Gut Health Week 2: Eating For A Healthy Gut
This week I’m diving a little deeper into foods to focus on for optimal digestion. There are so many ways that we can help support our digestion through eating the right foods and removing those foods that are difficult for your body to break down.
Improving digestion can take time. Especially if there are underlying imbalances in the body. But these imbalances can take years to develop and healing the body won’t happen over night either. The most important thing is to be consistent with the changes and be patient. Ultimately the body wants to be balanced. The most important thing is to give it the tools that it needs to be supported so it can function optimally.
Foods to remove
The most obvious answer is to make sure you remove those foods that you know don’t work for your body. Only you can be the judge of that, but sometimes it can be pretty obvious when there is a food your body isn’t happy with. Remember that it is completely personal- just because most people don’t have issues digesting a certain food, doesn’t mean it will work for you.
It’s important to take it seriously if your body is showing you signs that a particular food is difficult to digest. Aside from the fact that digestive upset can be incredibly uncomfortable, these signs also show you that your body’s normal physiology is being altered in response to this food.
The best way to determine those foods that could potentially be impacting your digestion is to start paying attention to your body and its signals. Next time you experience digestive upset, start paying attention to what it is that you’ve eaten in the last 24 hours. Over time you may begin to notice foods that stand out and you’ll recognize when a food is causing you issues.
Beyond those obvious foods that don’t work for your body, there are other common digestive irritants that can be removed if your issues are not resolved:
Dairy (including milk, cheese, yogurt, sour cream etc.) is a food group that many individuals have difficulty digesting. Typically after breast-feeding, we lose the enzyme lactase that is responsible for breaking down lactose found in milk. Casein and whey are the two proteins found in milk and these proteins are often difficult for many people to digest as well. Dairy can commonly cause bloating, cramping, gas and diarrhea.
Gluten is a protein founds in wheat, barley and rye. Even if you haven’t been diagnosed with celiac disease, many people still find that gluten causes problems for their digestion.
It’s important to note that a food allergy is very different from a food sensitivity or intolerance. A food allergy causes an immediate reaction with an immune response. A food intolerance or sensitivity does not activate the immune system in the same way and the symptoms can appear several days after the food has been consumed. It is for this reason that it can be so difficult to determine which foods are causing you problems. In certain situations more comprehensive food sensitivity testing may need to be done in order to determine which foods need to be eliminated (if you’re interested in learning more or would like to have a food sensitivity test done, get in touch with me!)
Both gluten and dairy can cause issues with bloating, cramping, diarrhea and even constipation- but the symptoms will be different for everyone. If you have a concern that dairy, gluten or any other food may be impacting your digestion, you can eliminate these foods from your diet for a few weeks. They may need to be removed from your diet entirely if your digestive issues don’t resolve. However, eliminating them for a few weeks can be helpful in allowing the body time to heal. Some people will notice a difference in their symptoms within the first few days so it’s a great place to start if you suspect an underlying sensitivity.
Focus on fibre
If you experience constipation or you find your bowels are irregular, it’s possible you need to increase your fibre intake. To make sure you’re getting enough fibre, be sure to include plenty of whole foods in your diet. You can find a great source of fibre from leafy greens, vegetables, fruit, whole grains, and nuts and seeds.
The best way to ensure you are getting a good amount of fibre in your diet is to eat balanced meals. Meals should be focused on vegetables, protein good fats and some carbohydrates from starchy vegetables or whole grains. Adding in additional fibre from seeds like flax and chia is a great way to bump up your fibre intake as well.
Fermented foods have gained popularity over the last few years for their benefits on the gut and digestion. Fermented foods include sauerkraut, kimchi, miso, tempeh, kombucha, yogurt and kefir. Through the fermentation process, these foods gain beneficial live bacteria that help to populate our microbiome when eaten. Ideally, it’s beneficial to consume at least one serving of fermented foods in your diet on a daily basis. Try to switch up the fermented foods you are eating on a regular basis as well. Different foods, and even just different brands of products, will have their own benefits and unique bacteria.
The best part about fermented foods is they offer a food based source of beneficial bacteria, which is different from taking a probiotic supplement.
Supplementation with probiotics can be very beneficial if you’re dealing with more complicated health concerns or when a therapeutic dose of bacteria is required (like after a round of antibiotics). I’ll talk more about supplementation in another blog post in a couple of weeks!
Water often gets overlooked when thinking about supporting digestion. Proper hydration is so important for the entire digestion and elimination process! We need water for digestion and absorption of vitamins and minerals, as well as for healthy bowel movements and to help prevent constipation.
Aim to get about half your body weight, in ounces, for optimal hydration levels.
Best practices for proper digestion
How you eat is just as important as what you eat. Stress has a huge impact on the digestive system and eating while rushed or stressed will affect your digestion process. Part of the stress response is that digestion gets “shut down” so that more blood is available for the heart and the muscles. The problem is most people are living in a chronic state of stress- it’s just part of the society we live in. Unfortunately there isn’t much we can do about the stress in our lives, but we can make sure we support our body with proper habits as much as possible.
Try your best to sit down for your meals and focus on eating, instead of eating while doing other things or while distracted. Making sure you chew your food properly is another way to help. It’s not uncommon to “inhale” your food when you are eating in a hurry and this puts a much bigger strain on the digestive system. Digestion begins in the mouth and chewing is an important part of the breakdown process.
As I said last week, the best practice to improve digestion is to listen to your body. Pay attention to the signals from your body and you’ll begin to see what could be causing you problems. As I mentioned, healing the body and normalizing digestion can take time but even just the simplest act of removing a food can make a huge difference.
If you’re feeling lost with your digestive issues and not sure where to start, let’s chat! Book your free 15 minute phone consultation with me and I can help get you started!