An ‘unhealthy’ gut is all the rage right now. It is what everyone has questions about, what everyone wants to figure out and foods that boast “good for your gut” are flying off the shelves. For those who don’t know my health history with my gut, I suffered from a very serious perforated peptic ulcer when I was 26, in 2012 that landed me in the hospital having life threatening surgery. The cause of the ulcer was untreated H. Pylori. I am not telling anyone this to scare them or to have them feel sad for me and what I went through, but more to educate and reinforce how important having a healthy gut truly is.
This topic is a little controversial for me because every single person has a different gut. What is a good ‘gut healing’ food for Mary, may be a terrible food for Suzie, so just be aware that when you see something that says “great for your digestion and gut” that is doesn’t necessarily mean its great for YOUR gut.
Just the other day I saw those exact words on a new protein bar at Whole Foods. I turned over to look at the ingredients and listed #2 and #3 were inulin and chicory root. These pre-biotic rich foods. Like all fibers, dietary inulin is not digested in the small intestine but instead travels intact onto to the colon (large intestine), making it fodder for the resident gut bacteria and contributing to the bulk of our stools. Inulin occurs naturally in some vegetables and is also isolated from the roots of chicory plants (like endive) and can easily be added to foods to boost fiber intake (found in Fiber 1 bars, for instance) Inulin and chicory root are water soluble and tear my stomach apart when I eat foods rich in them.
MY POINT IS: Your gut is your gut. Many of these are just suggestions and tips that worked for me, and many are good for a wide range of people because I am not suggesting specific foods to eat, but rather some simple tips that you can incorporate. I don’t like sharing exact ‘gut healing foods’ besides bone broth and fermented foods because that is person to person specific. If you think you have an underlying gut health issue, my BEST advice would be to seek out a functional medicine doctor (#10 on the list!) Keep in mind, I am NOT a dietician and these tips are based on my own experience and experience with some of my clients.
Without further ado, here is my list!
1. DON’T JUST EAT FOOD TO EAT FOOD, BUT RATHER FIGURE OUT THE WHY:
There was a time that I ate food because it was my ‘scheduled meal time’ and my ‘scheduled meal’ I didn’t necessarily want the food, and I didn’t even know it was benefitting me from a health perspective. For instance, Artichokes are pretty healthy, right? They are also a natural source of inulin, a prebiotic fiber that my body just rejects. Its is not good for MY body. Also, are you eating for your workout? For pleasure? Because you’re bored? Because you’re craving that food? Think about the WHY. And let me say that ALL of these answers are good reasons to eat, however don’t just start eating kale, even though you know it gives you gastric distress, but you still do it because you saw an influencer eating kale.
Just the other day, I was trying to give some ‘good fat’ ideas to a client and I said “Avocado’s are an amazing source of healthy fats, which would be perfect for you” He looked at me and made a gag response “I detest avocado!!” In that case, I would never ever tell him to eat it, there are so many more options that my client could enjoy that would also provide those good fats. If you are looking for some great digestion boosters, dandelion root tea, fennel root, cucumbers and ginger are extremely beneficial for digestion. Be open minded and LISTEN to your bodies!
2. ADD IN FERMENTED FOODS:
Game changer! Try to add add probiotic-rich, fermented foods to your diet to help reverse an unhealthy gut. Kimchee, sauerkraut, yogurt, kefir, fermented vegetables and kombucha are rich, natural sources of health-enhancing probiotic bacteria. I love adding in some sauerkraut on some veggies with a protein source like chicken thighs or ground beef. Kefir is also so great to use in a smoothie instead of another liquid; it’s also lactose free.
3. STRESS MANAGEMENT:
This may be one of the most important tips on this list, yet is the least ‘sexy’ and people don’t love talking about it. Stress; whether physical (such as over exercise, not sleeping, not recovering properly) or psychological (something that is happening in your life regarding work, relationship, family, finances or other) triggers a chain reaction in the body including the increased production of cortisol, which is the stress hormone. The increase of cortisol can cause the dysregulation of the communication pathways between the gut and the brain. SO what does this mean? It means that the gut becomes a better holding place for bacteria and it also affects the movement of food through the gut (resulting in constipation OR diarrhea) Find ways for YOU to manage your stress, whether that be reading a book, petting an animal, spending time with loved ones, listening to a podcast, going for a walk. Step away and find time to breath deeper.
