13 expert gut health tips – including what to eat more of

Digest these evidence-backed ways to improve your gut health. Your gut will thank you.

It seems like the frequency with which people dish out gut health tips is as regular as the number of times I write the words ‘bowel movement’ (as Saga Exceptional’s gut health and nutrition writer, believe me, it’s a lot). 

With so many experts or platforms claiming to have the answers or hacks you need to help with your gut health issues, it can be hard to know where to turn to for advice you can trust.

What makes this advice we are about to give any different, you ask? We have spoken to top experts in the field and used the latest scientific research to provide reliable and practical information you can use to help improve your gut health.

Mixture of bread, oats, seeds, nuts and cereal, which all contain fibre.Credit: Shutterstock/marilyn barbone
Eating enough fibre can keep your bowel movements regular and feed your good gut bacteria.

Their tips for gut health include insights into why eating more plants will help your gut bacteria, and the importance of avoiding unnecessary elimination of certain foods.


1. Take your time when going to the toilet

Make time for your bowels

Here’s a gut health tip you can apply immediately. Anna Pettit, specialist dietitian for The Gut Health Clinic, says: “Having a good toilet routine can be a good start. Try to assign some time to open your bowels in peace and quiet.”  

It might sound strange, but think of it in the same way as you’d allow time for brushing your teeth. Giving yourself time can help you to have regular bowel movements, by making it easier to open your bowels, reducing the need to strain and ensuring your bowel is fully empty. 

2. Get to know your gut

You are unique and so is your gut

Gut health differs from person to person, which means a personalised approach is best. “We all have incredibly unique gut microbiomes. No two people have the same composition of gut bacteria,” says gut health dietitian Dr Caitlin Hall 

This is something that Lisa Macfarlane and her identical twin sister Alana – co-founders of digestive health business The Gut Stuff, otherwise known as the Mac Twins, – know only too well. “Lisa and I have 100% the same DNA, but we only have 30-40% of the same gut bacteria. So, we can’t do the same thing to look after our gut health,” says Alana.  

Hall adds: “We’re moving towards a more personalised approach to gut health through things like microbiome sampling, which can tell you the types of fibre best for your gut.” Personalised nutrition programme ZOE is one example of a way to analyse your gut bacteria, blood sugar and blood fats.   

Other ways to become more familiar with your individual gut needs include keeping a food diary to identify when you have any issues, or speaking to a dietitian.

What is the gut microbiome? 

The trillions of microorganisms (bacteria, viruses and fungi) that live in your digestive tract make up the gut microbiome. 

“A healthy gut microbiome is crucial for healthy ageing,” says Hall. “Unlike genetic factors, our microbiome can be altered by diet and lifestyle. This can help us reduce the risk of chronic disease as we age.” 

Scientists are still learning about our microbiome, but it’s estimated that each person has around 1,000 species of bacteria in their gut. 

3. Eat a variety of different plant foods

Increase the diversity of your gut microbes

A gut health tip from all three experts we spoke to is to eat a range of different plants. Including a variety of different plant foods in your diet can help to diversify the bacteria in your gut. And a more diverse gut microbiome is considered a healthier one. 

“Lots of different types of bacteria are related to better health outcomes,” adds Lisa Macfarlane. Yet “research suggests that the diversity of your gut bacteria decreases as you age – so increasing the diversity of your gut bacteria is a great focus.”  

A range of colourful plant foods, including fruits, vegetables and seeds.Credit: Shutterstock/marilyn barbone
30 is the ‘magic’ number. A good gut health tip is to eat this many different plant foods per week.

All three experts also suggest aiming for a specific number of different plant foods per week: 30.

This number comes from a large-scale study called the American Gut Project, which took stool samples from more than 10,000 people. It found that people who ate this quantity and variety of plants each week had more diverse gut bacteria compared with those who ate fewer.

The experts say the range of different plants to eat can include wholegrains, nuts and seeds, fruits, vegetables, beans and pulses, and to add herbs and spices to your cooking. 

The Macfarlanes say the more colour you have on your plate, the better for your gut health.  


4. Eat more fibre

Help your gut bacteria thrive

Eating enough fibre can also help to support your diversity of gut microbes. Lisa Macfarlane says: “Fibre feeds the good bacteria in your gut to make them happier, healthier and help them thrive.”  

It can also help with keeping your bowel movements regular. But the majority of us aren’t getting enough of it. Current government guidelines say our dietary fibre intake should be 30g per day. However, most UK adults are only eating around 20g per day. We need to be increasing this.  

Hall echoes this. “It’s important to find ways that make it easier to consume fibre through eating things such as a fruit smoothie, oatmeal or [a vegetable] soup,” she says. “A prebiotic supplement could also be added to these foods to ensure that fibre requirements are easily met.” 

