How your body digests and processes food makes a significant difference in your overall health. Your digestion impacts your hormones so if you think about all of the hormones in your body and what they do, you know that digestion affects your sleep, your mood, your cognitive function, your energy, and it can have a huge impact on your weight.
If you have healthy digestion and a healthy gut then you’re able to
- Feel energetic throughout your day
- Experience quality sleep
- Feel emotionally stable during the day
- Feel clear headed and able to focus
- Lose weight when you want to
- Effectively pull nutrients from food and process them.
- Eat what your body needs
- Avoid stomach upset including constipation, diarrhea, and acid indigestion (these are not normal!)
Improving Gut Health
Improving your gut health isn’t difficult. However it does require you to pay attention to your body. Let’s look at 15 things you can do to improve your gut health.
#1 Identify Irritants (and eliminate them)
Let’s first talk about allergens and foods that many people are sensitive to. They include dairy, grains/gluten, nuts and seeds, eggs, nightshades, beans, and seafood. Caffeine, chocolate, and alcohol can also cause issues for some people.
How do you know if a food is an irritant?
There are actually a few steps that you can take to identify foods that irritate your gut. The first is to keep a food diary and track how you feel after you eat. Do you feel bloated? Are you gassy? Do you feel tired and mentally foggy? Do you feel depressed or anxious a few hours later (or even the next day?)
For example, I realized after having a hard cider I am depressed and sad the next day – really really sad. So I can’t drink hard cider anymore.
If you’re suspicious that a food may be causing issues for you, try an elimination diet. Eliminate that food for three weeks (21 days) then reintroduce that food into your diet (just a small amount will work) and see how your body responds. You may feel digestive distress, your skin may break out, you may feel irritable or sad. Or you may feel wonderful and you can be fairly certain that the food isn’t an irritant for you.
The third way to identify irritants is to systematically eliminate all foods that may be causing you issues. I highly recommend The Paleo Approach, Reverse Autoimmune Disease and Heal Your Body by Dr Sarah Ballantyne. She has designed a protocol to help heal your gut and also has some amazing cookbooks to make this process easier. You can find the book at: https://amzn.to/2l5xqBV
#2 Reduce Inflammatory Food Intake
Okay, so let’s assume that you don’t have any food allergies or sensitivities. You’re very lucky! That doesn’t mean you’re in the clear here. There are foods that naturally cause some inflammation and they cause digestive distress.
Beans are one and you’re probably already familiar with the impact that beans can have on your diet. I’m not saying not to eat beans, unless you are dealing with a damaged gut and then it’s a good idea to eliminate them, at least until your gut heals. What I am saying is that you should reduce your intake of beans, no more than once a week.
Other inflammatory foods include:
Reduce your intake of these foods and replace them with foods that are good for you and support a healthy gut.
#3 Take a Probiotic
All probiotics are not created equally. You may find that some upset your stomach. This is a bit of a trial and error process. If you are allergic to dairy, like me, then you’ll want to look for a probiotic that isn’t cultured in dairy. I am a huge fan of Primal Probiotics. It took me a while to get to a probiotic that worked for me. The Primal product really helps my digestion and it’s budget friendly!
#4 Eat Probiotic Foods
Supplement your diet with probiotic foods like kombucha, sauerkraut, kimchi, and unsweetened yogurt. By taking a probiotic and eating foods with natural probiotics (from the fermentation process) you’re adding more healthy bacteria to your gut. The gut microbiome is a vast system and we’re only beginning to learn about the connections between gut health and disease. However, adding probiotic foods and supplements to your daily routine has shown to be effective for improving overall health and vitality – (https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/09/180906141640.htm)
#5 Eat Prebiotic Foods
Prebiotic foods are foods that your healthy gut bacteria thrive on. (the bad bacteria in your gut thrive on sugar…). Prebiotic foods include:
- Green bananas
- Potato starch (or reheated potatoes)
- Jerusalem Artichoke
Exercise can boost the production of short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) that reduce inflammation and keep the gut healthy. And new studies have shown that exercise increases the diversity of your healthy gut bacteria. In short, when you exercise you improve your digestion and create more healthy bacteria.
What is “exercise”? Get an 30-45 minutes of activity where you’re increasing your heart rate each day and increase your movement during the day. So, take the stairs instead of the elevator and park at the back of the parking lot when you’re running errands. Less time on the couch and more time moving your body will improve your digestive health.
