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How To Support Your Gut The Holistic Way

How To Support Your Gut The Holistic Way

Is your digestive health in need of a reset? Here are some holistic tips for supporting gut health.

Did you know that your gut is home to roughly 100 trillion bacteria? [1] But not all bacteria are considered harmful. In fact, a good balance of bacteria is needed if we want to feel our best. Most of the time, these microorganisms exist in harmony with their hosts (us), even providing important functions for our bodies. However, changes in the makeup of this bacteria can lead to a variety of issues that go way beyond the gut and may impact a number of key systems in your body. 

Discover why maintaining gut balance is important, what role your gut plays in your overall well-being, and how you can support your gut health holistically.

Restore Gut Health

Your gut microbiome: the basics

Before diving into the ways you can support your gut health, it helps to have a better understanding of how the gut works, specifically the "gut microbiome". It's likely that you've already heard this term and seen other phrases like "gut flora", "probiotics", and "good vs bad bacteria". These all refer to the human microbiome.

The microbiome is so complex that researchers are still at the tip of the iceberg when it comes to understanding its role in human health. But there are some important discoveries that have been made so far. 

First of all, the microbiome is defined as all the bacteria, viruses, fungi, archaea, and eukaryotes that live in our bodies. The gut microbiome refers specifically to the microbes that inhabit our gastrointestinal tract. It is of particular interest because it houses ten times more microbial cells than the rest of the body and is thought to be the most "diverse neighbourhood", containing up to 5,000 different species.  [1] Each of us has our own unique gut microbiome - no two are the same. 

The gut microbiome is thought to play such a huge role in our body that some researchers even refer to as a "separate 'organ' with distinct metabolic and immune activity". [1] Thinking of the gut microbiome in this way helps to highlight the important role it plays in our digestive and overall health. 

The role of good bacteria

The microbes in our gut have an important job to do. They help break down many of the proteins, lipids (fats), and carbohydrates we eat into nutrients that our bodies can absorb. They also produce vitamins and other beneficial compounds, such as those that help regulate some aspects of the immune system, and can influence our body weight and appetite. [2, 3]

Scientists have also begun to explore the brain-gut connection and believe our microbiome may also affect our mood and sleep, so much so that some experts have even dubbed it our "second brain". [4]

How to help the good bacteria thrive

The best way to boost your healthy gut bacteria is to eat diverse foods that include valuable probiotics and prebiotics. Researchers believe that a richer and more diverse gut microbiome can contribute to supporting our overall well-being and lower our risk of poor health. [3]

We could probably learn a good lesson from the Hadza, modern hunter-gatherers living in northern Tanzania, who have what is believed to be the richest gut microbiome diversity in the world. The Hadza eat around 600 plants and animals a year, which varies seasonally. Plant-based diets are believed to benefit the human gut, the likely reason being that vegetarians tend to eat more high-fiber foods and less processed foods.

Gut Health


Healthy Foods to Improve Gut Health

Supporting gut health is all about balance, and since each of us has our own unique gut microbiome, it will take a bit of trial and error to get it just right. Adding certain foods to your diet and avoiding (or at least moderating) the bad ones can help you get started.

Probiotics and Fermented Foods

Probiotics are live, active cultures that can be naturally found in many fermented foods and supplements. These "good bacteria" are vital for a healthy gut microbiome and help balance our gut flora. 

While fad diets come and go, the benefits of probiotics have been documented for hundreds (if not thousands) of years. Across multiple cultures from ancient Rome, Greece, India, and Asia, pickled, fermented vegetables and probiotic-filled yogurts have been eaten for their health advantages over many centuries.

The majority of fermented foods contain probiotics. However, in some cases, the probiotics may be removed, such as with beer and wine (we'll soon discuss what alcohol does to your gut microbiome). 

Here are some probiotic-rich foods worth considering adding to your diet. 

Kefir: A fermented milk drink traditionally made from kefir grains, which combine lactic acid bacteria and yeast and added to whole cow's milk. Nowadays, you can find kefir made from many types of milk, including sheep, goat coconut, and soy milk. The consistency is similar to drinking yogurt, and it has a sour and creamy taste.

Parmesan cheese: While most of us limit our use of parmesan cheese to sprinkling it on our pasta, it could be a healthy choice to add as an ingredient to other dishes, such as a soup or stew. Due to its long aging process, it contains fermented lactic acid bacteria that is beneficial for your gut. As a bonus, you will also get plenty of calcium for healthy bones. [5]

Kombucha: This sweet, fizzy fermented tea is made by combining bacteria and yeast with sweetened black or green tea. Both tea and probiotics have many health properties, so the combination offers a potent concoction for general well-being. Though you can make homemade kombucha, it can be tricky and even dangerous, so ensure that you know what you're doing before getting started. The commercially-made kombucha should be an excellent choice, but check to make sure it's not too high in added sugar or artificial flavors.

