How do you heal your gut?
Before I talk about ways to heal your gut, I want you to stop for a moment and really take this in. Gut healing is a long process. There are no quick fix solutions unfortunately. The reason you are reading this now is probably because you/family member have a chronic illness like allergy, or eczema. And if you have gone as far as getting an illness, your gut has been inflamed and broken for years (and if it is your child, they have inherited the epigenetics and gut microbiome from you). So repair is not going to happen overnight.
We are so used to convenience and the modern fast pace now that we expect quick fixes for everything – yet quick solutions often just treat surface symptoms and not the root. In order to achieve lasting good health, we must tackle the root, but this always takes patience and perseverance. Lots of people want to know what pills they can pop to heal their gut, but as soon as I start talking to them about foods and lifestyle changes, their eyes glaze over and they lose interest. I’m not a big fan for supplements – I do use them because it’s not always possible to eat all the nutrients, but where I can, I try to take in nutrients from whole foods. Isn’t it great that you can heal your body naturally through food instead of lining the pockets of pharmaceutical companies with prescriptions or processed products?
In my last article ‘What’s eating your gut?” I talked about removing harm to the gut. This is crucial for gut healing. In fact, it is more important than what I’m about to say in this article because there is no point adopting gut healing strategies if there is persistent attack on the gut. On that note, please ensure that if you have a gastrointestinal disease (e.g. crohn’s, ulcerative colitis, IBS), that you consult a doctor to see if there are any contraindications to what I say below, and that you remove allergens and foods you are intolerant to from your diet. This article is mainly geared towards those where an imbalanced gut has led to other chronic diseases e.g. eczema and allergies rather than those with actual gastrointestinal disease (you must seek medical advice if so).
YOUR GUT WILL HEAL ITSELF if you just removed all the harm it faces in everyday life.
But if you have already taken steps to remove assailants on your gut and want to give it some healing boosts, here are some tips which I use for my family and I:
1. Increase your fruit and vegetable intake. This is the best strategy you can adopt for a healthy gut:
- Popping probiotic supplements do nothing if you don’t change your diet, because these bacteria cannot survive without ‘their’ food (which is prebiotics and these are basically fiber).
- When you eat fruits and vegetables, you are eating both probiotics and prebiotics (read my tip of the week) – and this is the cheapest and best way to provide probiotics to your gut.
- Raw is better than cooked, and fermented is even better.
- Whole grains and legumes are also great ways to increase prebiotics/fiber in your diet, e.g. half a cup of cooked kidney beans provides 8g of fiber!
- Having enough fiber in your gut will feed the good bacteria, make them flourish, and alter the gut microbiome without the need for any probiotic supplements.
- the caveat here is that if you are sensitive/allergic to certain fruit/veg/legumes/grains you need to remove them from your diet or the gut will never heal. So speak to your doctor if you have gut conditions such as IBS, Crohn’s, etc.
- The more diverse the good gut bacteria in your gut, the better your health.
- Smoothies are by far the best way to deliver the daily fibre requirements (25g-30g for adults, see my tip of the week post this week for more info). It is also a great way to ‘hide’ things your kids don’t like to eat that are healthy (in my case, it’s apple cider vinegar, spirulina, fermented asparagus and raw kale). It’s also a good vehicle for seeds which are better absorbed after blending e.g. flax, chia. We have a smoothie daily which delivers about 8g of fiber for each of us (1/3 of the daily recommendation)… without smoothies, I find it very difficult to meet that 25g daily requirement.
- by taking in plenty of nutrient-dense plant-based foods, you are increasing your antioxidant intake and gut-healing nutrients such as glutamine and querceptin which will all work to reduce inflammation in the gut, and help it to heal. I love broccoli, cabbage, kale, asparagus, apples, onions, leeks, artichokes, flaxseeds (I LOVE flax seeds – it requires a post on its own) but really ALL fruit and vegetables are beneficial.
- Be sure to sign up for my newsletters and follow my tips of the week (every Tuesday) as I introduce my favorite healing fruits and vegetables week by week (e.g. home made apple sauce, fermented asparagus) and my favorite smoothie recipes that contain things kids don’t like but willingly drink because of my secret weapons!
2. high quality probiotic supplement. Now here is where the difficulty lies.
- There are so many probiotic products, even as a doctor, I find it difficult to choose.
