9 Diet Changes That'll Improve Your Gut Health For Life
Updated: Aug 17, 2019
The links between chronic illness and an imbalanced in gut bacteria keep growing everyday. Many scientists have begun to to refer to the gut as our second brain., an idea that is reflected in the plethora of research and literature out there.
Your Gut (gastrointestinal tract) determines the strength of your overall well being. Quite literally your gut is the epicentre of your immunity, it determines the diseases your body will develop, your learning potential and emotional well being. It influences your energy, mental focus, mood, and appearance ( Skin, Hair, Nails, Weight). The better your body is able to digest your food, break it down into nutrients and absorb everything useful, the better you feel.
“A well functioning gut with a healthy gut flora holds the roots of our health. And just as a tree with sick roots is not going to thrive, the rest of the body cannot thrive without a well functioning digestive system” Dr. Natasha Campbell
My story began long before I chose to attend university and become a Nutritionist. I always had a nervous stomach. Whenever I ate certain foods, I would feel sick, almost like a swarm of butterflies doing summersault in my belly. Little did I know that the sugar, dairy, and wheat ladened diet that I was consuming was hurting my stomach and hurting my immune system. As time progressed my digestive issues increased, and my lack of energy became a constant in my life. I struggled to figure out why my hair was falling out, why I was so forgetful, why I kept on gaining weight no matter how healthy I ate and why no matter what I did I couldn’t get better. My doctor would say “your colon looks perfectly normal, its probably just stress. Go home, relax and your symptoms will improve over time. I would say do you think I have some food allergies and his reply would always be diet has nothing to do with it”. It took me years to get answers and get a diagnosis. I had to advocate for myself and be persistent until my doctors finally where able to look beyond the surface. Through my struggle I realized two things. Number One, that many medical doctors put more emphasis on medical tests and pharmaceutical drugs to combat illness. Number two, that the medical community is undereducated on the role of nutrition and diet as a culprit in health symptoms. I decided to take control of my health and educate myself on the inner workings of my gut. A light bulb went off and I started seeking out a functional medicine doctor ( A doctor that addresses the underlying cause of disease and uses a system oriented approach that engages the patient as a partner in the treatment processes). He looked beyond my medical tests, into my lifestyle and what I was eating and my subsequent symptoms. This helped me regain my health and set me on path to of sharing my journey, recipes and what I’ve learned with others on Instagram.
To understand the importance of your digestive health, first you have to understand the inner workings of your gut and its capabilities. I want to give you a basic picture of what your gut does and why its so important to keep it healthy. Then, I want to go over how to take care for your wonderful gut so that it continues to take care of you.
What is Gut Health
Your gut is a tube that begins at your mouth and ends at your anus. It acts as a porous filter for nutrient absorption but keeps out toxins, bacteria, yeast and parasites. It's number one job is digestion. Within a healthy gut lives a world of friendly bacteria that helps us digest food into nutrients, vitamins and minerals that can be absorbed so the body can use them. These bacteria also keep the gut lining vibrant and healthy and keep unfriendly organism in check while crowding out bad bacteria.
The gut is open to the outside world at its start and at its end. We eat and drink plenty of micro-organisms, chemicals, and toxins everyday. In order to survive, the whole length of our digestive tract is coated with bacterial layer, that acts as a natural barrier against invaders. A healthy gut has an 8:2 ratio of good protective bacteria to bad harmful bacteria. This balanced ratio of good to bad bacteria creates an internal wall of defence called the gut flora. To understand all this, imagine if the gut flora is the housekeeper of the digestive tract. The state of the house and its ability to fulfil its purpose directly depends on how good the house keeper is. Apart from keeping the gut wall in good shape ( the barrier that stands between everything inside your gut and your bloodstream), the gut flora also takes an active part in the process of digestion and absorption. Gut flora transports vitamins, minerals, and many other nutrient through the gut wall into the bloodstream and then disposes of the waste. If the gut flora is damaged, the best food and supplements will not be broken down and absorbed.
What damages the Gut Flora Gut Flora’s Influence on the Immune System
Over time depending on our lifestyle, poor diet, our exposure to antibiotic, stress, and environmental toxins an imbalance in the ratio of the good to bad bacteria occurs. When the good bacteria is wiped out indiscriminately, harmful bacteria and yeast flourish and allow toxins and parasites to chisel away at the gut wall. As result the gut wall becomes damaged and leaky, undigested food particles leak into the blood stream and nutrient absorption is effected. This leads to an immune response which results in various health issues such as bloating, food sensitivities, inflammation, allergies, arthritis, headaches, depression and autoimmune disease.
