Last week we looked at what can go wrong with the gut. This week Tracy talks to us about how we look at restoring, improving and maintaining gut health.
The most important factor to bear in mind when dealing with your health issues is the extent to which we are all unique. This means that there is no single or optimal diet and lifestyle that works for everyone. There are hundreds of doctors, programmes, diets and “experts” telling us what to eat and how to live. However, nothing is more powerful than your own personal experience as you test out different principles and theories. Another important factor to bear in mind is that HOW we eat is just as important as WHAT we eat. Today, more and more people are eating in a hurry, on the go, while stressed, choosing calories and quick energy ‘fixes’ to keep them going rather than healthier, more time consuming, thought provoking options. Eating while stressed means your ‘rest and digest’ response has been side-lined in favour of ‘fight and flight.’ Your body slows down the production of digestive enzymes and stomach acid in favour of diverting energy to the stress response. With less available digestive juices, symptoms of bloating, abdominal pain, heartburn and excess gas, are often the result. Compounded to this is the fact that most people fail to take the time to help their bodies by chewing their food properly. If food is chewed enough times in the mouth, this takes pressure off the rest of the digestive system. It is thus a crucial starting point for overall gut health to make sure you relax and take time out whenever you eat a meal.
Gastrointestinal disorders (G.I) today are becoming the most common reasons for seeking medical care. These disorders can range from mild symptoms – bloating, gas, heartburn, constipation – to more serious conditions like infection, bleeding, obstruction or severe inflammation. The approach of most health and nutritional professionals today is to employ the 4Rs protocol – Remove, Replace, Re-inoculate and Repair.
This involves removing from the gut anything that poses a threat to optimal gut function such as toxic molecules (from food and drink – additives, preservatives, heavy meals, hormones, etc.) and / or toxic organisms (viruses, yeast, bacteria, parasites). Food without toxic molecules can also trigger reactions in the gut (gluten, grains, dairy etc.) and will be removed, at least for a time.
‘Replace’ generally involves replacing nutrients (vitamins, minerals, good fats, fibre and complex carbs) and digestive enzymes (amylases, proteases, lipases etc.), aiding in the process of gut repair.
Re-inoculating is the next step in the programme. Removing “bad” organisms from the gut is only half the battle. Balancing the gut microbiome involves re-inoculating the gut with probiotics and prebiotics using fermented foods and supplements aimed at maximising the chances of increasing the colonisation of good bacteria.
Finally, repairing the gut involves restoring the cells that form the intestinal wall in order to strengthen the intestinal barrier and tighten the junctions, thus repairing a ‘leaky gut.’ Following the 4R protocol involves the guidance of a health care professional such as a Nutritional Therapist. However, there are some principles that you can implement yourself in order to improve your gut health.
There is no need to become obsessed with counting calories. It is more important to eat the right foods. This rule is a simple way of reminding yourself that around 80% of your plate should contain greens and vegetables (raw, steamed or cooked) and around 20% protein and healthy fats (Meat, fish, chicken, eggs, avocado, quinoa – and other vegetable sources of protein for vegetarians etc.). This rule also means stop eating when you are about 80% full. This will help your body digest the food eaten more easily.
Foods to avoid
If you are struggling with debilitating gut related symptoms, as a general rule and until you have sought the advice of a professional for a more personalised programme, these are the foods that should be avoided:
- Processed sugar
- Most fruits (fructose)
- Processed foods
And these are the foods that should be included:
Foods to include
- Grass-fed meats
- Greens and fresh vegetables
- Wild fish (avoid farmed fish)
- Organic or pasture-raised eggs
- Fermented foods (kimchi, sauerkraut)
- Nuts, seeds and nut butters
- Low sugar fruits such as berries
Supplements are crucial for a gut repair programme, normally for the duration of the gut repair process rather than on an ongoing basis. As a guideline, the necessary supplements include:
- A multiple strain probiotic: With the overuse of antibiotics, pharmaceutical drugs and foods high in chemicals such as pesticides, the balance between the “good” and the “bad” bacteria is being disturbed. When the good bacteria diminish or die off, this creates a vacancy for the more harmful, pathogenic strains to flourish. With more and more scientific studies discovering the multitude of important functions carried out by our healthy gut flora, it is important to take a multiple strain probiotic. In addition, you should aim to include foods in your diet that feed your healthy microbiome, such as artichokes, leeks, onions, garlic etc. And remember – if you are craving sugar, this feeds the pathogens such as Candida and it is more likely the pathogens craving the sugar than you.
- Magnesium: Today unfortunately the soil, and therefore our food, is becoming more and more devoid of important nutrients, such as magnesium. Magnesium is involved in around 300 chemical reactions taking place in our body daily and is crucial for optimum gut health.
- Digestive enzymes: When we are stressed and as we age, our body produces less digestive enzymes. Taking a digestive enzyme three times a day with each meal is a good way to reduce the workload of the digestive system and to ensure better digestion and absorption of the nutrients in the food you are eating. It is important to find a product that contains multiple digestive enzymes such as amylase, lipase and protease.
- Vitamin B complex: B vitamins participate in so many cellular processes that a gut repair protocol becomes impossible if you are deficient in these vitamins. In addition, a good quality B vitamin complex will help balance moods, increase energy and improve your nervous and immune systems.
As we all need to become more involved in our own health care, using a journal to record reactions is a good way of becoming more mindful of the link between the foods you are eating and how you are feeling. Start to create healthy habits. Creating habits, as opposed to setting goals, tends to help you establish more sustainable and eventually ingrained patterns that will have the effect of helping you achieve your health goals. Focus less on what you need to take out of your diet and more on what you need to include. Adding more fruits and vegetables to each meal has a way of crowding out the foods you want to eliminate. Start slowly. The better you feel the more you will want to do. With a healthier gut, your overall health and wellbeing will improve.
Tracy Tredoux is a fully qualified Nutritional Therapist, living and working in London. When not giving talks or consulting with clients, she writes health and nutrition articles, tips and recipes which you can find on her website. Follow Tracy on Twitter (@TracyTredoux) for further updates and tips.