“5 exercises for washboard abs.”
“7 steps to the career of your dreams.”
“10 diet tips to lose a dress size.”
We all love a quick fix. Maximal reward from minimal effort. We’re pretty lazy, really. But sadly the things that truly last are the things that take time. I’m sure you’ve realised by now that good gut health is one of those things. It’s a long-term process that requires little steps, ever day. Think of it like a garden that needs to be watered and occasionally tended to. A little attention will allow it to flourish.
If your gut is damaged, it’s important to first focus on healing your intestinal lining before implementing these tips. Only once this has been achieved can you begin the process of cultivating a well-balanced gut microbiome. And if you’ve never experienced gut issues before, positive gut flora is still an important part of your overall health.
The body is home to over 100 trillion bacteria. They outnumber our own cells ten to one, making us more bacteria than human! They live in our hair, on our skin and inside us but the largest concentration is found in the gut. Until recently, very little was known about this bacteria metropolis and there’s still a lot to learn.
What we do know is that imbalanced gut flora can affect your mood, mental focus, immune system function, fat storage, vitamin synthesis and behaviour development. It’s also increasing being linked to a number of autoimmune diseases and other conditions, like depression. Since the gut holds over 500 million neurons that are connected to your brain and around 95% of the body’s serotonin levels are produced in the digestive tract, this isn’t surprising.
Until more research is done, it’s safe to say we should be tending to our garden. We’ve reached the end of our ‘Practical Guide To A Healthy Gut’ with holistic food and nutrition coach, Lee Holmes and Dr Steven Sandberg-Lewis, the co-founder of the SIBO Center for Digestive Health in Portland, Oregon but the journey is far from over. We leave you now with these 10 golden rules for building and maintaing well-balanced gut flora for long-term health.
Considering what we know about gluten and its indigestibility for the gut, it may be wise to limit it in your diet. Instead, try eating unrefined, gluten-free grains such as buckwheat, quinoa and brown rice. If bread is of particular concern, there are delicious gluten-free options in the supermarkets and easy recipes to make your own.
Just like us, bad bacteria love sugar. They feast on it so the less you can have, the better off you’ll be. Instead of sugar, try using stevia, a small amount of rice malt syrup or sweetening things with fruit.
Dr Sandberg Lewis recommends having one serving of low FODMAPs fruit, such as berries, per day. “[This] provides a good nutrient hit without pushing your sugar consumption.”
Plant foods are gentle on the stomach and full of fibre, which is great for your gut. Holmes recommends eating an abundance of chlorophyll-rich greens, vegetable juices and earthy vegetarian soups made from prebiotic-rich root vegetables. You’ll find a number of delicious recipes in her book, Heal Your Gut.
And as for quantities, Dr Sandberg-Lewis recommends at least eight cups per day, making sure to “eat the rainbow”.
“[Vegetables] contain vitamins, minerals, fibre, phytonutrients, antioxidants, and anti-inflammatory molecules that will help improve your overall health. The low FODMAPs vegetables may be the best choice. Some with more severe SIBO will tolerate only small amounts of vegetables in early treatment.”
He also recommends buying organic fruit and vegetables whenever possible. “Buy organic and don’t wash or peel (unless you have an immune system deficiency or take immunosuppressive medication). The skin and dirt on pesticide-free produce can benefit the gut.”
Once your gut lining has healed, you can begin to incorporate one serving of fermented food daily. This could include kimchi, kefir, sauerkraut and Kombucha, all of which will help to colonise your gut with healthy flora and boost your inner ecosystem.
“Eating a range of different fermented foods will contribute a variety of bacterial strains, which will bring the diversity needed for a healthy microbiota,” Holmes writes in Heal Your Gut.
Dr Sanberg-Lewis says to start slow, with a teaspoon, and monitor your tolerance before increasing. He also recommends taking a high-potency probiotic, with at least 25 billion live CFU’s from diversified strains of Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium, and Saccharomyces boulardii.
