If you have been following me for a while, you’ll know how I often talk about the importance of gut health and how all disease begins in the gut.
Digestive issues are becoming more common and, if ignored, can lead to other problems. Did you know that 70% of the body’s immune system lives in the gut? You can understand why maintaining digestive health is crucial to the body’s overall wellbeing.
The digestive system and process is complex and involves the mouth, throat, esophagus, stomach, small intestine, large intestine, rectum, and anus. It also includes the salivary glands, liver, gallbladder, and pancreas, which make digestive juices and enzymes that help the body digest food and liquids.
All of this is involved in breaking down food so that the body can use the nutrients to perform its essential functions and create energy. Nutrients that are absorbed into the blood are carried to cells and organs throughout the body. When digestion doesn’t function optimally, all other functions of the body can be negatively impacted as a result.
In this post, I will look at how to correct gut imbalances naturally through food and lifestyle. If you’re suffering from bloating, constipation, or other digestive issues, then this is for you.
How to combat digestive issues
Think for a moment about what you choose to eat. Typically we choose for pleasure or to satisfy a craving and forget to think about what our bodies need.
When it comes down to it, food is the body’s only source of fuel, and when we don’t give the body good quality sources of fuel, it cannot function optimally.
How many diets have you tried?
When making dietary changes, it’s so important to make sure the changes are sustainable, meaning the changes are something you can stick to long term. Too often we get sucked into the hype of a new trendy diet which is often unsustainable or not right for our body or lifestyle.
The key to a diet that works is incorporating foods that nourish and help with your digestion, mixed with hydration and mindful eating practices. I want to help you prepare for these changes by empowering you to make better choices and be consciously aware of your food selections.
Chew your food properly!
Does that take you back to your childhood? Well, there is some truth in it. The process of digestion begins in the mouth as chewing triggers the release of enzymes needed to break down foods into smaller molecules.
With our busy life-styles, many of us consume food quickly, on the go, or whilst doing another task like working or scrolling on our phones. This all distracts us from the process of eating.
Ideally, we need to chew each bite around 20 to 30 times before swallowing. Chewing your food properly gives you better nutrient absorption and leads to less over eating.
When we take the time to sit and mindfully eat our food, we can bring an awareness to chewing and begin the digestive process.
Try some fermented foods!
Have you tried fermented foods? The term fermented can conjure up negative images or feelings; however, fermented foods are extremely beneficial for the health of your gut, and they taste good too!
Fermented foods are rich in beneficial bacteria. Regularly consuming these foods will help you regenerate your gut flora naturally.
Here are some commonly available fermented foods:
- Kefir is a fermented dairy drink that’s full of good bacteria that’s thinner than yogurt.
- Sauerkraut, is a finely cut raw cabbage that has been fermented by various lactic acid bacteria.
- Kimchi, is a Korean food made of salted and fermented vegetables, such as napa cabbage and Korean radish and a wide selection of seasonings.
- Kombucha is a fermented drink, it’s slightly fizzy and can come in different flavours.
- Miso is a traditional Japanese seasoning. It is a thick paste produced by fermenting soybeans with salt and kōji and sometimes rice, barley, seaweed, or other ingredients. It can be used in soups, stews, dressings and sauces.
- Tempeh is a traditional Indonesian food made from fermented soybeans. It can be used very much like Tofu.
These foods are becoming so popular you can find them in most health food shops and supermarkets. If you want to try and make your own, there are loads of recipes and instructions online.
Be good to your liver
Did you know supporting your liver can help heal your digestive system? When the liver works efficiently, the gastrointestinal tract is less stressed and can perform tasks more efficiently as well.
You can help your liver by boosting your intake of liver-loving foods. Try adding carrots, beetroot, and leafy greens to your weekly meals or to freshly squeezed juices. Bitter herbs such as dandelion and milk thistle can make strong teas.
Milk thistle is a fantastic herb that is famous for supporting liver health because of a powerful polyphenol called silymarin. This herb helps protect liver cells from damage caused by toxins and heavy metals, as well as support levels of inflammation in the liver.
Dehydration can lead to digestive disorders, so it’s important to increase your water intake!
