Better digestion guide: Healing your gut

If you suffer from gastrointestinal distress you will be pleased to hear that there are some simple dietary and lifestyle changes you can make to give your digestive organs a helping hand, reduce stress and restore balance.

Eat mindfully:

  • Stop multitasking at meal times. It’s really difficult to focus on eating if you’re doing other things. Set aside time for eating without other entertainment.

  • Only eat at the table. Minimise mindless munching by getting into the habit of only eating when you are sitting down and able to give the food your full attention. No more snacking on the run.

  • Appreciate the appearance and smell of your food. This triggers the release of enzymes.

  • Chew well. While it can be overkill to go to the monastic extreme of 100 chews per mouthful, make sure you chew your food enough so that it is well broken down before you swallow.

  • Talk and share. One of the joys of eating is sharing a meal with loved ones. It can be challenging to incorporate mindfulness in a social situation, but not impossible. Turn the focus of the conversation onto the meal while you are actually eating.

  • Go for quality not quantity. By choosing smaller amounts of the best food you can afford, you will not only enjoy it more, you’re far more likely to be satisfied without having to over eat.

  • Make time to prepare your own meals, preferably from fresh ingredients. The cooking process can be as relaxing and enjoyable as eating if you let it.

Avoid problem foods:

Some foods are notorious for causing digestive discomfort, and eating them can lead to long-term digestive problems.

  • Dairy is one of the top offenders because it’s just so difficult to digest. Specifically, the lactose found in dairy products contributes to gas, bloating, diarrhoea, and digestive dysfunction, especially in people who have trouble metabolising the protein. One way to get the nutrition of dairy without the gas and bloating is with yoghurt, which is much easier on the digestive tract.

  • Gluten-containing foods such as wheat, barley, and rye, can interfere with digestive capacity. They have also been found to contribute to inflammatory conditions, heartburn, autoimmune disorders, neurological and behavioural issues, skin diseases, osteoporosis, chronic fatigue, and other conditions. If you have chronic digestive or immune issues, it’s possible that you may have a gluten sensitivity or even celiac disease, an autoimmune condition where any intake of gluten damages the intestinal lining. Interestingly, however, a strict gluten-free diet sometimes clears up symptoms even in people who have tested negative for gluten intolerance or celiac disease.

  • Processed food with its artificial ingredients, can definitely cause digestive problems. Fizzy drinks, coffee, alcohol, and certain pharmaceutical drugs can kill beneficial bacteria and generate acidity. Avoiding these substances can improve digestive health significantly.

  • Exercise is important on many levels, and it certainly aids proper digestion as well. The mixture of movement and gravity helps food travel through the digestive system and frequent low-level activity like walking is an excellent aid to digestion (and much more!). The sedentary modern lifestyle of sitting all day puts a kink in the digestive process and makes normal digestion more difficult. Easy fix? Walk a few miles at a comfortable pace each day! Bonus points if you do it as a family or with your significant other and get some quality time too!

Incorporate gut healing foods into your diet:

Homemade bone broth is an incredibly nutrient dense food which is packed with gelatin, l-glutamine and collagen which sooth the digestive track, repair damaged cells and improve nutrient absorption.

Sources of L-glutamine: L-glutamine is the most abundant of the amino acids that serve as building blocks for protein in the body. It plays an important role in a number of biochemical processes and is involved in more metabolic processes than any other amino acid. Because it fuels white blood cells and other rapidly dividing body cells, glutamine is indispensable to immune system function and tissue repair. While your body normally makes all the glutamine it needs, a serious injury or prolonged illness may require you to increase your dietary intake, which generally means eating protein-rich foods. Foods with high levels of protein, such as meat and dairy products, contain the highest glutamine content, but there are also several good vegetable sources. Proper preparation of these glutamine-rich vegetables can contribute to good health by increasing glutamine bioavailability. 

Fermented foods: to replenish gut bacteria, these include:

  • Miso: A paste made of fermented soy beans, it forms the base of soups or glazes.

  • Sauerkraut: A condiment is made from finely shredded fermented cabbage.

  • Sourdough bread: Real sourdough bread is made with milk that has been allowed to ferment before making the bread dough.

  • Kefir: A fermented drink made from milk, soya milk or coconut water

  • Yoghurt: Yoghurt must be labelled as live to include probiotics.

  • Kimchi: A traditional Korean dish made from pickled vegetables like cabbage or radish.

  • Natto: These fermented soybeans are a traditional Japanese breakfast dish.

  • Poi: A fermented paste made from taro root.

  • Tempeh: A cake made of fermented soybeans.

Anti-fungal foods: To combat overgrowth. These include:

  • Coconut oil - one of the most potent anti-fungals there is. It contains Lauric acid and Caprylic acid, which both help prevent Candida overgrowth and strengthen your immune system. Coconut oil is very heat stable so it’s an ideal oil to use for frying and cooking. It is also cheap to buy and has a much longer shelf life than other oils, so there’s no excuse!

  • Garlic - has powerful anti-fungal properties to attack Candida while also preserving and boosting the good bacteria in your digestive system. Garlic stimulates the liver and colon, giving it a potent detoxifying effect on the body. If you love garlic, then use it liberally to flavour your food. You can also drink two to four cloves per day, crushed and mixed with water as an anti-Candida tonic. Avoid taking it on a completely empty stomach, and try it with a tablespoon of coconut oil to cut down on the stomach burn.

  • Onions - as well as having strong anti-fungal, anti-bacterial and anti-parasitic properties, onions also help to flush excess fluids out the body. This is useful because many Candida sufferers experience water retention. Onions are also a pre-biotic, the food source for our 'good' bacteria.

  • Swede - one of the most potent anti-fungal foods that you will find. Swede is a versatile vegetable, you can make a swede mash, cut up some swede fries or mix it into your vegetable soup.

  • Olive oil - contains a plant chemical named Oleuropein, which has powerful anti-fungal properties and stimulates your immune system response to 'bad' bacteria. It has also been shown to help stabilise blood sugar levels – this is important for Candida sufferers because elevated blood sugar levels can feed yeast overgrowth.

  • Pumpkin seeds - are high in Omega-3 fatty acids, which have anti-fungal, anti-viral and anti-parasitic properties. Omega-3’s also help combat depression and symptoms of inflammation such as pain and skin conditions. For an easy Omega-3 boost, add these pumpkin seeds to cereal, smoothies, salads or even use them as a portable snack.

You may have read this because you are suffering from IBS or related conditions such as chronic diarrhoea, constipation, bloating, reflux, cramps or spasms and if so, it is likely that you will need to see a nutritional therapist for a course of consultations. Hopefully you can see that given the right case history taking and functional testing, nutritional therapy may help to uncover what has been causing these symptoms and in turn create a bespoke plan to restore you back to health. Similarly, it is highly apparent that the integrity of your gastrointestinal tract plays a significant role in your overall health and well-being, and that many health issues seemingly totally unrelated to the gut, such as fatigue, eczema, psoriasis or inflammatory conditions can be traced here and as such very often becomes a primary focus for an initial treatment protocol.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Nutritionist Resource are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Bristol, Avon, BS16 2JP
Written by Rosie Letts, BSc Hons, MBANT, CNHC| Online Nutritionist
Bristol, Avon, BS16 2JP

Nutritional Therapist Bsc Hons mBANT CNHC. I use the functional medicine model to assess your health, the goal being to identify and address the triggers and underlying causes of your health problems rather than simply focusing on symptoms.

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