This may or may not surprise you, but I hate the word “diet.” So to tell you to follow a specific diet for a healthy gut almost feels sacrilegious. Because for me, the term “diet” so often refers to calorie-counting, and that’s a health concept I can’t get behind (I’ll save that for another blog post, though!). But in the most real sense of the word, when I am telling you to “follow this diet,” I want to share three super easy tips you can incorporate TODAY to start to heal your gut. Is this an exhaustive list? Of course not. But it’s a great place to start.
First things first
Before we dive in, let’s first discuss why you should care about keeping your gut healthy. So, some quick facts:
- 70% of your immune system lives in your gut
- 80% of disease can be traced back to dysbiosis in the gut
- The microbes living (and there are A LOT of them) in your gut are a major factor in how you digest food and can play a significant role in hormone production and weight management
Your microbiota is the collection of all the microbes living on your body – and your gut is home to most of them. (You may be familiar with the term microbiome. The difference is that the microbiome refers to the genes found in the microbes’ collection – the microbiota). Science now says that there are just as many microbes in our body as human cells. And the great news is that you have more control over it than you may think! What (and when) you choose to eat, drink, move your body, and THINK can all alter your microbiota (more on that later).
How to know if your gut is out of balance
If you’re experiencing any of the following symptoms, you may want to try this diet for a healthy gut:
- Irregular bowel movements
- Brain fog
- Intense cravings
- Weight gain
- Frequent illness
Tip #1: Cut out the chemicals
The first tip in this diet for a healthy gut is to limit the number of antibiotics you use and-or ingest. Our goal in this diet for a healthy gut is to keep our microbiota happy. And because antibiotics kill microbes – even the “good” ones we want helping us in our digestive tract, it makes sense that we should avoid them whenever possible. Of course, there is a time and place for needing antibiotic medication, and we should do our best only to use them when necessary. Not only does this keep the microbes from becoming resistant to them, but it also supports our microbiota. The problem is that antibiotics are ubiquitous. They’re found not only in the medications we sometimes take but also in these places:
In personal care products
Hand soaps, hand sanitizers, mouthwash, and some kinds of toothpaste all have anti-bacterial versions that are just not necessary. Soap does a great job at removing dirt, grease, and even microbes from our hands by washing well with warm water. Choose regular hand soap and sanitizers that use alcohol instead of antibiotics. Similar to soaps and sanitizers, some oral hygiene products contain Triclosan (a well-known antibiotic), which should be avoided if possible.
In our food
This one flies under the radar of many people. Sadly, animals raised in traditional agriculture are fed antibiotics prophylactically. This is especially true for chickens – even chicken and eggs labeled “cage-free.” And it’s not just meat – conventional produce is covered in pesticides, which can disrupt gut health if not removed before eating. Here are some tips for reducing your chemical exposure from the foods you eat:
- Buy organic whenever possible.
- Choose chicken products labeled organic AND pastured.
- Look for beef products labeled pastured, grass-fed, grass-finished.
- Buy from local farmers, and ask them how they raise their animals and what type of feed they use.
- Support a regenerative farm. I live in MA, and we love supporting Lilac Hedge Farm, based out of Holden.
Tip #2: Reduce common irritants
Once you’ve determined that you’re eating clean food not laced with pesticides and antibiotics, it’s time to determine which foods may be an irritant for you. I believe that we are all unique individuals and that what works for one person may not work for the next. Not every person needs to follow a gluten-free diet, although it is a common irritant in the gut, and if you’re experiencing symptoms listed above, it may be worth exploring. here is a list of other common irritants that you may want to explore reducing or eliminating and seeing if your digestion improves:
- Nightshade vegetables (especially if you have arthritis)
A great place to start is not to change anything about your current diet and start journaling what you’re eating and how you’re feeling. You can use the one I created here. Once you begin to see patterns, try eliminating the suspected irritant(s) for two weeks, and again track your symptoms. If you’ve eliminated more than one thing, be sure to reintroduce just one food group at a time so that when (and if) symptoms return, you can identify the trigger(s).
Tip #3: Nourish your gut
Now that you’ve eliminated the chemicals and irritants, it’s time to nurture your gut back to a healthy place. To do this:
Eat foods rich in fiber
The “good” microbes we want in our gut LOVE fiber. I once heard this quote, and it resonated with me. Eat lots of fruits and vegetables, and make fermented foods a regular part of your diet. Learn more about how to increase your consumption of plants here – seriously, it’s my family’s secret weapon.
Practice time-restricted eating
Just like the fiber that the “good” microbes thrive on, they also love being able to rest at night. Eating too late into the evening or continuously eating throughout the day doesn’t give your microbiota time to rest and detox. Ideally, your microbiota would love for you to eat between the hours of 10 am to 2 or 4 pm. While that is not the most realistic eating schedule for most people, practicing time-restricted eating is a powerful tool in healing your digestion.
Consider a Probiotic
If your digestion is in a good place, you probably don’t need a probiotic, but if you’re suffering from any of the symptoms listed above, it may not be a bad idea to use one for a little while. Don’t be surprised if you notice an increase in gas or bloating for a week or two at first. I like this brand.
Manage your stress
Stress disrupts many of our bodily symptoms, including our gut health. If you want to explore this topic further, I suggest the book “This Is Your Brain on Food” by Dr. Uma Naidoo, MD.
Get plenty of sleep
Sleep is when your body does its most intense detoxing. If you’ve eaten close to bedtime, you disrupt this process. Aim for at least 7-8 hours of sleep each night.
If you have struggled with dysbiosis in your gut, I encourage you to explore one or all of these tips. I have suffered from Irritable Bowel Syndrome for most of my life (until I implemented these strategies), and I know how debilitating and uncomfortable it can be. I’m here to tell you: it doesn’t have to be this way. Feeling bloated and gassy after every meal is not normal and doesn’t have to happen. If you’re looking for more strategies or are looking for a personalized plan, feel free to book a Discovery Call where we can explore your needs and my services.