Have a think about how much water you typically drink in a day? It’s probably not enough.
The most common recommendation for water intake is to drink eight 8-ounce glasses of water per day. For an extra health boost, try to drink at least one glass of water with a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar or fresh lemon juice. The additional alkaline in your system helps to balance acids that could cause digestive issues.
Herbal teas are another great way to hydrate and heal your body. Try peppermint, ginger, fennel, or fenugreek for their digestive supporting properties.
If you don’t like water, try infusing with fresh fruit or herbs. Rosemary, cucumber, and lemon are very refreshing together!
Manage your stress
Stress doesn’t just wreak havoc on your mind, it can impact digestion as well!
We link stress to a reaction in the central nervous system that activates the ‘flight or fight’ response. As a result, digestion can shut down because your central nervous system slows down blood flow, which affects the contractions of your digestive muscles, and decreases secretions needed for digestion. Excess stress hormones can cause inflammation of the gastrointestinal system and make you more susceptible to infection.
One of the best ways to manage stress and maintain healthy digestion is moderate exercise. Additional stress-reducing activities include meditation, deep breathing techniques, yoga, and walking for pleasure.
Get probiotics for your gut
Probiotics are the beneficial bacteria we find in fermented foods.
The good bacteria in your gut is responsible for:
- Producing vitamin B12, butyrate, and vitamin K2.
- Crowding out bad microbes.
- Creating enzymes that destroy harmful bacteria.
- Stimulating secretion of immune-supporting cells.
Once upon a time, our foods were rich with natural probiotics. However, because of modern agricultural practices, foods are not only lacking probiotics, but they may also contain antibiotics that kill off the good bacteria in our bodies. The fermented foods I mentioned contain excellent natural sources of beneficial bacteria; however, if you have trouble consuming enough, supplementation can help.
Picking the right supplement can be tricky. Look for a product with a high CFU count from 15 billion to 100 billion. Look for strains like:
- Bacillus coagulans
- Saccharomyces boulardii
- Bacillus subtilis
- Lactobacillus plantarum
- Bacillus clausii
You’ll also want to ensure you have enough prebiotics to feed the probiotics. This can be taken in supplement form or by consuming flaxseed, chia seed, astragalus, ashwagandha, hemp seeds, pumpkin seeds, milk thistle, peas, ginger, mung bean, and turmeric.
Eat frequent meals
The advice for good gut health is to eat small meals frequently rather than three large meals. This not only helps prevent digestion problems, it also boosts metabolism which helps with weight loss.
The problem with large meals is they overload the system. This can leave you feeling sluggish and can cause heartburn from acids going back from the stomach into the esophagus, inducing gas, nausea, or vomiting.
Aim for five to six mini-meals for better digestion. Be sure to include a mix of healthy carbohydrates, protein, and fat at each meal and a range of vegetables and fruit.
Foods that can cause digestive issues
When it comes to digestive disturbances, there are many known food culprits. Try removing the following from your diet and see if your digestion improves.
Sugar feeds the harmful bacteria to cause an imbalance in the gut. We all eat too much sugar and it’s a hard one to give up as it’s so addictive.
Start by reducing sugary foods, have some health options on hand and make sure you are eating regular meals to stop you reaching for those sugary snacks!
Wheat gluten isn’t the only grain with the potential to cause harm. Many grains contain an abundance of amylose sugars, which could cause inflammation.
Try removing all grains during an elimination diet to determine if any grains are negatively impacting your system by slowly reintroducing them one at a time.
Dairy is a well-known digestive disruptor. Many people with gut issues can be more sensitive to casein, the main milk protein.
Replace milk with plant milks and, if you like cheese, chose those made with sheep or goat’s milk.
If you suspect any foods causing you distress, remove that food source for a while and pay close attention to how you feel when you reintroduce it to your diet. It will help if you keep a food diary, noting what you have removed or reintroduced and how you feel.
I hope you have found this article on overcoming digestive issues useful. I have a whole range of other posts which support gut health so have a read. And, if you want a bespoke plan to improve your gut health, weight gain and overall vitality then let’s talk.