What Does 'Gut Health' Actually Mean?

What Does 'Gut Health' Actually Mean?

There’s no doubt that having a well-functioning gut is important for our health, but what does gut health actually mean? We asked Dietitian Laura Tilt for the lowdown.   

What does ‘gut health’ actually mean? 

Good question. Given that it’s such a popular term, it's surprising that there’s no official definition! But in recent years scientists have started to outline criteria to define gut health.  

These include: 

  • a gut which effectively digests and absorb food 
  • a gut which isn’t affected by disease 
  • a gut which isn’t regularly churning out uncomfortable symptoms like tummy pain, constipation and bloating 
  • a normal and stable gut microbiome 

What are the signs that my gut is healthy?  

It’s fair to say that if your gut is functioning well, you probably won’t be thinking about it much.  

When your gut is healthy and happy it’s able to do its job easily, digesting and absorbing nutrients effectively. It also supports your immune function, which in turn influences your overall health.  

Scientists are still figuring out how to measure and interpret the gut microbiome. This means gauging this specific marker is more challenging. But there are still reliable indicators of a healthy gut that we can use when thinking about our own gut health: 

5 signs of a healthy gut 

  1. You don’t experience discomfort during or after eating 
  2. You poo regularly (anywhere from 3x a day to 3x a week) 
  3. Your poos are soft, well formed and not painful to pass 
  4. Your poo is a shade of brown 
  5. You’re not regularly bothered by symptoms like bloating, pain, or nausea 

On the other hand, if there is something up with your gut it usually lets you know via uncomfortable symptoms like tummy pain or changes in your poo. 

Let me give you an example. Have you ever eaten something which really didn’t agree with you? Right now, I’m getting vivid memories of the time I ate a curry from a stall in Camden market one Friday lunchtime. The visit to Camden market was a normal Friday treat (I worked in an office nearby), but this particular food stand was a new choice. And as it turned out, a bad choice. A few hours later at my desk I started getting hot sweats and stomach cramps and I had to make a rapid exit home.   

I then spent most of the weekend hiding in the bathroom. The cause? A bout of food poisoning, thanks to some pathogenic bacteria hiding out in the curry. It was unpleasant, but it was temporary and with rest and plenty of fluids I recovered and was back at my desk the following week feeling back to normal.  

And here’s the important distinction - we all get gut symptoms from time to time, but typically these are temporary and resolve on their own.  

What's important is noticing when they don’t go away because it’s persistent gut symptoms which should prompt you to have a chat with your doctor. This is because they can be a sign of an underlying condition.  

5 Signs of an unhappy gut  

  1. Discomfort or pain during or after eating 
  2. Frequent gut symptoms like nausea, tummy pain or heartburn 
  3. Excessive gas, bloating or burping 
  4. Unexplained changes in your poo, like including diarrhoea, constipation or blood in the stool or bleeding from your bottom 
  5. Pain or difficulty pooing 

The awkward yet important talk

Talking about poo or gut symptoms might feel uncomfortable but trust me - this is normal conversation for your GP. And importantly they can help uncover the cause and advise on the necessary steps to get you feeling better.  

Learn more 

Learn more about what’s healthy when it comes to pooing, and dig into delicious gut-friendly recipes to support your gut health.   


Staudacher, H. M., & Loughman, A. (2021). Gut health: definitions and determinants. The Lancet Gastroenterology and Hepatology, 6(4), 269. https://doi.org/10.1016/S2468-1253(21)00071-6 

Bischoff, S. C. (2011). “Gut health”: A new objective in medicine? BMC Medicine, 9(1), 24. https://doi.org/10.1186/1741-7015-9-24