Gut health leads to optimal health and wellbeing.
Gut health leads to optimal health and wellbeing.

Trust Your Gut: From Digestive Distress to Optimal Health

“Trust your gut.” In the past, this colloquial phrase has commonly hinted at the little voice within our souls that guides us to the right decision. However, in the last decade, “trust your gut” has transitioned to literally describe one of the most powerful indicators of optimal health and wellbeing. 

‘Gut health’ is not only a hot TikTok trend attracting all ages; it’s also a phenomenon that has been studied around the world since the 18th century. (1) Gut health refers to the overall functioning of the digestive system and specifically to the balance and diversity of the microbiota, which has a crucial role in digestion, nutrient absorption, the immune system, and overall health and wellbeing. The microbiota (also referred to as ‘microbiome’) encapsulates the trillions of microorganisms, frequently termed ‘good’ or ‘bad,’ bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract. Read more:  GWI’s ‘Nutrition for Health Span,’ Digital Booklet, page 21. 

 The human gut is complex and impacts every organ and function of the body and brain. Research shows a healthy gut, with a robust and diverse microbiome, is crucial for: 

  • a strong immune system (2)
  • bone health (3,4,5)
  • heart health (6,7)
  • brain health & cognitive performance (8)
  • mental health (9)
  • restorative sleep (10)
  • effective absorption of nutrients (11)
  • potential prevention of some cancers and autoimmune diseases (12,13,14)

“A recent study showed forty percent of Americans’ daily lives are disrupted by digestive troubles.”

  • American Gastroenterological Association, 2022

If you have gut issues, you are not alone! The 2022 American Gastroenterological Association (AGA) study found that sixty to seventy million Americans suffer from gastrointestinal (GI) diseases – which create disruptions to daily life. The study showed nearly 40% of Americans have stopped routine activities in the last year due to uncomfortable bowel symptoms, including exercising (19%), running errands (17%), and spending time with family and friends (16%). (15) Here are symptoms to be aware of:

What if you or a family member are one of the 40% with gut issues? Even if you don’t have issues now, prevention is worth more than gold! The good news is that the food we eat is one of the most important factors impacting gut health. Research has shown several types of foods, as described below, can lead to optimal gut health – and a few types of foods lead to gut issues and disease (16,17,18). 

It’s important to note: 

  1. an unhealthy gut can signal or lead to disease: Be sure to talk with your physician about your symptoms.  It’s also highly recommended to see a dietitian and/or a functional medicine physician who specializes in gut health,
  2. we all have a unique DNA: So, especially with our digestive system, what nourishes and cleanses the gut for many, for example, garlic (prebiotics) or bell peppers (fiber), may signal a food intolerance for some. Thus, it is an exploratory and trial-and-error process to discover what foods may be contributing to your poor gut health and/or food intolerances leading to symptoms. So again, this is where dietitians and functional medicine practitioners can be of tremendous help. 

3 Food Types That Can Lead to Optimal Gut Health:

Fiber-Rich Foods: 

Fiber is the most crucial ingredient for gut health as it improves the ‘quality’ of the microbiome and is also essential for the cleansing and elimination of our digestive system. Only about 5% of Americans get 30-40 grams of fiber they need per day. Choosing organic as often as possible is best to avoid consuming toxins through pesticides and preservatives. Here is an excellent overview of fiber-rich foods: The Fabulousness of Fiber: Why It’s Critical for Gut Health (19).


Probiotic foods contain the ‘good’ live bacteria that interact with and stimulate a healthy microbiome. The 2001 definition of probiotics by developed by the World Health Organization, is “the bacteria that, when consumed at an adequate level, improves health,” and “cures and prevents disease.” (20) These foods are generally fermented foods like kefir, yogurt with live active cultures, pickled vegetables, tempeh, kombucha tea, kimchi, kefir, miso, tamari, tempeh, tofu, apple cider vinegar, and sauerkraut. (21)


