Heal Your Gut Series: 7 Foods to Improve Gut Health
Healthy digestion is the core of optimal health. Your gut is where the majority of your immune system is: affecting autoimmunity, frequent illness, and inflammation. It's where most of your serotonin, the happy neurotransmitter, is made. If it’s not doing the job, the result is anxiety and depression (there is a reason it’s called a gut feeling). The gut is where a large part of detoxification takes place so it affects hormones and acne. It's also where you breakdown, absorb and assimilate your nutrients that fuel every cell in your body. Unfortunately, digestive issues are widely common. As many as 15% of American’s have been diagnosed with IBS, and acid reflux medications are the third most prescribed of all medications. Not to mention, all of the other issues discussed here (autoimmunity, acne, depression, etc.) can be traced back to imbalances in the digestive tract.
So how did we get ourselves into this mess? Well for one, the standard American diet lacks probiotics and fibers that feed these friendly bacteria. It also contains chemicals that are harmful to our gut. Another big contributor is over-prescription of antibiotics which kill a large number of our gut-friendly probiotics. Additionally, poor stress management, prescription medications and environmental toxins negatively impact our gut health, just to name a few.
How can we get ourselves out of this mess? This is the first of a series of posts that will outline actionable steps. We’ll start with foods to eat more of:
Fermented foods which contain probiotics: my favorite are sauerkraut and kimchi. You need to buy these in the refrigerated section of the grocery store (not self stable) and they should say raw fermented on the label. Have 2 forkfuls 1-3 x per day. Other probiotic foods include kombucha and cultured dairy (yogurt, kefir).
Prebiotic foods these are essentially fibers that feed our probiotics and keep our gut healthy. This includes starchy root vegetables (sweet potatoes, turnips, parsnips, beets), winter squash (kobocha, butternut, acorn, etc) and plantains. There is another class of probiotics called resistant starch most notable green banana flour and unmodified potato starch. They both need to be eaten raw and start at a very low dose, 1/8 of a tsp and work up to 1 full tbsp. I add it to my smoothie every morning. Resistant starch is very beneficial to our gut flora.
Raw apple cider vinegar which helps stimulate digestion and the breakdown of food. It’s super helpful for bloating : mix 1 tbsp in a small amount of room temp or warm water before each meal. You can find Bragg's brand at most grocery stores
Organic aloe vera juice to reduce inflammation. I recommend it for reflux, gastritis, leaky gut and IBS. Have 1-3 ounces per day. Make sure you buy one that is inner fillet only, the outer portion is a laxative (unless you're into that sort of thing).
MCT (medium chain triglyceride) or coconut oil: 1 tbsp of either per day. I recommend starting with 1/2-1 tsp and working your way up to a full tbsp. These fats are easy to digest, soothing to the digestive tract and contain naturally occurring anti fungal and antibiotic properties to balance gut flora.
Bone broth and collagen: bone broth contains the protein collagen and other amino acids that reduce inflammation in the gut and heal the intestinal lining. I recommend it for just about anything but most notably for leaky gut and inflammatory bowel disease. You can make your own or buy it premade from a local butcher, farmers market or online. You can also get just collagen powder and use it as a protein powder in smoothies or other foods.
Vegetables. Eat your veggies, if there is one dietary recommendation I could give to everyone, this would be it. Make an effort to eat at least 4 cups (I’m going easy on you here) of vegetables per day. Vegetables help stimulate digestion, especially bitter ones (artichokes, endive, arugula, raddicio, etc), and they are rich in nutrients, antioxidants and fibers that keep your gut healthy.
Stay tooned for the best herbs and nutrients for gut health, the top foods to avoid and more.