- probiotics are not created equal – there are lots of different strains with different functions so don’t assume its one size fit all. Just because you are taking probiotics doesn’t mean you will have great gut health. It might do nothing at all.
- A lot of the bacteria used in research studies are not available to buy commercially.
- The truth is, we still don’t know what bacteria to supplement with ‘yet’ because gut bacteria change with age and is so ‘individualized’, so the strains will vary according to the condition you are trying to treat. Have a read of Rosan Meyer’s (a great pediatric dietician who specializes in allergies) take on it.
- Personally, I supplement my kids with a 5 billion CFU probiotic from a well known brand, which includes LGG (Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG), lactobacilllus plantarum and lactobacillus salivarus. I also given them Sacchromyces Boulardii every other day as it is a probiotic yeast that helps to crowd out bad bugs in the gut. Do check with a doctor/dietician to see which strains best suit your child and also for any contraindications as patients with gut issues can have adverse effects to them.
- For myself, I take a 50 CFU broad spectrum probiotic and a sacchromyces boulardii supplement daily.
3. Eat fermented food –
- Think sauerkraut, kimchi, fermented beets/asparagus, kefir, yoghurt, miso, tempeh
- not only do fermented foods deliver probiotics they also provide digestive enzymes and acids that help with gut health (because these reduce the work of digestion on the gut, the less work the gut has to do the more time there is to heal).
- One fermented food that features regularly for us is apple cider vinegar. Another favorite is coconut kefir.
- Apples are great for gut health as they are high in pectins and querceptins
- apple cider vinegar provide probiotics, feed the good bacteria in your gut and kill candida. I add 2 tablespoons into our family smoothies everyday, and it goes into every dressing I make for salads
- Only caveat is that if you have bad bugs in your gut (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth) then fermented foods may worsen your symptoms – so seek health advice if you are experiencing symptoms.
4. Bone broth –
- This is all the craze now… but there is nothing new about this – a lot of cultures have been drinking bone broth for yonks and chicken soup is often granny’s ‘medicine’ for colds/flu.
- I’ve written about bone broth in my recipes. There is yet no scientific research to prove its gut healing properties (Pharmaceutical companies wouldn’t fund such research as they won’t profit from it) but I’m a traditional gal and broth has been part of our family tradition for generations so we have it regularly.
- The reason broth has been claimed to heal the gut is because it contains many amino acids, including L-glutamine and proline, which are important for gut integrity, as well as collagen which also help.
- Be careful with broth in restaurants and shops as they often contain MSG and lots of salt; the concentration of these broths probably vary wildly too.
- I like to make my own as I believe the nutritional value of broth depend on the type of bones you use and what you add in along with the bones. If you use an instant pot (US) (For UK readers click here for instant pot) you can make broth easily, the prep time is 15-20 minutes after which you just dump it all into the instant pot and voila! (I do mine overnight and set it for 5 hours and wake up to beautiful broth).
5. Glutamine –
- Glutamine is the fuel for cells lining the digestive tract and helps to maintain a healthy gut.
- The body is able to synthesize glutamine without intake from the diet, but in conditions where the immune system is under strain (e.g. allergies/autoimmune diseases), the body might fall short on glutamine
- I like eating glutamine rich foods to help keep the levels high (I don’t supplement and don’t recommend supplements unless directed by a doctor)
- my favorite source of glutamine is cabbage, broccoli, spirulina and asparagus! It is also found in meat and dairy products but make sure they are clean sources of meat (i.e. grass fed, organic)
- Another reason to eat up that sauerkraut!!
6. Coconut –
- depending on what you read, coconut may either be the new superfood or it is to be avoided due to its saturated fat content.
- I like coconut for its anti-fungal and anti-bacterial properties in the gut. It helps to combat bad bugs, candida, and rebalance a healthy gut microbiome so I am a fan.
- yes it does contain saturated fat but it also contains Medium Chain fatty Acids which are healthy fats easily metabolized by the body as fuel rather than stored as fat. It is my belief that these fats can be healthy provided you don’t mix it with refined sugar (i.e. a small dollop of coconut oil to sautee your vegetables in are healthy but mixed with 5 tablespoons of cane sugar in a dessert is NOT!)
- I like adding shredded coconut to their morning porridge, substituting wheat flour with coconut flour, adding coconut milk to curries, and combining it with cacao and dates to make healthy snacks. Recipes to follow… sign up to email alerts so you don’t miss them!