Good Gut Guide

Good Gut Guide 

The gut.  It's our 'ground zero' when it comes to health.  Inside your gut are trillions of living organisms, referred to as your intestinal flora or as "good" and "bad" bacteria. More than one-third of us have an inflammation related illness (including, arthritis, high cholesterol, allergies, eczema, digestive problems, obesity) stemming from an overgrowth of bad bacteria in the gut. 

 

Good bacteria perform a multitude of important functions. They regulate and profoundly influence our immune system's response, they prevent the growth of harmful pathogenic bacteria, they digest part of our food for us (certain nutrients, such as B vitamins, have to be pre-digested by bacteria before the body can absorb them), they're a key contributor in detoxification by ridding the body of 40% of the toxins in our food, they play a critical role in our metabolism and influence whether we lose or gain weight, and if that weren't enough, they directly impact the functioning of our brain

Bad bacteria are the ones responsible for disease. And influence whether or not you are able to lose weight. They produce infection within the body, and when there are enough of them, they can break down the wall of the intestine and penetrate into your bloodstream, releasing toxic by-products into your body and causing a ton of symptoms. There will always be bad bacteria in your gut, but the key is keeping their presence minimal and to prevent an overgrowth. If you suffer from acne, constipation, tiredness, allergies, mood swings, eczema, or digestive problems, it is possible that you have an imbalance in your gut flora. 

The question is then, what causes an overgrowth of bad bacteria? 

 

Both types of bacteria have favourite foods and preferred conditions under which they thrive. Unfortunately, our modern day diet, 

which is high in sugar, carbohydrates, preservatives and additives is the perfect breeding ground for promoting an overgrowth of bad bacteria. Not only do these foods promote an overgrowth of bad bacteria, but they kill off our healthy bacteria very quickly too. Other factors, such as taking antibiotics (while sometimes necessary) can completely wipe out the good bacteria in your gut. And even drinking tap water, which contains chemicals such as fluoride and chlorine can also kill off your good bacteria.

 

So how can we promote the growth and presence of good bacteria in the gut? 

  • Eat fermented foods!  This one can't be stressed enough and is by far one of the most beneficial things you can do for your gut. Fermented foods are made up of the good bacteria our guts need. There is no better way to colonize your gut with beneficial bacteria than by eating fermented foods. These include sauerkraut, kimchi,  pickled vegetables (just make sure there’s no added vinegar in the ingredients, they should only list the vegetable, salt and herbs or seasonings).  These can be found in the refrigerated section of the store (or you can easily make your own, check out my blog to see how), tempeh (fermented soybean cake), miso, and kombucha (a fermented tea, make sure you look for one with no added sugar). 

  • Supplement with probiotics. A probiotic supplement contains several strains of bacteria to repopulate the gut with healthy flora. It is best to pick up a probiotic at your local health food store and to choose one that has at least 50 billion cultures. Look for one that has the following strains of bacteria: lactobacillus acidophilus, lactobacillus brevis, lactobacillus plantarum, bifidobacterium lactis and bifidobacterium longum.  It can (and will) contain other strains but these are some of the more beneficial ones, especially for brain health (according to Dr. David Perlmutter, author or Brain Maker - The Power of Gut Microbes to Heal and Protect Your Brain for Life). 

  • Get your prebiotics in too! Just as sugar and wheat are the favourite foods of bad bacteria, good bacteria have their favourite foods too.  And they need food to grow! These include foods that are high in fibre including, onion, garlic, asparagus, jerusalem artichokes, jicama, leeks, and inulin fibre. You can also take a prebiotic supplement if you're finding it hard incorporating enough prebiotic foods into your diet. Speak with someone at your local health food store to find the best one for you.

  • Load up on your veggies! Especially leafy greens! I know, I know, you're sick of hearing that you need to eat your vegetables. But there's good reason. They’re low in sugar, highly detoxifying, nutrient dense and energy boosting. And your gut loves them. There really are no better foods out there.

  • Drink filtered water. To avoid the gut damaging chemicals like fluoride and chlorine that can be found in tap water, filter your water by using either a filtration pitcher (such as Brita) or a unit designed to filter the water coming into your home from its source. There are a wide variety of water filtration options available, find one that best suits you and your needs. 

  • Eat organic when possible. You guessed it. Those nasty chemicals and pesticides that get sprayed all over our "conventional" produce, go right to the gut once consumed and kill off the good guys, allowing the bad bacteria to proliferate. Remember, without enough good bacteria around to keep the bad guys in check, the bad bacteria are able to take over.