Sauerkraut: If you've tasted it before, you either love it or hate it, but as probiotic-rich foods go, it's one of the healthiest. Sauerkraut is a traditional European side dish that translates as 'sour cabbage,' which is essentially what it is - fermented cabbage. As well as supporting a healthy gut microbiota, it also contains vitamins, antioxidants, and is abundant in dietary fiber. You are much better making homemade sauerkraut than buying the canned pasteurized type often found in stores, but either will do!

Yogurt: Perhaps the most well-known in the probiotic world, it's likely the one that we've all tried at some point. The probiotic strain Lactobacillus acidophilus found in probiotic yogurt is famous for supporting gut health. Depending on the brand and type, yogurt can also be rich in calcium, protein, and vitamin B12. T Remember to have a glance at the ingredients list as many store-bought yogurts are sweetened with sugar or artificial ingredients. Try to opt for natural, unsweetened yogurt or Greek yogurt.

Kimchi: Similar to sauerkraut, kimchi is also made from fermented cabbage or bok choy, but is a spicier version that is also chock-full of healthy spices. If that's not reason enough to give this fermented food a try, it's also an excellent source of antioxidants and dietary fiber. 

Miso: Traditionally eaten as a breakfast soup in Japan, miso is made from fermented soybeans. Miso can add some more probiotic diversity to your diet, though it is relatively high in salt, so it's probably best not to overdo it. Miso is also a good source of folic acid, minerals, and vitamins.

Pickles: You can pickle all sorts of vegetables and fruit, but pickled cucumbers are usually what comes to mind. When you buy pickles to add to your probiotic diet, ensure that they are fermented in saltwater brine rather than the pickled variety using vinegar. Saltwater brine olives are another tasty option.

Sourdough bread - This kind of bread not only tastes great, but it is made using Lactobacillus, which gives it its tartness. It is also thought to be easier to digest for some people than regular bread varieties. This is because the gluten in the bread is broken down during the fermentation process.

Peas: One of the newest probiotic discoveries is that of fresh green peas that were found to contain the probiotic bacteria strain Leuconostoc mesenteroides by a Japanese research team in 2013 Leuconostoc mesenteroides are shown to stimulate Secretory IgA (SIgA), an immune protein. Green peas are thought to only be effective as a probiotic if eaten raw [6].

Restore Gut Health naturally


Sometimes there is confusion regarding the difference between prebiotics and probiotics. It's quite simple; probiotics are thought as the "friendly" bacteria in your gut and in the food items mentioned above.

Prebiotics, on the other hand, are the fibers that healthy gut bacteria (probiotics) eat. These fibers can't be digested, so they remain in the gut, giving your beneficial bacteria something to feast on. If your diet is rich in vegetables, then chances are high that you are consuming many prebiotic food sources already. Nearly all fruits and vegetables contain the inulin, pectins, and resistant starch that support gut health, though some offer more benefits than others.

Here are some prebiotic-rich foods that help good bacteria thrive:

Green bananas: Unripe green bananas are high in resistant starch, the stuff that those good gut critters crave. If you let the bananas ripen, they won't have the same amount of prebiotic fiber to be of any real benefit to your gut. Also, bananas are loaded with potassium, vitamin B6, and vitamin C. If you don't like to eat your bananas unripened, you can still get the same benefits from green banana flour, which is available widely and is also gluten-free.

Chicory root: With a flavor similar to coffee, it is often used as a caffeine-free substitute. With a prebiotic fiber content by weight of 64.6%, it's reputed to aid digestion and help with the relief of constipation. Another advantage of adding it to your diet is that it is high in antioxidants that help protect the liver and protect against free-radical damage.

Dandelion greens: You might find these inulin-rich weeds in your garden and if you do, they are definitely worth picking and adding to a salad or blending into a smoothie. This superfood, as well as being great for gut health, contains calcium, iron, and vitamins K and A.

Jerusalem artichoke: This root vegetable is full of fiber from inulin and is also loaded with potassium and iron; this is definitely one of the best prebiotics you can eat. To prepare them, you can cook them as you would potatoes, but they also can be enjoyed raw.

Onions: To get the best of their prebiotic benefits, onions should be eaten raw. 

