There is a misconception that you are what you eat, but in fact, it is about how well your digestive system can absorb the nutrients from the food that you eat. Your gut is a barrier that selectively chooses what particles get filtered through to the blood stream and what doesn’t. If the gut wall is damaged by eating processed foods, sugar, exposure to infections, antibiotics and stress, the gut becomes “leaky” which means the gut lining becomes porous allowing bigger molecules than usual to pass through into the bloodstream. These molecules put our immune system into defence mode, and over time, this defence breaks down and may be the cause of autoimmune disorders and chronic disease.
Here are some simple tips that you can do everyday to keep your gut healthy.
Getting the right balance of Prebiotics and Probiotics.
So what are pre and probiotics and why are they both so important for gut health?
Prebiotics are foods that we eat that nourish the cells lining our intestine and help nutrients to be absorbed into the bloodstream. They also provide a suitable environment for good bacteria to thrive and prosper while keeping the undesirable pathogens under control.
Some examples of prebiotic foods are:
Foods from the allium family such as onions, leeks, garlic
Jerusalem artichokes, jicama, chicory, dandelion greens, green tea, honey, green tea, eggplant, legumes, asparagus and green bananas.
Probiotics on the other hand are found in fermented foods. They are naturally rich source of beneficial bacteria, vitamins and minerals and digestive enzymes that aid digestion and keep the gut healthy.
Cultured and fermented foods have been around for centuries, and were used as a means of preserving foods before refrigeration. They were revered for their healing properties and considered a tonic for longevity. Consider this, eating fermented foods is one of the cheapest, easiest methods of populating your bowel with a healthy balance of microorganisms for better health.
Unfortunately, Processed foods, stress and the use of antibiotics severely affect this fine balance. Dr David Perlmutter, in his book Brain Maker states that we need these trillions of diverse bacteria to help us:
Digest and absorb our nutrients
Stop potential bad bacteria from entering our bodies
Detoxify harmful toxins
Build our immune system, considering that 80% of our immune system is in the gut wall.
Produce important enzymes that help make our neurotransmitters
Reduce stress, help us sleep and reduce inflammation.
Ferments are easy to make at home with abundant resources on the net to help you start. Alternatively, purchase ferments that have been locally made from organic markets or your local health food store to guarantee that your ferment is brimming with goodness.
Some examples of health boosting gut healing ferments are
Unsweetened plain yoghurt
Try to include fermented foods daily. For those new to fermented foods, start slow and gradually build up to avoid any discomfort.
You probably remember your grandmother preparing a soup using bones from the butcher and having them simmer away for days on the stove top. It was a cherished part of my childhood, coming home to a hearty vegetable and beef broth in winter.
Nicknamed the “Jewish Penicillin” Bone Broths have been used for centuries as a healing brew. They are healing and soothing to the digestive tract as well as being an immediate source of energy to the cells of the intestinal wall.
Bone broth, whether made from chicken, lamb, beef or fish bones is full of nutrients such as calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, sulphur and other trace minerals as well as collagen, gelatin and amino acids. Bone broth soothes the lining of the digestive tract, reduces inflammation as well as being rich in chondroitin sulphates and glucosamine, especially good for those with joint inflammation.
Bone broths are available from organic markets, health food stores and organic butchers, or consider making broths at home.
Eating healthy fats
Coconut oil, olive oil, butter, avocado, nuts and wild caught fish are all excellent sources of fat. They all contain fat soluble vitamins such as A,D,E and K that the cells need to repair and ease an inflamed gut and the source of energy required for digestion. Fats are also sustaining and keep us feeling full between meals. Fats are essential to include for a healthy gut.
Coconut oil has antimicrobial properties that can help balance out the population of bacteria in the gut. It is easy to include into your diet everyday, coconut milk or coconut water can be used as an alternative for milk in baking and smoothies, coconut cream is perfect for adding to curries and coconut oil is suitable for cooking at high temperatures.
A handful of nuts or ½ an avocado are an ideal 3pm snack that will keep you sustained until dinner.
Wild caught salmon, sardines, mackerel are rich in omega 3 fats. Omega 3 fats have anti inflammatory properties and can be helpful in soothing an inflamed gut. Consider including fish into your diet,choose fish that has been wild caught as opposed to farmed fish.
Eat your Vegetables
Vegetables are abundant in fibre, vitamins, minerals and nutrients needed to repair damage and rebuild healthy new tissue. Try to include a colourful array of vegetables in every meal. Aim to do more than the recommended 5 serves a day. Make vegetables the base of every meal.
Blending or juicing your vegetables is an easy way to get more than your 5 serves a day. Green leafy vegetables make a tasty blended juice with lemon and apple. Fabulous for the gut as the work of breaking down vegetables is already done, making it easier for the nutrients to be absorbed from the digestive system into the body.
Soups are another easy way to incorporate more vegetables into your diet. Pumpkin and sweet potato are rich in vitamin A, a source of nourishment for the gut lining and a gentle form of fibre. A pumpkin, carrot and onion soup made with bone broth as a base with added coconut cream, is a power packed gut healing brew that will nourish and heal your whole body.
We all make choices every day. If we want to look after ourselves, the easiest step that we can take is to eat good, nourishing, whole foods. Looking after our gut is essential to health at whatever stage of life that you are at. Make healthy food choices by including fermented foods, healthy fats, bone broths and vegetables into your every day.
Krys Lojek, Nutritionist