Lisa Macfarlane says fibre bulks your stool, which makes it easier to pass. This helps you to have regular bowel movements. Hall explains that “grains like wholewheat bread, rye bread, oats, barley; fruits like apples and kiwis; and nuts and seeds like chia seeds and linseeds” can help with this.

5. Don’t peel fruit and veg unless it’s necessary

Not removing the skin can benefit your gut

We have a great gut health tip that will give you extra time as well as better gut bacteria and bowel movements. There’s no need to peel the skin off many fruits and vegetables, including apples, pears, peaches, butternut squash, carrots and potatoes. Leaving the skin on will provide you with even more fibre.

If you’re worried about the texture of the skin in dishes such as mashed potatoes or an apple crumble, chopping the pieces small so that there aren’t large bits of skin can help. 

Already eating the skin of all of these? If you want to up your fibre intake even more, how about kiwi fruit skin? Kiwis with the skin on provide 3g of fibre per 100g compared to 2.3g with the skin off,” says Pettit. To put this into perspective, “an apple contains 2.4g total fibre per 100g”.

Not keen on the texture of kiwi skin? Cut the kiwi lengthways before you eat it. That way, less of the surface area in your mouth will be the skin. Pettit says: “You could trial eating two kiwis per day for six weeks to see if this helps.” 

Eating carrots with the peel on is another good option – Pettit notes that they also contain 3g total fibre per 100g. 

6. Consider a Mediterranean-style diet

This can increase your fibre intake too

The links between following a Mediterranean-style diet and reducing the risk of cardiovascular diseases and promoting longevity are well-evidenced. But what about gut health?   

Pettit says: “Studies have shown that people who follow a Mediterranean–style diet have more beneficial and varied gut bacteria, [compared to those who follow a Western diet].” This is because the Mediterranean diet mainly consists of fruits, vegetables, wholegrains, beans, legumes and nuts and seeds, which encourages higher fibre consumption. We have already established that fibre can help with bowel movements and increasing the amounts of beneficial bacteria in our gut.  

So you might want to give this gut health tip a go, or even take things further and adopt the Mediterranean lifestyle, which involves following the Med diet among other things. 

7. Remember to drink

It’s not just about what you eat

Hall and Pettit note you also need to drink enough fluids to stay hydrated and help fibre do its job. Fibre draws water into the bowel and dissolves to form a gel, which keeps stools soft. This makes them easier to pass. 

Current UK guidelines recommend six to eight glassesroughly 1.2 litres or 2.1 pints, which equates to six 200ml (7 fl oz) glasses or eight 150ml (5 fl oz) glasses – per day. 

You can easily find a reusable water bottle to help you achieve this within our guide to the best water bottles. 

8. Don’t restrict your diet

Think about what you can add, not take away

Hands up if you’ve followed a diet trend before? Many of us do this, but it could be doing more harm than good.  

Hall says: “There’s a growing number of people who are looking for strategies to improve and maintain a healthy gut, which is great.” But, she says, the availability of inaccurate food allergy tests alongside the rise of social media influencers, which has led to a rise in gut health myths, can be harmful. “Often this encourages people to restrict or remove a number of healthy (and not harmful) foods.” 

“Unnecessarily restricting foods (when it’s not an allergy or intolerance) significantly reduces the health and diversity of your gut microbiome. In turn, this affects your overall health.” 

Woman adding flax seeds to a blender filled with other ingredients.Credit: Shutterstock/Okrasiuk
Look for opportunities to add nutritious foods to your diet rather than restricting it.

Pettit says: “Evidence indicates that exclusion of foods for a long period can actually result in the loss of tolerance. When the excluded food is eventually reintroduced, more symptoms can be experience.” 

She suggests working with a gut health dietitian to identify foods and/or drinks that might be causing you gut issues. They can help manage these intolerances by ensuring you’re getting the nutrients you need in an alternative way. 

9. Exercise regularly

Moving your body can encourage movement in your bowels

Exercise is not just good for staying fit and active, but for your gut health, too. Pettit recommends moving your body regularly. This “can help with the blood flow to the pelvic area and help to prevent constipation,” she says.  

Simply walking can help. Prefer the gym? Try one of our gym workouts for beginners, created by personal trainer and fitness staff writer for Saga Exceptional, Rebecca Fuller. Or find out how Pilates and yoga might help in our article on exercise and gut health. 

10. Eat for immunity

The gut and the immune system have a strong connection

You might be surprised to read that 70% of your immune system is in your gut. Therefore, “keeping the gut healthy will support a good immune function and vice versa,” explains Pettit. 

In fact, a healthy gut has been linked to a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and plays an important role in your susceptibility to infection. 

