Editor’s Note: I recently started working with Stephanie Morish, a certified holistic nutrition consultant and natural foods chef, and found her to be such a great source of information (as well as a lovely person!). I asked her to contribute monthly to help us decipher nutritional topics. Up first, gut health! Have a clean eating question you’d like us to cover? Let us know in the comments.
“All disease begins in the gut.” Hippocrates, the father of medicine, said more than 2,000 years ago, and we’re now beginning to realize how true this really is. Research over the last few decades has revealed that the health of the gut has a huge impact on overall health. In addition to digesting the food we consume, absorbing the nutrients and eliminating the waste, the gut is also the gateway to health of the brain and immune system.
13 Must-Do’s for Optimal Gut Health
A lifetime of poor food choices, stress, medications and environmental toxins can send your gut health into the gutter. But you can start taking steps today to rebuild your healthy gut flora and restore the integrity of your intestinal barrier. Here are simple ways to boost your gut health right away!
1. Eliminate food allergens and sensitivities
In order to restore and maintain a healthy gut, you have to remove the offenders that are causing the damage. Eating foods you are allergic or sensitive to damages the gut barrier which, over time, can result in increased intestinal permeability, aka leaky gut. To identify the food triggers that are specific to your unique biochemistry, you can do an IgG antibody test for food sensitivities or an elimination diet with the help of a practitioner or start keeping a food journal.
2. Remove inflammatory foods
The number one thing you can do to heal is get rid of all the foods causing inflammation in your gut. In my opinion, the top 5 inflammatory foods are gluten, conventional dairy, sugar, alcohol and industrial seed oils. For some people, gluten can cause gut inflammation and increase intestinal permeability. Conventional dairy can be very difficult to digest plus it is full of hormones and antibiotics which damage the gut.
Refined sugar is very inflammatory and feeds the bad gut bacteria. Alcohol can inflame the stomach lining and cause nutrient malabsorption. Industrial seed oils, such as canola, soybean, corn, cottonseed, safflower, etc., are hydrogenated, rancid and highly inflammatory. Switch to cooking with unrefined coconut oil, grass fed butter and ghee.
3. Start your day with warm water and lemon
Trade in your first cup of coffee for a mug of warm water with a squeeze of fresh lemon. First thing in the morning, this delicious elixir will hydrate your cells, detox your liver, jumpstart your metabolism and provide you with energy boost plus a hit of vitamin C!
4. Sip CCF tea
CCF tea is made with cumin seeds, coriander seeds and fennel seeds which are three of the most powerful spices for stimulating digestion and increasing metabolism. This delicious, savory tea helps heal the gut mucosa, improve nutrient absorption and stimulate the lymphatic system. To make, add ½ tsp each of the three seeds to 4-5 cups of boiling water. Steep for 5-10 minutes then strain the seeds and sip the tea throughout the day.
5. Take 1 Tbsp ACV before meals
Add 1 tablespoon of raw, unfiltered apple cider vinegar (with the “Mother”) to a small glass of water and drink 15-30 minutes before each meal. ACV balances the pH in the stomach and small intestine so that they body can better break down food and absorb the nutrients. Apple cider vinegar is a great source of probiotics and has been show to help balance blood sugar, lower blood pressure, lower cholesterol and aid in weight loss.
6. Drink Bone Broth
Bone broth is the healing liquid you get from simmering animal (chicken or beef) bones for many hours. It contains amino acids such as proline, glycine and glutamine that help repair the gut lining. Bone broth is rich in collagen which soothes the intestinal lining and helps form connective tissue to protect our bones and joints and maintain healthy skin, hair and nails. It is also full of minerals such as calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, silicon and sulfur, in forms that the body can easily absorb.
If you want to make it yourself, use marrow or knuckle bones from grass-fed cows, or necks, feet and backs from organic chickens. Otherwise, you can buy it online at Wise Choice Market or BIY Bone Broth. Aim for about 1 cup a day either by drinking it like a savory tea or using it to make soup, stew or gravy.
7. Chew your food
Many of us inhale our food, barely chewing before gulping it out. Chewing is the first step in the digestive process as it sends a message ahead to the stomach to get the stomach acid ready and to the pancreas to send enzymes to the small intestine. Chewing until the food is liquefied before swallowing gives your digestive enzymes a chance to access all the nutrition locked up in the food you’re eating.
Not chewing properly increases the likelihood that large food molecules will make it all the way to your colon undigested, giving you indigestion and gas, and providing a buffet for the harmful gut bacteria. Put down your fork between bites and aim to chew each bite 30 times.
8. Eat 1 tablespoon of fermented veggies daily
These are the jars of veggies in the refrigerated section of the grocery store or you can make your own. Pickles and things you find on the shelf are not lacto-fermented and therefore not what you are looking for. Fermented veggies, such as sauerkraut and kimchi, are both great. These foods provide your gut with trillions of beneficial bacteria and contain organic acids which help get your gut to the proper pH for probiotics to proliferate.
You only need 1 tablespoon per day to reap the benefits so try adding some to the side of your lunch or dinner meal, as a condiment. As a bonus, fermented vegetables will enhance nutrient absorption of the other foods you’re eating.
9. Eat prebiotic foods
Prebiotics are necessary for creating an environment in the gut where good bacteria can thrive because the probiotic cultures feed on the ingredients of the prebiotic. You can think of prebiotics as food for probiotics. Some good sources of prebiotic fiber are artichokes, asparagus, dandelion greens, jicama, garlic and onions.
10. Fast for at least 12 hours every night
When you eat a meal, the food stays in the small intestine for about 4 hours while it absorbs 80-90% of the nutrients into the bloodstream. The food then moves into the large intestine where it stays another 4 hours while the colon extracts water, salt, and some fat-soluble vitamins. When your digestion is working optimally, it should take about 8 hours to completely digest a meal. After those 8 hours, the body’s detox signal is given and then requires at least 4 hours to function well.
If you eat a late dinner and an early breakfast, you’re denying the body its full detox mode. The gut needs at least 12 hours of complete rest each day to fully repair itself and detoxify the body. I encourage you to give your gut a rest and fast every night for a minimum of 12 hours, i.e. finish dinner by 7pm if you plan to eat breakfast at 7am the next morning.
11. Stop over-sanitizing
Exposure to germs and bacteria isn’t all that bad, contrary to what we’ve been told. We need micro-exposures to germs to build up resilience against illnesses. Cleaning your home with bleach or other harsh antibacterial cleaners, using hand sanitizer multiple times a day and taking antibiotics for every sniffle is what I mean by over-sanitizing.
Our society’s obsession with hygiene, cleanliness and anti-bacterial everything is compromising the bacterial diversity in our gut. I’m not suggesting you have a filthy home and grubby hands. Instead, consider switching to mild soaps (like pure castile soap), using non-toxic household cleaning products and taking antibiotics only when you really need them.
12. Manage stress
Emotional stress can trigger an inflammatory gut response just as much as eating gluten. Stress decreases nutrient absorption, decreases blood flow to digestive organs, decreases metabolism, suppresses the gut’s immune system and has a negative effect on gut microflora.
Figure out the cause of your daily stress and then look at what lifestyle changes or decisions you can make to reduce stress. Incorporate daily stress management techniques, such as walking, deep breathing, restorative yoga, taking an epsom salt bath, meditating and surrounding yourself with positive people. Whatever works for you!
13. Work with a practitioner
What works for one person may not be right for the next. A holistic health program should be customized based on the client’s health history, labs, specific needs and goals. This tailored and individualized approach is what I do for clients in my nutrition consulting practice.