Garlic: Just as with onions, garlic is a great prebiotic when consumed raw, but cooked garlic may also have some gastrointestinal benefits. 

Cooked potatoes, pasta, or rice ate cold: Your gut microbiota love resistant starch. Cooking these types of foods and waiting for them to cool increases the amount of resistant starch they contain. A potato, pasta, or rice salad combined with some of the other tasty prebiotics or probiotics we've discussed can make a great healthy meal.

Bone Broth

Bone broth is made from simmering the bones, cartilage, tendons, and ligaments of animals or fish. It has gained popularity in recent years for its overall health-supporting properties, one particular benefit being the role it plays in gut health. The many nutrients in bone broth are believed to support the intestinal barrier. It is also full of minerals such as copper, iron, magnesium, zinc, and more. 


Turmeric: This Indian herb has been used traditionally in Ayurveda for a number of wellness benefits, including gut and digestive support. It can be consumed by using it to spice up your meals, sipped as a tea, and can also be found as a concentrated turmeric curcumin supplement.

Ginger: This is a popular herb for gut health. You might have been given ginger ale to drink when you were a kid if you had an upset stomach or advised to sip on ginger tea when nauseous. Ginger can be boiled as a tea, added to a number of dishes or grated raw into oatmeal or smoothies.

Basil: This herb is one of the oldest known to man and goes back thousands of years. There are 35 different basil species, and it is grown and loved for its taste and health properties worldwide. It is said to support stomach upset.

Cinnamon: A sprinkle of cinnamon on your coffee or cocoa may help support gut health.

What to avoid for gut health

Increasing your probiotic and prebiotic food intake or adding a probiotic supplement to your routine is only one part of the equation. There are also some foods you may want to try to avoid or consume in moderation:

Highly processed foods

Highly processed foods contain a high number of various additives, chemicals, and preservatives, so that the shelf life of the product is increased. This might benefit the longevity of these food products, but can have the exact opposite effect on your gut microbiome.

These additives include industrial formulations extracted from foods such as oils, fats, sugars, starch, or those synthesized in laboratories, such as flavor enhancers and colors. Processed foods are believed to disturb the gut microbiome and negatively impact gut health amongst other health concerns. [7]

Sugar and artificial sweeteners

As you probably imagined, sugar is going to turn up as one of the bad guys in this article, and you were certainly right. The bad bacteria in the gut flourish on a diet high in artificial sugar. Let's be realistic -  we all enjoy a cake, chocolate bar, or ice cream from time to time, but the key is moderation. Refined sugars and high fructose corn syrup are thought to be the most detrimental to health.

The outlook on artificial sweeteners doesn't look rosy either. A study from 2018 found that six artificial sweeteners all approved by the FDA were discovered to negatively affect the gut microbiota of mice. [8] Artificial sweeteners have also been linked to other conditions, so experts generally advise to limit them as much as possible. We'd suggest trying to cut back on refined sugar or artificial sweeteners and replace them from time to time with more natural options, like honey or maple syrup. Not only will it benefit your gut, but it could aid in weight management and do less damage to your teeth!


Soda drinks are high in sugars or articifical sweeteners and low in nutritional value, and are also thought to affect the gut's pH levels. If you like fizzy drinks, why not try healthy probiotic kombucha? You might be pleasantly surprised by how good it tastes.


Excessive alcohol consumption, as we are sure you are aware, can wreak havoc on your gut health. Still, it's not all bad, especially if you are a red wine drinker. Studies suggest that red wine drinkers had a greater diversity of gut bacteria. It is believed that this could be down to how the polyphenols contained in red wine engage with the gut. As always, it's best to consume alcohol responsibly and in moderation if you want to keep your gut balanced and happy. 

Gut Health

How support your gut microbiome with sleep

There are a wide range of studies being carried out to test how the gut microbiome affects our health. Research suggests that gut microbiome diversity facilitates healthier sleep. Poor gastrointestinal health has been connected to a number of sleep issues and disorders [4].

Sleep deprivation and poor gut health can also be a vicious cycle with poor gut health impacting sleep quality, and poor sleep quality affecting gut health. Along with diet and exercise, restful sleep is vital to our health and well-being. If you have fragmented sleep where you are continually waking up in the night, you will not get the right amount of deep restorative sleep that your body needs to function at it best.

Here are some ideas to add to your night-time routine that could help you sleep better.

Stress and gut health

Stress is strongly connected to gut health. [4] If you are under a lot of stress, your brain goes into survival mode, also known as the 'fight or flight' response. This fight or flight response is designed to keep you safe in times of acute danger, but unfortunately, it responds to threats both real and imaginary, including many of the stresses of modern living. This threat response affects your body in many ways, such as making your heartbeat faster, dilating your pupils, and reducing blood flow to certain areas of your body (including your gut).