Gut Flora’s Influence on the Immune System
An astounding 80 to 85 percent of your body’s immune cells live in your gut. The gut wall with its bacterial flora can be described as the right hand of the immune system. Prevention of any illness starts in the immune system. Gut issues can cause immune responses and start chemical imbalances that can lead to diabetes, chronic fatigue, autoimmune diseases, skin disorders (such eczema), inflammation, allergies, weight gain, hormonal imbalance and respiratory disease.
Key factors to maintaining a healthy gut
You are what you Eat :
This isn’t just metaphorical, what we put into our bodies has a direct affect on how we look, feel, think and move. If you want to get to the root cause of what is going on inside your gut, you need to look at what your eating. Food is information. It informs the biochemical reactions that occur on a cellular level, to what you see and feel in your body as a whole. The food we eat control our state of health, so lend your gut a hand and eat whole, nutrient dense foods.
Take A Probiotic: a daily supplement will help boost the good bacteria in your gut, keeping the bad bacteria under control, optimizing digestion, improving both constipation and diarrhea, decreasing allergic reactions and boosting your immune system.
Eat Fermented foods: fermented foods have live probiotic cultures and that are essential for your gut health. Found in whole foods like kefir, sauerkraut, kimchee, kombucha, tempeh and unpasteurized miso.they are rich in naturally occurring probiotics that promote gut health. They are a daily dose of bacterial reinforcement troops that keep the bad bacteria, and parasites in check.
Eat prebiotic Foods: certain foods naturally encourage the growth of the good bacteria. By eating more whole, plant based foods, your are feeding the good bacteria that support your health. Foods such as, kale, cauliflower, cooked onion, garlic, dandelion greens, artichoke, raw leaks and berries are some of the best natural sources of prebiotic.
Eat small portions, regularly: to give your gut a chance to clean and clear out bacteria and waste, it needs a rest from digestion. So, don’t snack constantly cause it slows down the elimination of waste and toxins, and contributes to bacterial over growth. Eat three meals and one snack a day.
Drink Bone Broth: a concoction chock full of nutrients and amino acids that is easily absorbed by the body. It's an amazing source of gelatine, collagen, glycine and glutamine which all help to soothe and repair and heal the gut lining; contributes to joint maintenance, promotes healthy skin, bones, tendons and the tissue that protects our organs. The broth is produced when you simmer bones with a little meat on them in water for 24 hours.
Chew your food: your gut does not have teeth, so your mouth gets things started by aiding your digestion and breaking food down into smaller pieces. So help out your gut and chew your food really well.
Stay Hydrated: your gut needs water to keep bacteria and waste moving through your digestive system, which will help prevent constipation and bloating.
Avoid Processed food and refined Sugar: When you eat processed, sugar laden, refined foods, you are giving the bad bacteria an all you can eat buffet to feed on and thrive.
Detox: by detoxing, you are basically changing your body’s chemistry and flushing out harmful materials that have built up in your system over time. Its beneficial to engage in a process that accelerates the elimination of toxins from your body a couple of times a year. The severity of your detox symptoms will depend entirely on the level of toxicity in your body and how drastically you’ve changed your diet. Do a pre-detox to prepare your body by gradually changing your diet.
2. Practice a Healthy lifestyle:
Research shows that managing stress, generating energy with exercise and getting the proper rest and relaxation adds a therapeutic factor to maintaining a healthy digestive tract. Exercise is critical to overall health and its a great stress management tool. It helps your body release toxins and flush them out through your sweat. Also, the endorphins that are released during exercise are excellent stress relievers and help boost your mood. If you are not managing stress in a productive way, the fight or flight hormone response causes your digestion and blood flow in the gut to slow down, the muscles that push along waste and bacteria to freeze up and the secretions for digestion to decrease. So, take care of your gut health by coping with stress.
I started with baby steps, making one small change at a time. First I eliminated sugar and caffein, then I stopped eating all processed foods and focused on eating fresh, healthful foods, and finally I started incorporating more and more vegetables until I was eating mostly plant based diet. I realized with basic changes in my diet and lifestyle I could make a large impact on my health and the health of my family. In no way am I prefect. I’m very much a work in progress, but I think we all are. Eating a well balanced diet along with physical activity is the foundation of health. I believe you are what you eat and by eating a balanced diet you can assist your body in disease prevention.