously mentioned, exercise has been shown to improve gut health.3 In addition to this major benefit, exercise also helps to release stress (which can cause constipation) and help move contents through the GI tract. Keep these three factors in mind next time you feel bloated, because the root cause could likely be underlying constipation.
Day 8: Eat a Wide Variety of Foods
As you aim to reset your gut health, it is important to keep a wide variety of plant-based foods in your diet. Oftentimes, individuals with digestive discomfort will eliminate foods due to perceived sensitivities. These eliminations can often be misguided and may lead to nutrient deficiency, which can further influence GI complications. Eating a wide variety of plant-based foods is the most powerful way to support a diverse gut microbiome. This is because every plant contains different types of fiber, and different types of fiber feed different gut microbes. So with a variety of foods, comes not only a variety of beneficial phytochemicals, but also a diverse and healthy microbiome.
Day 9: Get Adequate Magnesium & Vitamin D
The emerging research supporting the triad relationship between vitamin D, gut health, and immune health is fascinating, but also complicated. Essentially, vitamin D is vital to not only immune function, but also proper gut function.7 If you don't live in a sunny climate, or spend time outdoors, it is easier to become deficient in this important nutrient. It only takes about fifteen minutes in the sun with forearms exposed to produce your daily dose of vitamin D (400 International Units). However it is absolutely possible to consume adequate vitamin D through food. Sources of vitamin D include egg yolks, salmon, tuna, fortified nut milks, mushrooms, and dairy products. If you are vegan it may be challenging to consume adequate vitamin D, so be sure to have your levels tested and reviewed by your doctor.
Magnesium deficiency has been shown to contribute to a variety of gastrointestinal complications including constipation.8 It is also a valuable nutrient in metabolism, muscle maintenance, and gut function. Sources of magnesium to incorporate in your diet include spinach, legumes, whole grains, nuts, and seeds.9 I incorporate flaxseed meal and chia seeds in my daily smoothies to consume magnesium, as well as fiber.
Day 10: Improve Your Sleep Hygiene
A healthy lifestyle that supports optimal gut health would not be complete without adequate sleep. In addition to stress management and nutrition, sleep plays a major role in the prevention, treatment, and management of health issues. Sleep is a valuable time for the body to repair cells and perform cell maintenance. With our busy schedules, it’s easy to forget that our body is composed of cells and we must give them the proper time to rest.
Developing sleep hygiene means implementing tools to help support an optimal night's sleep. Avoid bright screens and opt for a calming activity before bed, such as reading or talking with a loved one. An eye mask can go a long way to block out bright city lights, in addition to a sound machine playing rain sounds or white noise can help ensure undisturbed sleep. For nights when I have trouble falling asleep, some lavender essential old and a guided sleep meditation can help send the message to my body that it’s time to sleep.
I hope this comprehensive 10-day gut health reset helps you jumpstart your gut health journey and improve your overall well being. For more gut health and digestion tips, follow Molly Pelletier on her YouTube Channel and Instagram, @zucchini.who.