  • Meat and Dairy too! Organic that is (or not at all is an option too!). Factory farming is horrifying and wrong for so many reasons but one of which is the amount of drugs, hormones and antibiotics that are given to the animals. And if we eat the animals, we eat what they've been given. Meaning, we are consuming antibiotics and hormones and drugs every time we eat conventional meat and dairy. All those drugs are killing our good bacteria by the groves. Do your best to look for local, organic, grass fed, pasture raised meat and dairy whenever possible. You can even try finding a local farmer to buy your meat and dairy off of rather than buying it from the grocery store! 

  • Soak, ferment and sprout! These food-prep techniques assist in building a healthy microbiome and aid in the digestion of food. Grains, beans, legumes, nuts and seeds all benefit greatly from being soaked overnight before use. Through this process you eliminate the anti-nutrients and gut-busting enzymes naturally present in these foods. Fermenting vegetables such as cabbage, help to colonize your gut with beneficial bacteria (as discussed above). 

  • Avoid gluten as much as possible (or eliminate altogether). I know... you didn't want to hear this, I didn't either. But it turns out there really is something to the whole 'gluten free' fad after all.  Foods containing gluten, not only feed the bad bacteria in your gut but gluten itself is very damaging to the intestinal wall. Try making gluten a weekend treat instead of an everyday staple.

  • Use antibiotics only when absolutely necessary. The role of antibiotics is to kill off bad bacteria; however they also take the good bacteria out with the bad. Not only that, the excessive over prescription and overuse of antibiotics is believed to be causing serious long term consequences for our health, both because of its negative impact on the levels and diversity of our gut flora and also because of it's role in the creation of "superbugs" - bacteria that is resistant to any and all antibiotics. For times when antibiotics are necessary, you can aid in the replenishing of your gut through the use of a strong probiotic supplement.

  • Avoid the use of ibuprofen whenever possible. Many studies have shown that ibuprofen  (Advil, Aleve, etc) damages your gut lining. Try addressing the root cause of your pain before reaching for Advil. For example, if you have a headache, try figuring out why you have the headache in the first place. Are you dehydrated? Are you over tired? Are you eating too much sugar or artificial sweeteners? And then address accordingly either by drinking more water, taking a nap or going to bed earlier, or cutting down your refined and artificial sugar intake. 

  • Avoid external toxins as much as possible. These include, chemical based cleaning products, hand sanitizers, beauty products, soaps and laundry detergents. All of these contain high levels of toxic ingredients, which can upset the balance of your gut flora and can damage your gut lining. Look for unscented, natural care products instead. 

  • Avoid processed food and sugar as much as possible. Processed foods contain chemicals, preservatives, flavours and additives, all of which can damage your gut. Sugar (which not only feeds the bad bacteria in your gut but is also addictive, makes you fat, tired, depressed, age faster, makes your skin dull, weakens your immunity and when consumed in excess causes all sorts of diseases....pass!) and artificial sweeteners (which significantly alter your gut microbes) are two ingredients to really avoid.

  • Include as many good fats in your meals as possible. These include extra-virgin olive oil, coconut oil, avocados, fish oil, and flaxseed oil (raw). Good fats help to heal the gut lining, they draw out the nutrients from your food and make you feel fuller for longer. And I mean it when I say to include as many good fats as possible. You don't need to be scared of good fat, it is sugar that we need to be scared of. Sugar is what makes and keeps us fat and sick. Good fats keep us healthy and thin. So eat up! 

  • Supplement with Oregano Essential Oil. Oregano oil is antiviral, antibacterial, antifungal, antiparasitic, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and aids in digestion.  Basically, it helps to fight off the bad bacteria without killing off or damaging any of the good bacteria.  You just need a few drops under your tongue or added to a glass of water. It's not the best tasting thing in the world but it works (think Buckley's)! A note on oregano oil - it should have at least 70% carvacrol (the active ingredient) in order to be effective. 

  • Meditate. Stress can have negative effects on numerous parts of our body, and our gut is no exception. Stress can increase gut permeability (which leads to inflammation in the body, the root of all disease), and it plays a part in determining the diversity and balance of our gut bacteria. Try and take a few minutes each day to de-stress, whether that's through guided meditation, deep breathing, dancing or doing whatever else that brings you JOY! 

* If you feel like you may be suffering from severe gut dysfunction, there are more extensive steps you can take with diet and supplementation.     These are simply suggestions and stepping stones towards maintaining a healthy gut. 

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