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Listening to your gut is a common phrase regarding our intuition. If we’re feeling uneasy, scared, or falling madly in love, our gut unconsciously informs us before we can consciously process our emotions.

Our gut has always been our command center — communicating our needs, wants, and inner voice, and when it comes to our physical health, our gut continues to be the whispering wisdom we shouldn’t ignore.

As we culturally shift our focus to whole-body health, gut health, also known as the gastrointestinal (digestive) system, has become a hot topic. More than ever, we’re recognizing the gut as the mecca of health. Since your digestive system breaks down food, absorbs its nutrients, and eliminates waste, it’s how we receive the nourishment we need for our bodies to perform. Your gut is home to a diverse community of bacteria known as the gut microbiome, about 40 trillion microorganisms that are essential for many bodily functions.

What does your gut health impact?

You may be surprised to find out that your gut microbiome plays an important role in so many aspects of your health, including:

1. Metabolism

Your gut bacteria play a role in how your body processes food and how many calories you absorb. An imbalance in your gut microbiome can lead to weight gain and obesity.

2. Immune System

A healthy gut microbiome helps to keep your immune system functioning properly. The gut microbiome is also responsible for producing short-chain fatty acids, which help to strengthen the gut lining and prevent harmful bacteria from entering the bloodstream.

3. Inflammation

The gut microbiome can significantly impact inflammation levels in the body. An imbalance in the gut microbiome can trigger an inflammatory response, which has been linked to many chronic health conditions, including heart disease, diabetes, and autoimmune disorders.

4. Mental Health

The gut microbiome has been shown to play a role in mental health and mood. There is a direct connection between the gut and the brain, known as the gut-brain axis, and a healthy gut microbiome is essential for maintaining healthy brain function.

5. Digestion

A healthy gut microbiome can help improve digestive function and prevent irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).

“Your gut does have feelings, and it can tell you if something is up.” – Nancy Twine

Because our gut is the base for many bodily functions, it can communicate when things are going right and wrong in our bodies. The gut microbiome is a tiny ecosystem within our bodies, with various species of bacteria coexisting and working together. This ecosystem is sensitive to changes in the environment, such as diet, stress, and the use of antibiotics, which can disrupt the delicate balance of bacteria and significantly impact your health.

About five years ago, Nancy learned just how important gut health can be during a life-changing conversation with her acupuncturist.

“I suffered with eczema for many years of my life. I would go to a dermatologist and get prescribed steroid creams. You can’t use those for an extended period of time, so sometimes I would bear it and struggle with intense bouts of eczema,” Nancy shared her resignation to her condition. “I really thought this was a condition I was born with, and there wasn’t anything I could do about it.” Then one day, Nancy visited an acupuncturist who asked a surprising question after noticing the eczema patches on her skin.

“She looked concerned when she saw the cracked skin and patches on my legs and said, ‘Oh my gosh, have you gone to a nutritionist?’ And I asked why I would go to a nutritionist for eczema. She said that sometimes eczema can show up as a response to your gut trying to tell you something. This was the first time I learned about the concept of your gut being a communicator.”

Thankfully, Nancy started working with a nutritionist her acupuncturist recommended — and it would completely change how she viewed her gut and her health.

“I got blood work done to identify which commonly eaten foods your body has an inflammatory response to,” Nancy shared her surprising results. “And the foods that came back with the highest inflammatory response were all dairy related — I used to consume dairy on a daily basis.” Once she got the results, she made some serious lifestyle changes. She began by eliminating dairy from her diet andin just two short months, the feelings of bloating ceased, and more surprisingly, her eczema disappeared.

“I noticed for the first time ever, I stopped getting patches of eczema,” Nancy’s disbelief turned her into a believer. “It didn’t exist anymore — at all. I thought, maybe it’s in remission, but it’s been almost six years, and I haven’t had any eczema flare-ups. That’s when I realized that eczema and bloating was my body’s way of telling me something was wrong.”

What to Eat to Optimize Gut Health

If you want to nurture your gut, always consult with your healthcare provider. Many foods are great for optimizing gut health and can vary to fit your own health needs and preferences, but here are a few of the most recommended:

1. Fiber-rich foods

Fiber is essential for a healthy gut microbiome, as it helps to feed the beneficial bacteria in your gut. Fiber-rich foods include whole grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes, and nuts.

2. Probiotic-rich foods

Probiotics are live bacteria beneficial for the gut microbiome. They can be found in yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, and kimchi.

3. Fermented foods

Fermented foods are another excellent source of probiotics and are great for promoting a healthy gut microbiome. Foods such as kombucha, miso, and tempeh are all good options.

4. Prebiotic-rich foods

Prebiotics are non-digestible fibers that help to feed the beneficial bacteria in your gut. Prebiotic-rich foods include garlic, onions, leeks, asparagus, and bananas.

5. Healthy fats

Healthy fats, such as those found in avocados, olive oil, and fatty fish, are great for gut health. They help to improve gut function and reduce inflammation.

The Gut-Mind-Body Connection

While Nancy received relief from eczema and bloating as a result of her dietary changes, her biggest takeaway came in the form of the gut-mind-body connection.

“I also eliminated foods that came up as inflammatory on my list, beyond just dairy,” Nancy explained her findings. “I actually started to feel better. I had more energy, I felt more positive, and I think it was my body’s response to removing what my body considered to be toxic.”

The conclusion? Trust your gut. Get a grip on your food intolerances with the support of a certified practitioner, take your body’s discomfort seriously, and make the commitment to create the lifestyle that will keep you — and your gut — functioning at the highest level.

What’s your gut telling you? Share your best practices for eating well and feeling good in the comments!