Despite what #GutTok may have you believe, you don’t have to down olive oil shots, nosh on stewed apples, and graze on papaya seeds for the sake of digestive health and beating dreaded bloat. Sure, optimizing gut health is where it’s at, and hot girls have IBS, but the reality is there are no quick fixes or cure-alls to GI issues, even if said olive oil elixir worked for your favorite TikToker (I would know—I’ve had too many digestive drama episodes to count). Instead, start your morning off on the right foot with a few simple habits that can translate to a bright-eyed and bushy-tailed day with only one main objective: a happy gut. I asked dieticians and gastroenterologists for the top morning practices that are (actually) essential for boosting gut health and digestion.
1. Drink water first thing
Staying hydrated is vital for optimizing your skin, digestion, hormone balance, sleep quality, and mood, so why wouldn’t you kick off your morning with a tall glass of warm lemon water to jump-start the digestion process? “Drinking a glass of water first thing in the morning helps flush out toxins and supports morning bowel movements,” described Tanya Mezher, MS, RD, CDN, Lead Functional Practitioner at Malla.
If you still need convincing, sip on this: “The most abundant molecule in the cells lining your digestive tract is water, accounting for 70 percent or more of total cell mass,” conveyed Dr. Lance Uradomo, M.D., M.P.H., an interventional gastroenterologist at City of Hope Orange County Lennar Foundation Cancer Center. “Water is crucial for those cells to function properly and for your gut to digest food easily.” So before you reach for your morning cup of joe or bite into your breakfast, wake up and hydrate your body with some H2O. For overachievers, the addition of lemon also helps fight indigestion, heartburn, bloating, constipation, and gas formation.
2. Prioritize breakfast and make it your largest meal of the day
They say breakfast is the most important meal of the day, and when it comes to your gut, it’s true. “Because of the body’s circadian rhythm, we create less stomach acid later in the evening when the sun is down, so when we eat larger meals at night, we might not be able to optimally digest these meals,” explained Paulina Lee, MSHS, RD, LD, a gut health functional dietitian and founder of Savvy Stummy, LLC. “Fueling with a bigger breakfast can help us obtain nutrients optimally when our digestion is more awake in the mornings.”
Don’t let a hectic schedule or tough work deadline make you skip breakfast, and plan ahead so it’s not an afterthought or something you grab on the go. Take time to sit down and eat mindfully, and turn off social media, emails, and TV to eat fully present. “Chewing each bite well without distractions or multi-tasking can help you relax and digest better by setting you into a more ‘rest and digest’ phase,” Lee affirmed.
3. Eat foods rich in fiber and fermented foods
Fiber is a type of carbohydrate that the body can’t digest, so it passes through the body undigested and makes its way to the gut, promoting regularity and relieving GI issues. “Fiber, especially prebiotic fibers, are fuel for a healthy gut microbiome,” Lee explained. “These fibers are digested by beneficial gut bacteria so they can make healthful by-products like short-chain fatty acids that support the gut barrier, decrease inflammation, manage the pH of the gut, and keep oxidative stress at bay.” Easy ways to sneak in extra fiber? Sprinkle your yogurt with flaxseeds or chia seeds, top your oatmeal with berries, use whole grain bread for your avocado toast, or whip up a veggie omelet or scramble.
In addition to fiber, fermented foods are crucial for gut health. “Fermented foods contain and feed healthful probiotics, which are beneficial to healthy digestion,” Dr. Uradomo said. But that’s not all probiotics bring to the table. “Probiotics may decrease gut-associated inflammation, which contributes to poor immunity and other metabolic imbalances,” Lee elaborated. Just how much of this type of superfood do we need? Lee recommended at least 1-2 tablespoons of fermented foods daily. Whether you blend coconut yogurt or kefir into your morning smoothie or incorporate sauerkraut or kimchi into your breakfast burrito, you’ll be doing your gut a major solid.
4. Sip on ginger tea
Ginger does more than deliver its signature spicy zest to savory dishes and baked goods. Consider it your gut’s BFF thanks to its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties that can support digestion and combat bloat by stimulating saliva and stomach acid production. “Because ginger has anti-inflammatory and gastro-protective properties, it may relieve digestion, bloating, and inflammation,” Lee echoed. “In Traditional Chinese Medicine, ginger is often used for indigestion, and there’s additional research to show it improves feelings of nausea.”
But the plant’s good-for-you qualities don’t stop there. “Ginger root contains gingerol, a natural compound that assists with gastrointestinal motility–the contractions and relaxations of muscles of the GI tract and the movement of ingested food and liquid through the gut,” Dr. Uradomo pointed out. Plus, it’s an easy step to add to your morning routine since preparing ginger tea is as simple as slicing ginger and adding hot water.
5. Get moving
Lee said it best: “Get moving to get ‘things’ moving in your gut.” It turns out hot girl walks are more than just a means to get your steps in. “Morning walks or yoga can help contract muscles, which keeps things moving in your digestive tract,” Lee continued. “These activities may also help improve your healthy gut microbiome and diversity. Yoga stretches, like side bending, downward dog, and standing forward bend, involve twisting and bending that massages the digestive tract to relax the gut and stimulate digestive enzymes.”
Let go of any preconceived notions that your movement of choice needs to be an hour long or intense to get the most out of it. In fact, gentle forms of exercise in the AM are *chef’s kiss* since easing into your morning should be your MO for promoting gut health. “Even if it is just a 10-minute walk or an at-home workout, any form of movement can help with digestion,” Dr. Uradomo expressed. “Exercise increases blood flow to the muscles in the digestive system and helps to move food through the digestive tract.”
Recent studies have found that there’s a link between the gut microbiome and exercise, according to Mezher. “Exercise can change the composition of the gut biome, increase the number of beneficial bacteria, and reduce the number of harmful bacteria.” She suggested taking your workout outside to enhance your gut health along with your vitamin D intake and circadian rhythm.
6. Relax the nervous system
A chaotic morning that calls for rushing to get ready and out the door can wreak havoc on your stress levels, which can also negatively affect digestion and gut health. “When our bodies aren’t in a state of flight-or-fight, AKA sympathetic pathways, we are able to focus more energy and time into absorbing and digesting nutrients optimally,” Lee explained.
No matter what practice does the trick for you or how much time you have in the morning, you can make relaxation a priority. It can be as simple as taking 3-4 deep breaths to set the tone for digesting (and conquering your day) before calmly getting out of bed. “Deep breathing and meditation in the morning help to set your day for parasympathetic pathways that aid in resting and digesting,” Lee explained. You can also try meditation, journaling, getting outside, or a quick breathwork session. Never tried breathwork? Mezher cited a recent study that found breathwork improved digestion and increased the number of beneficial bacteria in the gut, so now is as good a time as ever to give it a go.