You know that it does your body good to eat lean proteins, loads of veggies, and to take it easy on processed foods, but we’d wager you probably only associate a colorful, nutrient-rich diet with your weight and general heart health. Yeah, what we eat ultimately affects our waistline and heart, but it’s also directly tied to another organ: our skin.
“Your skin is like a magic mirror; it offers clues about how healthy your habits are and what’s happening to your body’s internal systems,” says Dr. Trevor Cates, a naturopathic doctor and the author of Clean Skin From Within. “When we look at what’s happening on the surface of our skin and understand the causes behind those symptoms, it’s easier to make daily changes to improve how we look and feel.”
Today we’re diving straight into the topic of gut health. By the end of this article, you’ll know what it means to have good gut health, how it affects your skin and general health, what the worst offenders are (it’s not just food), and how to set yourself up for a happy gut and, consequently, happy skin.
What It Means to Have Good Gut Health
In short: having good gut health means that you have a diverse array of the right kind of bacteria chilling in your gut. (Yep, there’s a such thing as good bacteria, and it’s integral to your overall health). As with most things when it comes to health, having a well-balanced bacterial supply looks different for everyone.
Be regular: “You may be comfortable feeling one way, someone else another. For example, bowel movements that occur anywhere from three times a week to three times per day are considered normal, [as long as it’s your normal],” says Monica Auslander Moreno, a registered dietician and nutrition consultant for RSP Nutrition. She adds, “Internally, having a healthy GI [gastrointestinal] tract and having a healthy microbiome – which at this point in time can only be determined from clinical observation and behaviors – are also part of good gut health.”
In addition to being consistent when it comes to #2, good gut health also means that you’re not dealing with GI related distress, which includes non-glamorous symptoms such as constipation, gas, bloating, diarrhea, and acid reflux. Other health factors are directly related to your gut health, including your skin (more on that soon), physical wellbeing, immunity levels, and even mental wellbeing.
Other, slightly more obvious symptoms of an unhealthy gut are irregular weight changes even when you haven’t changed your diet, lack of sleep (the sleepy hormone, serotonin, is made in the gut), inflammation due to a high sugar diet, and even eczema.
“Since the gut is directly connected to the human brain, good gut health also means a clear mind without episodes of fogginess, or without having a hard time putting together thoughts and plans,” says Amanda Archibald, a registered dietician and founder of The Genomic Kitchen.
How Good Gut Health Improves Your Skin
You know that what you eat affects your heart health, but it also affects your largest organ – AKA your skin.
“Your skin is the biggest organ in your body and therefore shows some of the first outward signs that something is out of balance. For example, acne can plague people throughout life and is a sign of imbalance or underlying inflammation in the body,” says Archibald.
Willow Jarosh, a registered dietician and certified dietician nutritionist, agrees. She says, “There is ongoing research on acne and the gut, as well as psoriasis and rosacea. In addition, if someone has a sensitivity to a specific food, this can create both digestive and skin symptoms, so in that case limiting the food that someone is sensitive to could reduce both the digestive response as well as the skin response.”
Further, a subpar diet and imbalance of bacteria can make your skin generally look dull and lackluster. A healthy diet is synonymous with beautiful, glowing skin. When your gut is out of whack, it shows on your face – quite literally.
The Worst Foods for Gut Health
As you probably guessed, the worst offenders when it comes to your gut health are also the things we tend to stan the most. We’re talking sweets (artificial included), sugary drinks, alcohol, refined carbohydrates (note that we didn’t say all carbs), processed meats, and excessive consumption of red meats (#putthesteakdown).
“Additionally, following fad diets can lead to more stress around food and eating and can also lead people to cut out food groups — notably, carbs. Whole grains provide fiber that gut bacteria enjoy eating, so if you’re cutting out whole grains because you’re avoiding carbs, you might not be giving your gut bacteria the variety of food they need,” says Jarosh. “On that note, gut bacteria feed on fiber, so if your meals and snacks are lacking in the fiber-rich foods department – which include fruits, veggies, whole grains, nuts and seeds, and beans/lentils – that isn’t ideal for your gut.”
Lifestyle Factors that Contribute to Gut Health
Food isn’t the only source of gut health woes. Lifestyle factors and your stress levels are also directly related to the dance of the bacterial balance. Moreno says, “Gut health depends a lot on stress, environmental exposure to toxins such as pollution and smoke, sleep, genetics, medications, and other factors you should discuss with your GI/RD.”
Research shows that everyone should be getting eight hours of sleep every night – it’s not that you can’t function on less, it’s that your body will be at its healthiest and best-performing state if you can religiously get eight hours.
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The Best Foods for Gut Health
Eating the right foods is a great way to start your journey to a healthier gut. However, as well as cutting back on processed and high sugar foods, eating these two different food types together, is also key to good gut health performance:
1. Eat fermented foods, aka Probiotics: It’s also good practice to consume fermented foods, says Moreno, which “introduce species of microbiota to the gut.” Fermented foods include sauerkraut, kombucha, kimchi, miso, yogurt, kefir, pickled foods, natto, and tempeh.
2. Eat Prebiotics: Another good move is to make sure you’re eating plenty of prebiotic foods – AKA foods that feed the bacteria in your gut. Jarosh touched on this a bit when she spoke about eating whole grains, but other examples of prebiotic foods include bananas, apples, garlic, onions, artichokes, broccoli, cauliflower, beans and lentils, seaweed, and leeks.
Find out more about the importance of eating both probiotics and prebiotics here.
An Action Plan for Good Gut Health:
For good gut health, well, you should do the exact opposite of all the negative things we outlined above.
That means focusing on consuming a well-balanced, nutrient-rich diet, not torturing yourself with super restrictive fad diets, cutting back on things that stress you out, and – if necessary – hitting up your doctor.
There are a few more ways to improve your gut health:
1. Hydrate: First, make sure you’re getting your daily eight glasses; hydration is important on so many levels, include the wellbeing of your tummy.
2. Switch up your diet: Finally, make sure that you’re eating a variety of foods. Jarosh says, “I recommend clients look at food groups and increase variety within each group. For instance, if you eat an apple as a snack every day, try adding in some nuts or seeds and changing up the type of fruit from day to day, or even from week to week.”
3. Ask an expert: As for probiotics, our RDs agree that taking them can turn into a bit of a guessing game. It’s possible to do more damage than good, so they recommend speaking to your doctor first, who can prescribe the best probiotic for you if you’re experiencing GI distress.
Bottom Line: We’re not telling you that you shouldn’t eat pizza or that throwing back a shot is going to destroy your gut. It’s all about moderation and nurturing yourself with a variety of good, healthy foods. In the end, you’ll slay in both the health and skin dept.