When it comes to improving your gut health, there’s nothing more important than the foods that you eat. While processed and unhealthy foods can damage the intestinal lining there are fortunately plenty of foods and natural supplements that can actually repair intestinal damage and heal your digestive system. A healthy gut is essential for overall wellness, and I typically advise my patients to consume the following gut-supportive foods and nutrients as part of their customized integrative wellness protocols:
- Bone Broth: I drink a cup of homemade bone broth every single day to maintain a healthy digestive system (glowing, wrinkle-free skin is an added bonus). Bone broth is a digestive system super food because it’s full of amino acids and nutrients which help to speed the turnover and healing of the gut lining. It’s also especially high in the nutrient zinc, which can improve intestinal permeability and heal leaky gut. Bone broth naturally contains collagen, gelatin, and glutamine which all help repair the gut lining and prevent future damage. Check out my go-to bone broth recipe to start making your own at home.
- Resistant Starches: These are fibres that are not easily digested in stomach or small intestine. Instead, they remain intact and provide fuel for the healthy bacteria living in your gut. This fuel allows your microbes to produce beneficial compounds called short chain fatty acids (SCFAs). Butyrate is an important SCFA produced in the the intestines, and having increased levels of this fatty acid reduces inflammation, provides antioxidants and even reinforces the defensive barrier in the gut. Eat 1/3 cup daily of any of the following food sources of resistant starches to feed those healthy bacteria living in your intestines: seeds, cashews, unprocessed whole grains, legumes, raw or cooked potatoes, raw green bananas, raw oats, plantain & plantain flour (use in healthy baking or throw 1 tbs into smoothies).
- Gelatin: Gelatin makes up almost a third of all of the protein in our bodies, and a dietary deficiency of this key nutrient can wreak havoc on your gastrointestinal system. Gelatin, which comes from animal bones, was traditionally a key part the human diet since it provides important amino acids for gut health and joint support. Gelatin thickens very quickly as it cools, so it’s best to eat gelatin in gummy form or drink it in your bone broth.
- Kombucha: Kombucha is made by fermenting sweetened tea with a symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast (aka SCOBY). During the fermentation process the bacteria in the SCOBY breaks down the sugar in the tea to release probiotic bacteria. A recent study analyzed the probiotic content of Kombucha and found it to be rich in 2 strains; Gluconacetobacter and Lactobacillus; the most prevalent beneficial strain found in a healthy human microbiome. Healthy bacteria from probiotic-rich drinks like Kombucha can also act as an indirect digestion aid since they helps us breakdown foods and turn them into nutrients.
- Glutamine: I often prescribe glutamine supplements to patients with suboptimal digestive systems because it acts as an anti-inflammatory in the gut and is also necessary for the repair of the intestinal lining. Stress, medications and poor food choices can all impact the lining of your digestive tract leading to a condition called ‘leaky gut‘. When your digestive system is under stress, either physically via inflammatory foods or indirectly via increases emotional stress, the space between the cells of your gut lining opens up. This allows larger protein molecules to get into the bloodstream where an immunologic reaction can take place. When food proteins and toxins are able to pass through your gut lining and into your bloodstream it leads to systemic inflammation and immune system problems. While probiotics can indirectly aid regeneration of gut lining, L-Glutamine is an incredible supplement because it can directly feed the cells in your gut so they can regrow.
- Probiotic Supplements: Probiotics are the good bacteria that provide health benefits to humans; they are live microbes that live in and on our bodies and beneficially impact us by improving a favourable microbial balance in the gut. While probiotic-rich foods are an amazing way to support an already healthy digestive system you may still need to use a probiotic supplement a few times weekly if you have significant digestive disturbances. Studies show that probiotic supplementation helps to maintain healthy gut flora, rebalance the immune system, reduce inflammation and improve overall digestive function. Probiotic supplementation doesn’t actually ‘recolonize’ the gut, and must therefore be taken consistently to maintain beneficial results. I personally take a probiotic capsule a few times weekly since studies show that levels of “bad” bacteria will begin to creep back up starting as soon as 1 week after discontinuing a probiotic supplement.
- Fermented foods: Fermented foods are another great source of naturally occurring probiotics. Probiotic-rich foods help to keep your gut flora balanced by maintaining high levels of ‘good’ bacteria, which creates a favourable environment to begin the gut healing process. My favourite fermented foods are sauerkraut, kimchi, homemade coconut yoghurt and tempeh – and I try to include at least one serving into my diet each day. You can check out my recent Fermenting 101 post where I give you all the best tools and recipes to make fermenting easy, fun and safe for beginners.
- Coconut oil: Coconut oil is abundant in a compound called lauric acid, which makes it a wonderful gut-healing super food. Lauric acid has antimicrobial and antifungal properties to help maintain a balance between good and bad bacteria in the digestive tract. Coconut oil is also a natural anti-inflammatory, which can help heal the intestinal lining and improve symptoms inflammatory bowel disease. I typically recommend that my patients start with a conservative dose of 1 – 2 tsp daily and build up their intake after a few months of working on the gut with the other foods and supplements listed above.
Looking to connect with a Naturopath in Oakville to discuss your digestive health goals and guidance through a personalized gut-healing protocol? Book your appointment here.