5 Simple Steps To Care For Your Gut (without eliminating food groups)
Gut health has implications ranging from improved mood, to better sleep, to feeling comfortable in your pants. Follow these steps to improve your digestion and feel great.
1. Limit Processed and Refined Grains
Refined carbohydrates like white pasta, pizza dough, white bread, pastries, and some cereals are taking a toll on our health. They not only contribute to weight gain and metabolic syndrome, but do absolutely nothing to help foster a healthy microbiome. Whole grains and starchy vegetables contain resistant starches which are fermented by probiotics (more on those in a minute) in the gut to create a more acidic (aka happier) environment. Refined carbohydrates and sugar are metabolized completely by the cells that line the intestines, leaving nothing for the microbiota to enjoy - how sad!
There's nothing wrong with ordering your favorite pasta bolognese on a nice dinner out with your honey. But keep these foods out of the house. Instead, keep brown rice, farro, beans, and sweet potatoes on hand if you want something starchy with dinner. And if you're a busy bee and don't cook much, choose starchy vegetables and whole grains over pasta with most of your meals. And have fruit for dessert, or use natural sweet things like dates, nuts, shredded coconut to appease your sweet tooth.
2. Eat Live Probiotics
Probiotic foods are essential to creating a healthy microbiome and have been used without question for centuries. They regulate digestion, prevent infections, support the barrier of the GI tract, and even regulate appetite. The live bacteria in these foods munch on the prebiotics from resistant fiber. See how you need both?! You should see improvement in bloating, diarrhea, and constipation after incorporating these regularly into your diet. I've written a lot about fermented foods. Here's an article I wrote a while back.
Need some ideas?
Have a morning smoothie with a cup of kefir and a prebiotic like a banana (recipe: 1 banana, 1 cup whole milk kefir, 1/2 teaspoon turmeric, 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, 1 tablespoon almond butter)
Enjoy a weekend breakfast of scrambled eggs with kimchi (a personal favorite)
3. Eat Prebiotic Foods
We covered this pretty well up in #1. By avoiding refined carbohydrates and excess sugar, and replacing them with fibrous prebiotics, you're providing the food the probiotics need. Really, you want to eat a wide variety of different fruits and vegetables every week. The more random types of fiber in there, the better. Help them help themselves. Prebiotic foods include:
allium vegetables - onion, leeks, garlic, scallions (best when eaten raw)
legumes of all kinds
human breast milk! (just FYI)
Photo by Travis Yewell on Unsplash
4. Focus On Sleep
Many body processes are mediated by melatonin and circadian rhythm. Metabolism slows at night and appetite is suppressed. Melatonin is the hormone that controls the sleep-wake cycle and some is found in the gastrointestinal track. When the circadian rhythm is disrupted, we see increased rates of IBS. There is much research suggesting that light pollution and our modern dependence on electronics in the evening could be disrupting our natural melatonin production. This study gave melatonin to people with IBS are saw promising results. Interesting!
Getting adequate sleep is so important, and so difficult for some people. Some suggestions to help you get your eight hours:
Turn the lights out indoors at night or use gentle lamps instead of overhead lights
Turn off the electronics an hour before bed a few nights a week. Or at the very least, put them on night mode
Go for a walk after dinner - it's useful for our bodies to experience natural light both during the day and at night
Eat lunch outdoors! Bonus - you'll be getting that elusive vitamin D
Practice cooling and relaxing activities at night such as restorative yoga. DC-based yoga teacher, Reiki master, and all around great gal, Jessica Mahler (we met during our yoga teacher training in Brooklyn), teaches a wonderful restorative class and is an advocate for the style and for an overall 'love yourself and take deep breaths' approach to health. Reading what she has to stay always allows me to take a big exhale. You can find her on instagram at @live_your_light
5. Deal With Your Stress
There are direct nerve connections between the gut and the brain. Chronic stress leads to inflammation in the body, which can influence mood and lead to chronic disease. The same way a diverse and healthy microbiota support digestive function, a healthy gut supports a healthy connection to the brain.
You must find ways to deal with your stress. Find a counselor or incorporate daily mindfulness activities into your life. Spend time in nature. Get better sleep. Eat dinner with friends and family. Exercise. Volunteer for causes that are important for you. The APA has some tips on emotional health also. Restorative yoga anyone?
I cannot stress enough how much better you'll feel if you take care of your gut. This is an area I specialize in with my private practice. I guide my clients off the processed foods they're eating by finding space for self-care. Organized shopping and meal-prepping are key to make sure you have the foods available to you when you need them. I'd be happy to help you find gut health. You can read about my services here.
As always, I'd love to hear your thoughts below.