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Small Changes for Improved Gut Health

Dr. Kate Rhéaume
Woman with hands on stomach suffering from pain stock photo

Nothing can drag you down like tummy troubles. Gas, bloating, constipation, and more can zap your energy and detract from life enjoyment. Gut health impacts immune function and mood, and when suboptimal, may even contribute to bad breath. In this blog, we dive into how to support gut health naturally with a few strategic steps. 

Keep a Diet Diary 

It’s surprising what you can learn from tracking what you eat and how you feel for a few days or more. By writing down each meal and snack, as well as your digestive symptoms, patterns can emerge. This is especially important for delayed reactions to food. Some reactions may only come up the day after eating a certain food. Keeping a diet diary helps uncover these connections.  

Take Out Offending Foods  

Some foods are notorious for disrupting digestion. It’s almost a cliché at this point, but going gluten-free can be a game-changer for better digestion. You may have heard that unless you have celiac disease (clinical gluten intolerance), your body is perfectly fine with gluten. In truth, gluten sensitivity exists on a spectrum.  

The best way to determine if gluten (or any other food) is contributing to your digestion dilemmas is to stop eating it completely for a minimum of two weeks. See how you feel while not eating it and, more importantly, see how you feel when you reintroduce it. 

Healthy beef bone broth

Swap in Gut-Healthy Foods 

Here are some of the best foods for gut health:  

Cooked foods There is a common misconception that raw food is healthier. This is based on the notion that uncooked plants contain enzymes that are destroyed by cooking. Plants do contain enzymes, but not digestive enzymes. Eating food without cooking it is just more work for your gut.  

Many plant-based foods (I’m looking at you, kale) have tough fibers that can really tax digestion. Cooking breaks down these fibers, acting as a form of predigestion. As a bonus, this also liberates nutrients, making vitamins and minerals easier to assimilate. If you are suffering from digestive woes, be kind to yourself by skipping the crudités and kale Caesar.  

Fermented foods Another form of predigestion is fermentation. Fermentation is the ancient art of carefully curating the growth of friendly microorganisms in food. Examples include sourdough bread, kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi, and many others. Fermentation truly is nutritional alchemy. It can deactivate antinutrients in food and reduce or eliminate components that are difficult to digest, such as lactose. As a bonus, fermented fare usually delivers beneficial bacteria, a.k.a. probiotics.  

Bone broth Few things are as soothing as sipping real, old-fashioned broth. A well-made broth is a source of L-glutamine. This amino acid is a preferred fuel for enterocytes, the cells that line the intestines. These cells turn over every few days. You can nourish enterocytes and help  maintain a healthy gut lining with glutamine-rich bone broth.* L-glutamine is also available as a supplement.  

Jar of kimchi

Simple Gut Health Hacks 

Get a handle on stress If you’ve never heard of the gut-brain axis, you might want to sit down for this. There is a superhighway of nerves and neurons (brain cells) that travel directly between your intestines and brain. There are literally brain cells – and lots of them – in your gut. When you are under stress, messages are sent from the brain to the gut that can impair digestion. Stress management helps turn off fight-or-flight mode and turn on rest-and-digest mode.  

Chew your food It’s easy to underestimate the power of chewing. It does more than just break your food down into smaller pieces. The process of chemical digestion starts in the mouth, with fat and starch enzymes kicking in. The act of chewing also primes the rest of the digestive system for what’s coming. Chewing food thoroughly helps lighten the load of the rest of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. Extended chewing naturally leads to slower eating, which gives your body more time to process the food you are taking in.   

Although not scientific, an often-quoted number for optimal chews per bite is 30. That may seem like a lot at first. If you are known for wolfing down your food, simply try counting the number of times you typically chew each bite and aim to increase that number.   

Avoid TPS Can you barely wait to change into your “comfy pants” at the end of the day? Do your clothes leave an irritated, red imprint around your waistline when you remove them? You might be experiencing TPS or Tight Pants Syndrome. Yes, it’s a thing. Men and women alike can end up wearing bottoms that are too small, either because of fashion or blissful ignorance of gradual weight gain.  

Tight clothing constricts and compresses the gut, preventing proper peristalsis (intestinal movements). This can lead to trapped gas and bloating, and even interfere with bowel regularity. Just because you can get your pants done up doesn’t mean they fit well. Don’t fall victim to TPS.   

Try a probiotic It can take a while to become accustomed to the tangy taste of fermented foods. In the meantime, try adding a probiotic to your diet. This is a small change that may significantly help to support and maintain gut health.* Probiotic supplements have been shown to support abdominal comfort and help maintain bowel regularity.* A well-formulated probiotic supplement may also deliver species of beneficial bacteria you can’t find in food.  

Probiotics aren’t a one-size-fits-all supplement. For help understanding probiotic options, check out this guide to choosing the best probiotic for your GI support needs.  

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Dr. Kate Rhéaume
Dr. Rhéaume is a graduate of the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine.
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