The food you eat can encourage good gut health and, in turn, strengthen your immunity. Gut healthy foods, filled with key nutrients and phytochemicals, that can help with this include: 

  • walnuts  
  • garlic  
  • firm tofu   
  • carrots  
  • oranges  
  • chia seeds  
  • turmeric  
  • broccoli 
  • mushrooms (preferably those with higher levels of vitamin D – leaving shop-bought mushrooms on a sunny windowsill for a day will raise their vitamin D levels, or you can buy mushrooms enriched with vitamin D)   

11. Nurture your gut-brain axis

Better gut health can support your mental health

It’s not just your immune system that has a strong link to the gut, so too does your brain.

Pettit says: “One of the most fascinating areas of current research involves the gut-brain axis – a two-way communication system between the gut and the brain [via the vagus nerve] – and its potential therapeutic role in depression and anxiety.”   

Fake brain connected to fake intestines to demonstrate the gut-brain axis.Credit: Shutterstock/Perception7
Looking after your gut health can support your mental health and vice versa.

Hall, who specialised in the gut-brain axis for her PhD, says supporting mental health through the gut is linked to the production of short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) in the gut. “SCFAs can interact directly with the vagus nerve, which is the fastest way they can influence mental states like anxiety, stress and mood.”

Promoting SCFA production can help to target brain health through the gut, she says. But how do we do this? Hall says: “The most effective way is by eating a range of prebiotic fibres. These can include Jerusalem artichokes, asparagus, green bananas, oats, onion, garlic, leeks and chicory root.” 

12. Keep stress at bay

Breathwork can help you and your gut to stay calm

While diet is a huge factor, other lifestyle factors, from stress to sleep, can affect gut health. Stress can be a trigger for poor gut health. There is also a strong link between stress and IBS as well as other digestive conditions.  

Reducing stress is one of the ways to improve gut health and one way to ease stress is through breathwork. The NHS have some simple breathing exercises to help you manage stress and anxiety.   

13. Break the poo taboo

A problem shared is a problem halved

Simply talking about gut issues is an effective gut-health tip. The Macfarlanes noticed this during the filming of their TV series Know Your Sh!t, which aired earlier this year. “People felt lighter just by telling us their problems,” says Lisa Macfarlane.  

We all poo and there is no shame in admitting that you have problems. Why not try starting a conversation with someone you trust? You might just find that the other person has problems too. 

The twins are keen to break Britain’s poo taboo and encourage more conversations. They hope to raise awareness about gut issues to help resolve them.  

Pettit adds: “The gut is quite adaptable, and you can absolutely change the composition of your gut microbes for the better with improved diet and sleep, less stress and by avoiding unnecessary antibiotic use (antibiotics destroy healthy gut bacteria. They are still an important treatment for certain infections).  

“It is never too late to review your diet and lifestyle to make positive changes.”  

Expert bios 

Sleep-deprived DJs turned gut health champions Lisa and Alana Macfarlane began their gut journey when they volunteered to be part of the TwinsUK research at King’s College London. After sending off poo samples and undergoing a couple of colonoscopies (an examination of the bowel with a camera on a thin tube), they became the “chief guinea pigs” for the British Gut Project. The results inspired them to help spread the message about how important and exciting your gut is, by setting up digestive health business The Gut Stuff. They have since been presenters of the recent Channel 4 TV series Know Your Sh!t and are developing an app. 

Dr Caitlin Hall is a gut health dietitian, with a PhD in neurosciences and gut microbiology. She is passionate about the real-world applications of gut-brain axis research, including microbiome-based interventions that improve physical and mental health. She works as chief dietitian and head of clinical research at myota – a gut health company specialising in prebiotic fibre blends. 

Anna Pettit is a specialist dietitian for The Gut Health Clinic. She graduated from King’s College London in 2009 and has more than 12 years of experience working with both adult and paediatric clients in the NHS and privately in the UK and the Middle East. She now specialises in the use of the low FODMAP diet in managing irritable bowel syndrome and other digestive conditions. Pettit is passionate about evidence-based nutrition and dietetics, and the use of clinical reasoning to provide safe, practical and quality patient-centred care. 

Gemma Harris

Written by Gemma Harris she/her


Gemma Harris has been a journalist for over seven years and is a self-confessed health and wellbeing enthusiast, which led her to specialise in health journalism. During her career, she has worked with top editors in the industry and taken on multiple high-discipline fitness challenges for certain outlets. She is particularly passionate about nutrition; after being diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome in 2016, she discovered her fascination for gut health and founded thegutchoice.com – a dedicated space for providing a hopeful outcome for people with gut issues. Gemma’s core aim is to help others through her writing.

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