Omega-3 fats are vital for our heart and our gut. “Increase omega-3 fatty acids by eating cold-water wild salmon, sardines, herring, flaxseeds, and even seaweed. Flax and seaweed may be a problem for those with SIBO so this will need to be tested. Eliminate all hydrogenated fat which is found in margarine, shortening, and processed oils, as well as many baked goods and processed foods. Instead use healthy oils, such as coconut oil, olive (especially extra virgin olive oil), cold pressed sesame and other nut oils,” says Dr Sandberg-Lewis.
“Eat high-fibre foods such as whole grains, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and fruit to help regulate your digestive tract. Fibre and certain carbohydrates also feed intestinal flora, so those with SIBO may need to avoid these until the gut is able to handle them. The SIBO Specific Foodguide with an emphasis on cooked rather than raw fruits and vegetables is one way to address this,” says Dr Sandberg-Lewis.
“Water is vital to your gut health as it helps flush out toxins, but conventional tap water contains fluoride and chlorine, both of which are damaging to microflora,” writes Holmes.
She recommends investing in a good water filter, drinking eight glasses each day and adding lemon or apple cider vinegar to aid digestion and boost your immune system. If you struggle to drink enough water, try these simple tips to trick yourself.
Using supplements both during and after the healing phase can be a great aid for your digestive function. Dr. Sandberg Lewis suggests to consider supplementing with digestive enzymes, fat soluble vitamins (A, D, E and K2), glutamine, and zinc. Holmes, on the other hand, uses Southernature colostrum, a high quality organic bovine colostrum supplement. However, both warn that each person’s needs will be different and advise you to consult your healthcare professional before taking any supplements.
If there is one takeaway message for cultivating a good gut microbiome, it’s this: Eat things that are natural and unprocessed. Go organic and chemical-free whenever possible. Load up on plant-based foods and choose grass-fed animal products.
According to Dr Sandberg-Lewis, high-quality proteins such as wild fish and grass-fed meats can help to avoid the blood sugar imbalances that feed microbial overgrowth. Both he and Holmes also highly advise including marrow bone broth in your diet.
“Bone broths are extraordinarily rich in protein and can be a great source of minerals as well. The glycine in bone broth supports digestion and the secretion of gastric acids, and supports detoxification. Gelatin also helps to support digestive health. Even a cup a day has extraordinary benefits,” says Dr Sandberg-Lewis. But he warns that gelatin may be high in arginine and can activate herpesvirus.
“Food and probiotics alone will not promise a thriving colony of healthy bacteria in your gut. Stress and emotional factors can override even the most perfect diet and wellness practices,” Holmes told us.
Stress can have profound effects on the body, of which the gut is not excluded.
“Stress produces too much cortisol in our bodies, which is linked to the “flight or fight” response. Cortisol activates the sympathetic nervous system. When the sympathetic nervous system is activated, the parasympathetic nervous system must be suppressed, since they cannot operate simultaneously.
Usually, when we’re eating, the parasympathetic nervous system is at play. This is important since the enzymes and hormones that control digestion and absorption must be working in order for the body to best use food energy.
When you have a stressed out, cortisol-flooded body, digestion and absorption are compromised. Indigestion develops and the mucosal lining becomes irritated and inflamed. Mucosal inflammation can lead to the increased production of cortisol, making the whole thing a vicious cycle.”
Stress causes many changes within the gut including changes in gastric secretion, gut motility, mucosal permeability, viscal sensitivity and barrier function. Chronic, long-term stress that lingers for weeks is incredibly damaging to your gut health.”
When we think of stress, we think of things such as work pressure, family and social commitments, and time constraints but Holmes reminds us that other factors can trigger our body’s stress response. Too much exercise, not getting enough sleep and not feeling moments of joy and pleasure in our daily life can also cause stress that affects our gut.