When the blood flow is reduced in your gut, it may affect the balance of your gut microbiome. While a little stress does little harm, if you are under chronic stress and consistently activating the acute stress response in your body, thus releasing the stress hormone cortisol, it can not only cause gut health issues, but potentially other serious health conditions.

If your gut health has been affected by stress, it can be evident in several ways. Symptoms that could manifest include lack of energy, problems sleeping, and digsetive concerns - it's called "stress belly" for a reason! Stress may also exacerbate pre-existing digestive issues as well as increase stomach acid production, which can cause bloating, nausea, and other uncomfortable symptoms.

To support gut health and reduce your stress levels, you may want to take a two-pronged approach. This involves tweaking your diet and focusing on stress-reducing habits and practices. When people are stressed, they often neglect healthy eating, for instance, eating junk food for comfort or being too distracted to prepare healthy meals. Stomach issues might even cause them to avoid eating altogether. 

Here are some stress-busters that can help when times are tough.

Exercise for Better Gut Health

It seems that every generic health article you read will tell you to get more exercise if you want to stay healthy. So you've heard it all before, and you probably know that you should be exercising more. However, as this article is about restoring gut health and exercise is essential to the process, we can't neglect discussing it.

One benefit of regular exercise is regular bowel movements. When we exercise, our intestines get a workout too, naturally contracting so that waste will be efficiently passed through our gastrointestinal system.

So what sort of exercise is best?

It honestly doesn't really matter! Anything that gets your body physically moving is fine. There is no need to invest in a gym membership if you don't want to. A consistent brisk walk and some stretching should help. It's all about what works best for you and your personal needs. As we have previously mentioned, yoga is a great exercise to consider, because it is gentle on the body.

Restore Gut Health

Final thoughts

We hope that by now, you fully understand why it is so important to take care of your gut health. A good strategy is to make small changes to your lifestyle one step at a time. Eating raw bananas by the bunch and attempting a marathon won't be sustainable or healthy! Enjoy walks in nature and add a few more of the right veggies to your diet, and you'll start to see positive results. It's all about moderation and patience. 

Did you find this article helpful? Join our community for more wellness tips, healthy recipes, how-to videos, yoga and exercise tutorials, and exclusive content created by the Primal Harvest tribe.  


  1. Ferranti, E. P., Dunbar, S. B., Dunlop, A. L., & Corwin, E. J. (2014). 20 things you didn't know about the human gut microbiome. The Journal of cardiovascular nursing29(6), 479–481. https://doi.org/10.1097/JCN.0000000000000166

  2. Looi, M.-K. (2020, July 14). The human microbiome: Everything you need to know about the 39 trillion microbes that call our bodies home. BBC Science Focus Magazine. https://www.sciencefocus.com/the-human-body/human-microbiome 

  3. Spector, T. (2020, February 10). 15 tips to boost your gut microbiome. BBC Science Focus Magazine. https://www.sciencefocus.com/the-human-body/how-to-boost-your-microbiome 

  4. Matthews, R. (2020, September 8). From microbiome to mental health: The second brain in your gut. BBC Science Focus Magazine. https://www.sciencefocus.com/the-human-body/a-gut-feeling-meet-your-second-brain

  5. Succi M, Tremonte P, Reale A, et al. Bile salt and acid tolerance of Lactobacillus rhamnosus strains isolated from Parmigiano Reggiano cheese. FEMS Microbiol Lett. 2005;244(1):129-137. doi:10.1016/j.femsle.2005.01.037
  6. Czerwiński, J., Højberg, O., Smulikowska, S., Engberg, R. M., & Mieczkowska, A. (2010). Influence of dietary peas and organic acids and probiotic supplementation on performance and caecal microbial ecology of broiler chickens. British poultry science, 51(2), 258–269. https://doi.org/10.1080/00071661003777003
  7. Chi, L., Bian, X., Gao, B., Tu, P., Lai, Y., Ru, H., & Lu, K. (2018, February 9). Effects of the artificial sweetener neotame on the gut microbiome and fecal metabolites in mice. MDPI. https://www.mdpi.com/1420-3049/23/2/367

  8. Qin, B., Panickar, K. S., & Anderson, R. A. (2010). Cinnamon: potential role in the prevention of insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome, and type 2 diabetes. Journal of diabetes science and technology, 4(3), 685–693. https://doi.org/10.1177/193229681000400324

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