In the last post, I talked about how our mental health is impacted by our digestive health. Now we need to talk about what you can do at home to improve your gut health.
Start with fiber and fermented foods. Remember that a healthy microbiome is key to the development of those helpful neurotransmitters helping you manage anxiety, depression and improve things like poor memory and sleep problems. Fermented foods like kefir, yogurt and kombucha (probiotics) provide your intestinal tract with the neessary healthy bacteria, also known as your “intestinal flora.” You can also take a probiotic supplement with a meal each day.
Fermented foods alone won’t cut it; you also need fiber. Fiber is what feeds the healthy bacteria, making it an excellent prebiotic. Good prebiotic fibers that are easily added to your diet include onions, garlic, asparagus, bananas, Jerusalem artichokes, leeks, wheat (properly sprouted), bitter greens, chia seeds, okra and chicory root. This will help you grow a healthy “gut garden” full of the good bacteria, producing the many neurotransmitters that affect mood and over-all wellness. More and more research is showing that simply taking an antidepressant or anti-anxiety medication as treatment for depression and anxiety is insufficient. We are learning to take a more holistic approach to mental health.
There are also some things you can incorporate into your weekly menus that will help heal the damage to your intestinal lining (which is what causes leaky gut). Bone broth, full of collagen and gelatin, is wonderfully healing. It’s full of the amino acid glutamine which can help the lining heal itself. To make your own, roast a whole chicken or buy a rotisserie chicken at the market. After you’ve removed the skin and meat, put the bones in a crock pot with some leftover vegetable pieces (carrots, celery and onion are favorites) as well as seasonings (rosemary, garlic, ginger) and about a tablespoon of Apple Cider Vinegar (this will help draw the most nutrients from the bones). Cover that all with water and cook on low all day. When you’re ready, strain the broth into glass jars for storage. Your house will smell delightful, and you’ll have bone broth to use or freeze for later.
If you’re feeling a little lazy, putting collagen peptides in your coffee or tea is beneficial, too. It will stimulate helpful gastric juices and heal the mucousal layer of your intestinal lining. Increasing your intake of anti-inflammatory nutrients will help as well. See My Healing Lemonade and Cherry Matcha Smoothie recipes for some ideas, or try this Gut Healer Smoothie for breakfast!
Gut Healer Smoothie (THM-FP)
1/4 cup low-fat Kefir (I use the Lifeway brand found in the yogurt section)
3/4 cups water
2 Tablespoons vanilla protein powder
1 Tablespoon Baobab powder
1 tsp chia seeds
1 handful fresh kale
1/2 cup frozen blueberries
squeeze juice of 1/2 a lemon (to cut the grassy taste)
This smoothie is full of healthy bacteria from the kefir, lots of fiber from the Baobab, chia seeds (which also soothe a damaged gut lining) and kale, and anti-inflammatory goodness from the blueberries. Sweeten with Stevia to taste.
One final thing to remember while you’re trying to heal your gut – healthy digestion cannot take place in a body under stress. Digestion is a function of your parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for rest and relaxation. High stress impairs the whole digestive process; instead of your muscles being relaxed, they are tensed. Your blood flows away from your midsection, where it is needed for digestion, and heads towards your extremities to aid in “fight” or “flight”. Your body no longer has the resources it needs to digest food properly. This leads to problems as simple as heartburn and nausea or as extensive as irritable bowel disease and ulcers.
How do you mitigate this problem? Eat when you are relaxed. If you just laughed at that statement, it’s time to take a closer look at your life. If you are always too stressed to sit down and have a peaceful moment to eat, figure out what adjustments you can make. No one needs to be so busy that they always eat on the go or standing up. Taking 30 minutes to be mindful about feeding your body, the only one God gave you, can start a cascade of positive changes in your life.
But for all of these things to truly have permanent positive changes on your digestive system and health, you must stop eating the things that cause inflammation and intestinal permeability in the first place. Sugar. Refined, packaged, processed foods. Poor quality oils. Trans fats. Soy. All of these things contribute to the breakdown of your intestinal lining and chronic inflammation. All of the kombucha in the world won’t help you if you’re unwilling to give up your diet sodas and deli sandwiches.
Make these basic alterations to your nutrition and let me know what differences you see!