How to Improve Gut Health
“All disease begins in the gut.”
Hippocrates knew back in 400BC what scientists are just starting to uncover NOW! It seems like almost every major disease is now pointing to our “microbiome”. Allergies, pain, cancer, autoimmune diseases, mood and mental health disorders. I could go on.
Our gut is the portal to the outside world. It’s where you let in disease-causing bacteria, viruses, parasites, nutrients and toxins. The good and the bad. The foods we ingest and absorb are the building blocks of EVERY SINGLE part of our body. “You are what you eat” is not just an old saying your grandma use to annoy you with.
So, let's talk about the roles that your gut and your gut microbes play in your overall health. Then I'll give you tips to improve your gut health (and consequently your overall health) naturally.
Our gut’s role in our overall health
Your gut acts as a gate keeper. It’s role is to let things in to the blood stream or keep things out. Absorption of nutrients is something we want to let in. Elimination of waste is what happens to the things we want to keep out. Maintaining a healthy gut barrier is the first pillar of gut health.
This seemingly simple role is super-complex! And it can break down in so many places.
Your intestine has microscopic channels that allow certain nutrients to be absorbed into the blood stream. But when your gut wall gets irritated, the very thin tissue of your intestines becomes inflamed and creates larger gaps between the tissue cells allowing larger particles to pass through. Kind of like a long tube with holes in it. This inflammation and leaky gut is often the starting point for many diseases that don’t seem to have any connection to our digestive system.
The second main part of your gut is the billions of friendly health-promoting microbes. Gut microbes help us digest and absorb nutrients. They fight off disease, make vitamins for us, mental health benefits, reducing inflammation, and stabilizing blood sugar.
Did you know that over 90% of the DNA in your body, isn’t even human! It belongs to these microorganisms. Some scientist believe that these little micro-residents are so powerful that their DNA will have a bigger impact on what diseases you may or may not get, then your OWN DNA!
So, keeping your gut microbes happy is the second pillar of gut health!
FUN FACT: About 70% of our immune system lives in and around our gut. Improve your gut health to ward off those winter sniffles and flu!
How to improve gut health
Well let’s start with the obvious solution. If you are what you eat, then let’s stop feeding our guts and our microbiomes crap.
Eat crap. Feel like crap.
Pretty simple. But in the moment so very hard for us to remember. Try eliminating added sugars, processed foods and alcohol, for 5 days and see how quickly the body responds. Maybe that will even inspire you to do it for a few weeks. Grab this FREE 5 Day Sugar Challenge to make it super simple for yourself.
You may also want to eliminate other gut irritants. Dairy and grains contain common compounds known to irritate some people’s guts. Sometimes you only need to eliminate them for a few weeks to see if it makes a difference for your health.
Now let’s focus on what you can add. By eating nutrient-dense foods, you allow ample macro- and micro-nutrients into your gut to maximize the chance for absorption. These nutrients help your body to build and repair your gut, and every other body part as well. Some of the most nutrient-dense foods include dark leafy greens, colourful fruits and veggies, liver, and fish.
The second pillar of gut health is our microbes. By ingesting probiotic-rich foods and drinks, we can help to replenish our gut microbes. These are found in fermented foods like kombucha, kefir, miso, sauerkraut, and kimchi. Make these a part of your daily diet. One place where you might get tripped up is that a lot of mass produced fermented products have been pasteurized so all of that good bacteria that you are trying to get has actually been killed off. Purchasing small batch and fresh fermented foods will give you the most benefit. Or if you are feeling super DIY’y give homemade fermenting a shot. It sounds intimidating but it is actually REALLY simple.
Whole foods are full of gut-friendly fiber. Not getting enough fiber increases the risk of heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and obesity. Fiber plays lots of roles in our gut, including whisking away some of those pesky bad bacteria and toxins so they can be eliminated. Fiber also helps to feed our friendly resident microbes that help us absorb and digest our food better. What foods have a lot of fiber? Fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and even cacao. My favorite way to up the fiber factor in my day (not to mention give me a healthy dose of Omega 3’s) is to sprinkle chia seeds over my food or throw a tablespoon into my morning shake.
And don’t forget the uber-important lifestyle factors like getting enough sleep, stressing less, and getting the right amount (and intensity) of exercise for you. It’s easy to forget some of the simple, but key links there are between what we do with our bodies and how well they function.
The function of your gut is key to your overall health. There are two pillars of gut health: maintaining a good barrier and maintaining healthy gut microbes.
The main ways to improve both of these naturally is by eating nutrient-dense whole foods. Foods filled with nutrition, probiotics, and fiber. And eliminating common gut irritants like added sugar, processed foods, and alcohol.
Probiotic-rich Fermented Carrots
1 L warm water 4 tsp salt 4 carrots, medium, peeled, sliced
1 clove garlic, smashed (optional)
Make a brine by dissolving the salt in water.
Place carrots into a clean canning jar, packing them in tight. Make sure to leave about 1 inch of head space at the top.
Fill the jar with brine, making sure to cover the carrots completely. Weigh the carrots down to make sure they don't float (you can use a "fermenting weight").
Close the jar and let it sit at room temperature for 1-4 days. The longer it sits, the more the flavor will develop. Feel free to open and taste.
Serve & enjoy!
Tip: Use this as a side dish, or even a snack.