Eating a diet low in red meat, sodium, refined sugar and processed foods is a simple and effective way to help restore and maintain optimal gut health.
Choose natural foods in their raw state like fruits, nuts, seeds, and colorful, crunchy vegetables. Oily fish, such as salmon, herring, sardines, and mackerel, provides healthy protein and important fatty acids. Yogurt supplies calcium, protein, and lots of friendly bacteria.
Focus: The Microbiome of the Gut
Did you know that as much as 1 to 3 percent of an adult's body weight is actually composed of bacteria?
For a 200 pound man, that's about 2 pounds in bacteria alone! These gut bacterial colonies contribute greatly to health and even communicate directly with the brain. In fact, the gut microbiome is sometimes called "the second brain!"
This bacteria has critical functions for health:
- To regulate hormones
- To produce most of the body's supply of serotonin
- To manufacture necessary enzymes and important vitamins like K and biotin
- To keep pathogens in check and fight disease
- The gut microbiome forms most of the body's immune system
Serotonin is a critical brain chemical necessary for normal mood and happiness. In fact, low levels of this brain chemical are linked to depression.
Nearly three-quarters of the body's immune system originates in the gut!
Prebiotics and Probiotics
Many people don't understand exactly what these two words mean, but it's not hard to learn. This is the simple key difference:
PREbiotics provide food for PRObiotics.
Probiotics get their nutrients from prebiotic fiber, such as galacto-oligosaccharides or GOS. While prebiotics are available in supplement form, they're also found in high concentrations in certain foods:
- Chicory root
- Garlic and onion
- Jerusalem artichoke
Carob Compared to Cocoa
Carob is a native Mediterranean evergreen tree in the pea family whose seedpods have a chocolate-like taste. Carob is available in powder, nib, block, and syrup forms and can be used in recipes and to make a rich, flavorful milk drink.
Cocoa contains substances called oxalates that bind with calcium and can stop the body from absorbing the bone-building mineral. This is why chocolate milk may actually be a poor source of calcium the body can really use.
You can find carob online and in specialty health food grocery stores. It's low in fat, low in sodium, gluten-free, stimulant-free, caffeine-free, high in vitamins A, B-2, B-3, and B-6, and high in fiber. It contains three times as much calcium as dairy milk with none of the binding oxalates!
Hint for Dog Lovers!
Carob is a safe and healthful chocolate substitute sure to please any canine! Look for it in trendy treats online and in specialty pet stores and boutiques. You can also make your own carob dog treats from online recipes. Try mixing carob with peanut butter in canine treat recipes or make carob dog ice cream with bananas, plain yogurt, and carob!
These are friendly gut bacteria. Also available in supplement form, probiotics are actually quite easy to get from diet alone in foods like:
- Sauerkraut and kim-chi
- Tempeh and tofu
- Certain aged cheeses
- Cultured buttermilk and sour cream
Kefir is a type of drinkable yogurt. Kombucha is a fermented tea product. Kimchi is a Korean fermented cabbage dish similar to sauerkraut. Tempeh and tofu are both fermented soy products.
More than Diet: Other Important Ways to Maintain Gut Health
Avoid antibiotics unless medically necessary
Many people overuse antibiotics and don't understand that they're useless against viruses and fungi or any kind of microbe other than bacteria. Antibiotics fight serious infections but should be avoided unless medically necessary.
Antibiotics don't know the difference between good and bad bacteria and just mow them all down. This may create a serious bacterial imbalance in the gut and can result in the bad bacteria taking over the scene. This is why antibiotics often cause nausea, vomiting, intestinal cramps, and diarrhea.
If you must take antibiotics for medical reasons, speak to your physician about replacing normal gut flora. This may include consuming extra probiotics until you finish your antibiotic course and for shortly thereafter.
Drink plenty of water and chew your food thoroughly
The body needs water to carry nutrients and perform vital cell functions, but the gut microbiome needs extra water to help keep the mucosa or the gut lining healthy and strong. A weak intestinal wall can cause a condition called a leaky gut syndrome.
The leaky gut syndrome may cause non-specific, problematic symptoms like gas, bloating, food intolerance, intestinal cramps, and even more vague ones like general aches and pains. It's thought that an unhealthy gut mucosa may allow intestinal toxins to leak out into the bloodstream and other organs instead of being safely eliminated.
Chewing food thoroughly is important because digestion actually starts in the mouth with special enzymes located there.
Reduce or eliminate refined sugar
Start with soda. It's the worst, combining way too much sugar with acids that attack the teeth. A single 12-ounce soda contains over 9 teaspoons of sugar!
The American Heart Association recommends a maximum daily total sugar consumption limit of 9 teaspoons for men and 6 teaspoons for women and children. Watch yogurt and kefir labels carefully. Avoid those brands containing large amounts of refined sugar. Also look out for hidden sugar, such as that in catsup and salad dressing, on food labels.
Reduce stress levels
There's a good reason why people so often feel the effects of stressful events in the stomach and intestines. The hormones associated with high stress directly affect these organs.
Yoga, meditation, martial arts, mindfulness, exercise, hobbies, biofeedback, therapy like EMDR, journaling, Reiki, and other types of massage, and even acupuncture may help to reduce stress levels and help with better gut health.
Combine a healthy diet with plenty of sleep and exercise, and always consult with your physician regarding any changes in your diet and exercise habits.