4. CHEW YOUR FOOD:
Once I started paying attention to the rate at which I was eating, i noticed immediately that i felt less bloated and also not as ‘stuffed’ as you feel when you eat really fast. If you eat too fast, your food doesn’t break down and ends up just causing inflammation in the body. Remember this: “Digestion begins in your mouth” Eating should be a pleasurable, mindful experience. Take a moment to think about what you’re eating and the environment in which you’re eating.
5. WATER WATER WATER:
You hear it all of the time! Here is a rule of thumb- try to drink half of your bodyweight in oz of water. Remember, unhealthy guts don’t drink enough water. For instance, a 150 lb person would drink at least 75 oz of water per day. If you are more active, drink MORE. If you are drinking dehydrating beverages such as coffee, make sure you are countering that by drinking a glass of water for every cup of coffee.
6. TRY TO EMOTIONALLY DETACH FROM FOOD:
I remember the time that I broke up with an ex boyfriend 5 years ago. This can go both ways. I could’ve turned to the pint ice cream, OR tried to deprive myself of food. I chose deprivation. And by ‘choose; I didn’t really consciously do that, I just was so sad and angry, I couldn’t stomach eating. Both NOT eating and OVEREATING are emotional reactions to the situation. Try in those moments to think about ‘why’ you are eating or not eating and think about how your body will respond. Will you feel not so hot and inflamed the next day from eating all of those foods, or will you feel low energy and even more stressed from NOT eating? In those moments you want to turn to food OR with hold food, sit with yourself in your thoughts and take 5 deep breaths. Think about what will serve you the best to make your body feel optimal.
7. LIMIT EXPOSURE TO TOXINS:
Since working with a functional medicine doctor, this is something that I have been extremely aware of. She told me about how inflammation causing toxins don’t just get into our bodies through food, but through our skincare, make up and household products as well. The minute I learned about that, I went to check all of my common household items (ha!) Consider switching to all natural skin, makeup and household products. I Personally love CLN & DRTY, Beauty Counter, Biossance for makeup/skin and also use all natural kitchen cleaner, laundry and dishwashing detergent.
8. QUALITY OF CALORIES:
This ONE issue I have with ‘if it fits my macros’ is that it doesn’t take into account food quality. It allows someone to have a pop tart over an orange if calorie for calorie, macro for macro they are the same. THEY AREN’T. Take a moment to think about the quality of the food that you’re eating and where it is coming from. This all goes back to the “why” you’re eating something. Sure, if you truly want a donut, eat a donut because we will ALL eat for pleasure and thats the beauty of life! Aim for a balance here and always choosing foods in moderation.
9. BONE BROTH: Game changer.
HOMEMADE! AND the best part is that there are many different kinds of bone broths (chicken, beef, fish, from bone broth powder and more) that you can make, all bringing new health benefits to the table. Bone broths are nutrient-dense, easy to digest, rich in flavor and boost healing. It’s basically one of the best things you can consume to reverse an unhealthy gut. Bone broth or stock was a way our ancestors made use of every part of an animal. Bones and marrow, skin and feet, tendons and ligaments that you can’t eat directly can be boiled and then simmered over a period of days. This simmering causes the bones and ligaments to release healing compounds like collagen, proline, glycine and glutamine that have the power to transform your health. It is SO easy to make and a simple google search for homemade bone broth will come up with hundreds of simple recipes. I love to make it with a whole chicken and then keep the meat for dinners and lunches for the week! You can also freeze a batch of it to have bone broth anytime.
10. IF YOU’RE UNSURE, TALK TO A FUNCTIONAL MEDICINE DOCTOR:
My peptic ulcer happened and I had NO idea the underlying cause of it beforehand. As I mentioned, I went to the ER and they sent me home which to this day still is insane to me. If I didn’t have such good instincts, I literally would’ve died. If you’re unsure what’s happening in your gut, get a customized approach. Talk to a functional medicine doctor and take a stool test to see what’s going on. All day long I can suggest things to help you ‘heal your gut’ but you will be the ONLY person who truly knows when something feels ‘off’.