Happy Friday the 13th. Be mindful of your mirrors and keep an eye open for black cats getting too close. The only thing scary about this date is the name for the fear of it: Paraskavedekatriaphobia. Yikes. But keeping up with the theme of the day, let’s talk about something gory…your guts, and how to ‘scare’ them straight. (I know, cheesy.)
In Tuesday’s article about gut health we talked about the importance of your digestive system in determining how you feel today and in the future…the “why.” If you’re like a lot of people, like me, you may have gotten off track somewhere and need to fix some gut issues. So in this article I want to talk about the “how” in how to keep your digestive system healthy.
If you are in relatively good health and can’t think of any complaints, just eliminating destructive foods may be mostly all you need to worry about. Your body has amazing detoxification systems, and as long as we stop ingesting toxins and provide good nutrition, it knows just what to do. For everyone else, it may take a little more effort to achieve and maintain good gut and overall health.
Regardless of how you feel now, it is always important to try to maintain a proper balance between the “good guys” and “bad buys” in your gut. The “bad guys” are yeast and unfriendly bacteria. Keep them in check by not feeding them what they love – sugar. So keep the sugars down (in all forms) and go easy on the grains, which are converted to sugars. Also be aware that stress, toxins, and antibiotics can all tip the scales in the bad guys’ favor in a big way.
“Good guys” are friendly bacteria called probiotics. They help keep the bad guys at bay, they aid in digestion, and they even help in the production of certain vitamins. You want to intentionally add as much of these as possible. You can never have too many good bacteria, and you can never have too little yeast.
You can buy probiotic supplements in capsules or in powders at almost any health store and natural food stores. We always strive as much as possible to address health care using food as much as possible, and there are plenty of foods that have enormous supplies of probiotics.
Two of our favorites, after learning more about them from the book Body Ecology, are cultured vegetables (kimchi and sauerkraut basically) and kefir. Kimchi and sauerkraut are simply fermented cabbage. Kefir is similar to yogurt, but the bacteria strains are different, and the probiotics are more powerful. (It’s important you buy unpasteurized versions. Pasteurization kills off the bad and the good.) Both cultured veggies and kefir offer a powerful punch of probiotics and they deliver them deep into the digestive tract.
As you know we are not big fans of dairy, but kefir is where we will actually make an exception. The fermentation process breaks down the lactose in the milk, so it may actually be suitable for people who otherwise are lactose intolerant. Because those dairy proteins can be really hard on Kelli, we usually make (you can buy them) dairy-alternative kefirs like coconut water kefir and coconut milk kefir. Be sure to buy plain kefir (not sweetened), and full fat as opposed to reduced.
Other good foods to include regularly in your diet are coconut oil (has fatty acids that help your immune system fight invaders), high fiber flax and chia (they produce a mucosal substance that protects the gut lining…as well as helping to keep things moving down the line : ), and fermented soy products like miso, natto, and tempeh.
If your gut issues are more severe, you’re traveling and don’t have access to cultured foods, or just feel like you need additional probiotics, taking probiotics in supplement form is a good idea. Look for brands that have as many live active cultures and bacteria strains as possible. After researching the manufacturing processes of many companies, we’re fans of the Garden of Life variety because of the painstaking efforts they go to to verify that the bacteria remain alive at all stages of not just manufacturing, but also delivery to the store shelves.
If your gut has been damaged by years of abuse (sugar, processed foods, and yeast overgrowth), you may have also reduced its ability to absorb nutrients. Taking a high quality multi vitamin as well as an omega-3 supplement will be helpful.
For some more advanced gut repair, other supplements can be used as well. The good news is these only need to be used for a short time, since they are actually healing the gut. Taking these supplements for just a few months, maybe up to six, should be more than enough to get things squared away.
It’s possible your body doesn’t produce enough digestive enzymes on its own if your gut has been damaged or strained. These enzymes can be purchased in capsule form and taken with your meals. They work by coming into contact with your food and breaking it down chemically.
Licorice and ginger may be two of the oldest forms of natural digestive remedies that exist. Both can be used for immediate relief of heartburn and stomach upset. Licorice is particularly useful in increasing mucus production in the stomach lining which protects the lining and allows it to heal.
Another time-proven natural healer is aloe vera. It reduces inflammation and has a lot of healing vitamins and minerals. We often will buy a whole aloe vera leaf then cut off portions as we need it. The most common way we use it is by filleting the leaf, and using the inner gooey part in our breakfast smoothies. If you buy a juice at the store, make sure it is only made from the inner material and not the whole leaf.
More popular herbs that you can easily find are fennel, chamomile, peppermint, slippery elm, and marshmallow. Pill, powder, or tea, it doesn’t matter. They’ll calm the intestinal walls, reduce gas and bloating, and nourish the mucus membranes of the digestive system.
Have you seen all those products that say they’ll knock out a cold fast? What do they all have? Heaps of zinc. Turns out zinc is critical for healing the stomach and intestinal linings, which as we discussed in part one, is the primary home of your immune system. Make sure you’re getting enough, and increase your dose during this time of healing the gut.
Let’s tie it all together now.
-Stop feeding the bad guys by reducing sugar and eliminating processed foods.
-Include probiotic rich foods in your diet every day. Drink some kefir in the morning. Add kimchi to your lunch. Order some natto when you go out for sushi. You get the idea.
-If you’re dealing with more persistent health and digestion issues, include enzymes and gut-healing herbs in your daily regimen.
I don’t know if it’s possible to emphasize gut health too heavily. By doing these things you can help yourself avoid serious illnesses that affect way too many people, as well as enjoy optimal health today. They’ll literally help you feel better fast. Try it out. Go sugar free for two weeks, load up on probiotics and cultured foods, and see how you feel on day 14. I’m sure you’ll be convinced that there’s just no better, natural way to feel great.
Does no sugar include giving up honey?
Great question. First off, please note I didn’t say no sugar! 🙂 If you’re doing a serious detox diet to go hard after a yeast or bacteria overgrowth, than you’d have to go no sugar, or at least extremely low. But that’s not something you can sustain forever…and who would want to?!
That being said, bacteria and yeast will feed off any type of sugar. So that includes the junk nasty processed white stuff with no nutritional value, to higher quality sugars like raw honey, real maple syrup, fruits, and even the higher sugar vegetables like carrots. If you’ve killed off the excessive amounts of bad guys in your gut, and generally eat natural whole foods and consume probiotic foods (or take probiotic supplements), when you do eat reasonable amounts of the healthier sugars the bad guys just aren’t going to find any place to take root and cause problems.
So it’s important to not go overboard on sugar – whether sugar from sugar cane, or agave, or maple, or honey, or whatever – but we’d never try to tell someone to give it up completely.
Honey and maple are great to use because there are so many nutrients that come with them. Amazingly, even raw evaporated forms of cane sugar have vitamins that help offset the negatives. It’s just that ultra-processed white stuff with zero redeeming value that we’d encourage people to avoid completely, as much as possible.