Prebiotic foods nourish and multiply the good bacteria in the gut. In the world of nutrition, prebiotics and their collective health benefits are a relatively new finding. The term was first introduced in 1995, and then in 2008, fully defined by the International Scientific Association of Probiotics and Prebiotics (ISAPP) as “a selectively fermented ingredient that results in specific changes in the composition and/or activity of the gastrointestinal microbiota, thus conferring benefit(s) upon health,” and “prebiotics are resistant to acidic pH of the stomach, and generally aren’t absorbed in the gastrointestinal tract. Additionally, the prebiotic can be fermented by intestinal microbiota, and overall, the prebiotic is health-enhancing.” (22) Foods high in prebiotics include: (23)

  • garlic
  • onions
  • leeks 
  • dandelion greens
  • asparagus 
  • barley
  • oats
  • honey 
  • Jerusalem artichoke 
  • chicory root 

And Those That Destroy Gut Health: Processed Foods

In his podcast (24), renowned functional medicine physician, Mark Hyman, MD, emphasizes, “The way we feed our gut today is with ultra-processed food, which is 60% of our calories that comes from commodity crops, corn, wheat and soy and tons of sugar, and that is destroying our microbiome. If you want to start anywhere, it’s getting rid of the junk and food additives and processed food because within those are so many components that drive our gut into damage.” Further, Dr. Hyman explains, “Why has this happened? Well, one it’s the industrialization of our food. We’ve really over-processed our food so that we’ve removed all the fiber, all the key nutrients, and the polyphenols. It’s really unfortunate because that is not feeding the good bugs, and then we don’t end up with a good gut microbiome. So, diet is a huge change. Then, in the diet, there are also other things like glyphosate, which is a microbiome destroyer, found in pesticides that affect your microbiome. There are food additives like carrageenan and other compounds that really destroy the gut and emulsifiers that cause leaky gut. Then we’ve got high levels of gluten proteins in the modern wheat we have. So, we have this perfect storm of diet that’s driving so many problems.”

So, now’s the time to add the ‘Optimal Gut Health’ foods to your grocery list and meals and see how many of the ‘Gut Distress’ foods you can avoid. It helps to track the foods you eat along with tracking your gut symptoms (or hopefully lack of symptoms). The tracking enables you to develop deeper insights into your own personal and unique gut health so you can enhance the quality of food you eat to ultimately lead to better gut health, which then leads to feeling, performing, and being at your best! 

Discover More in GWI’s ‘Nutrition for Health Span’ Digital Booklet. 


  1. The History of the Intestinal Microbiota and the Gut-Brain Axis
  2. The Interplay Between the Gut Microbiome and the Immune System in the Context of Infectious Diseases throughout Life and the Role of Nutrition in Optimizing Treatment Strategies
  3. Osteoporosis and Gastrointestinal Disease
  4. Prebiotics and Bone
  5. Healthy Gut, Healthy Bones: Targeting the Gut Microbiome to Promote Bone Health
  6. Clinical Evidence on the Potential Beneficial Effects of Probiotics and Prebiotics in Cardiovascular Disease
  7. The Role of Gut Microbiota in Health and Cardiovascular Disease
  8. Effects of the Human Gut Microbiota on Cognitive Performance, Brain Structure and Function: A Narrative Review
  9. Gut microbiota’s effect on mental health: The gut-brain axis
  10. Examining the Relationships Between Sleep Physiology and the Gut Microbiome in Preclinical and Translational Research: Protocol for a Scoping Review
  11. Influence of Foods and Nutrition on the Gut Microbiome and Implications for Intestinal Health
  12. Understanding the role of the gut microbiome in gastrointestinal cancer: A review
  13. The Dynamic Interplay between the Gut Microbiota and Autoimmune Diseases
  14. Gut microbiome and autoimmune disorders
  15. New survey finds forty percent of Americans’ daily lives are disrupted by digestive troubles
  16. Influence of diet on the gut microbiome and implications for human health
  17. Dietary fiber and prebiotics and the gastrointestinal microbiota
  18. Therapeutic Benefits and Dietary Restrictions of Fiber Intake: A State of the Art Review
  19. Why Healing Your Gut (and Keeping Your Gut Happy) Is Essential for Good Health
  20. Role of Probiotics in Human Health
  21. How to Feed Your Gut
  22. Prebiotics: Definition, Types, Sources, Mechanisms, and Clinical Applications
  23. Fiber and Prebiotics: Mechanisms and Health Benefits
  24. Why Gut Issues Are On The Rise And How To Fix It

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