Meditation has been shown to improve every system in your body. Your cognitive functions, your cardiovascular system, and your digestive system all gain benefits from meditation.
There are many different approaches you can take with meditation. You can do a simple breathing exercise in your home each day. You can subscribe to an app. I like HeadSpace and use it daily. https://www.headspace.com/
#8 Rest & Digest
We live in a fast paced world. Meals take 5 minutes to eat and then we’re off to the next thing on our todo list. However, digestion is supposed to be a slower process. Your body needs to be in a resting state when you digest. You can accomplish this by:
- Eating more slowly.
- Giving yourself 10 minutes (or more) after eating before you go onto your next activity
- Not scheduling something stressful an hour after eating (including exercise)
#9 Improve Sleep Quality
When you sleep, your body works hard to remove toxins from day to day living. Now toxins are simply the result of metabolic processes. You can have toxins in your body from pollution, chemicals and so on but most of the time when I talk about toxins, I mean metabolic waste. Your body goes through a cleansing process and a hormonal reset during deep sleep.
If you’re not getting enough deep sleep during the night, you’re not getting the benefit of this deep cleaning and hormone reset. Hormones including leptin, ghrelin, and cortisol (just to name a few) are involved in digestion, hunger, and satiety. When you focus on getting improved sleep, you’re in a better position to support healthy digestion and an improved gut microbiome.
#10 Eat More Fruits and Veggies
Let’s talk about the F word…Fiber. Many practitioners recommend fiber supplementation like psyllium husk, flax, and even chemicals to improve your bowels. Take a step back for a second and think about your digestion. These ingredients affect fluid balance in your gut and hasten the process. This doesn’t improve your gut health or your digestion process, it just makes you poop.
Instead, try focusing on eating more fruits and vegetables during the day. Have a serving or two of fruits and veggies with each meal. Whole foods instead of processed foods are the path to a healthy gut.
#11 Consider Collagen Supplementation
Collagen is a protein. It helps repair and strengthen the lining of your digestive system. It also helps with liver function and converting food into energy. And if you’re supplementing with collagen or getting more collagen naturally in your meals, you’ll also enjoy better hair, nails, and skin.
I add a scoop of Thrive Market Collagen Peptides into my morning cup of coffee. (If you want to try the Thrive Market brand collagen – use this link http://thrv.me/renegade to save 25% off of your first order. )
My husband really loves adding Primal Kitchen’s Collagen Protein into his day. (His favorite is the chocolate).
#12 Stop Eating 3 Hours Before Bedtime
In the effort to help your body optimize your sleep cycle, it’s recommended that you stop eating at least 3 hours before bedtime. This gives your body the opportunity to fully digest your last meal before sleep.
If you go to sleep and you’re still digesting, then your body is focusing on that process instead of the cleansing and resetting process. (You may also find that you lose weight simply by embracing this habit. So many of us eat junk before bed and by eliminating this habit, you’re improving your health and eating less junk!)
#13 Drink More Water
As food moves through your digestive system, your intestines add and remove water. If you’re dehydrated or don’t have enough in your body for this process, you’re not going to have optimal digestion. One easy thing that you can do is to drink a glass of water before each meal. You’ll aid your digestive process.
#14 Reduce Your NSAIDs
NSAIDS like Ibuprofen and aspirin damage the lining of your gut. They can cause ulcers and stomach distress if used chronically and over long periods of time. If you have an acute injury then NSAIDS may make sense to reduce inflammation. However, if you use them chronically, it’s time to talk to your MD about other solutions for your pain.
#15 Take Care with Antibiotics
Antibiotics are amazing and they’re one of the biggest reasons why life expectancy has increased over the past 100 years. They truly are life saving. That being said, our misuse of antibiotics has caused serious problems including antibiotic resistance. And antibiotics have the side effect of harming the bacteria in your gut – especially if you’re on them long term. So be discriminatory when you take antibiotics. Take them when necessary, take them properly, and take safeguards to protect your gut while you’re on them.
Protecting your gut health will help you feel better overall. You’ll have more energy. You’ll sleep better and feel better mentally and emotionally. And you’ll likely lose weight in in the process. If you have questions, don’t hesitate to reach out.