Poor gut health can have a huge impact on your physical and emotional health. An unhealthy gut can put your whole body out of balance and lead to a myriad of health issues including anxiety, depression, lowered immune function, weight gain, digestive issues, and an increased risk of autoimmune diseases.
Looking at ways to maintain a healthy gut mucosa (lining) and balanced gut microbiota is vital for good health and wellbeing, and for the prevention of disease.
HERE ARE THE TOP TEN WAYS TO HEAL YOUR GUT:
1. Include Resistant Starch in Your Diet
Resistant starch is a type of dietary fibre that’s not digested in the small intestine. Instead, it’s fermented in your large intestine by your gut bacteria. The by-product of this fermentation process is the production of short-chain fatty acids, namely butyrate and acetate, which provide fuel for your beneficial gut microbiota, help keep inflammation in check, and ensure the integrity of the gut lining (1,2).
Resistant starch is considered a prebiotic food as it helps our beneficial gut microbiota to grow and flourish in the digestive tract. For optimal gut health, you should include a variety of fibre-rich sources in your daily diet including resistant starch found in wholegrains, legumes (lentils, chickpeas, red kidney beans, baked beans), nuts, some seeds, starchy vegetables (potatoes, sweet potatoes, yams, cassava, taro, sunchoke or Jerusalem artichokes, and yucca), and firm green bananas.
2. Supplement with Collagen
Taking a collagen supplement is beneficial for your gut health. Found in the skin, muscles, bones, blood vessels, tendons and the digestive tract, collagen is a type of protein that is abundant in the body.
Collagen supports gut health as it contains high levels of the amino acids glutamine, glycine, and proline which are important for maintaining the integrity of the gut mucosa. Collagen supplementation is useful for treating leaky gut and inflammatory gut conditions as it reduces inflammation and helps repair and heal the intestinal lining.
Hydrolyzed collagen peptides are easier for the body to breakdown and absorb, which is important for people that have gut issues and problems with the proper absorption of nutrients. Collagen peptides dissolve well into hot or cold drinks like tea, smoothies, coffee, hot chocolate, and soups.
3. Avoid Food Additives
Research suggests that synthetic emulsifiers commonly added to processed foods like the polysorbate series, negatively impact gut health. These man-made emulsifiers are added to processed foods to stop them from separating and to extend their shelf life. They aren’t easily broken down by our digestion and have been found to impair intestinal barrier function which allows antigens and bacteria to cross the gut mucosa into the blood stream. Emulsifiers can also cause inflammation and changes to the gut microbiota, leading to intestinal damage, bacterial overgrowth, and an increased risk of inflammatory bowel disease and metabolic syndrome (3-5).
Other common food stabilisers and additives like maltodextrin have been associated with intestinal inflammation and damage in animal studies (6).
Maltodextrin made from corn, rice, potato, and wheat, is commonly added to processed foods like puddings, sauces, desserts, and powdered drinks as a thickener, filler, and preservative. According to a number of studies, maltodextrin can alter your gut bacteria composition which leaves you more vulnerable to infections and disease. It can also impact mucosal barrier function, increase intestinal inflammation, and deplete immune health by suppressing the growth of beneficial bacteria in the digestive tract while encouraging the growth of pathogenic bacteria (7,8).
4. Steer Clear of Artificial Sweeteners
Researchers have found that artificial sweeteners such as aspartame, sucralose, saccharine, and acesulfame potassium-k commonly found in low-sugar and diet products have a toxic effect on our gut microbiota (9).
Sugar alcohols including mannitol, sorbitol, erythritol, isomalt, and xylitol—commonly used in chocolates bars, and chewing gums—haven’t been found to be damaging to the gut mucosa or microbiota. However, when consumed in large amounts, sugar alcohols can cause digestive complaints such as excess gas, bloating, and diarrhoea. Xylitol is usually better tolerated than other sugar alcohols and it also has a beneficial effect on oral health by helping to reduce cavity formation (10). Instead of using fake sugars that can negatively affect your digestion and gut health, choose a natural sweetener instead like brown rice syrup, raw honey, coconut nectar, date paste, and pure maple syrup to add a little sweetness to baked goods, breakfast cereals, desserts, smoothies, and drinks.
5. Eat More Fermented Foods
Including fermented foods in your daily diet is an important way to boost your gut health and digestion. Fermented foods are considered probiotic foods as they contain live bacteria that help increase beneficial microbiota in the gut. It’s important that we have a good balance of these beneficial gut microbiota for a strong functioning immune system and for the healthy production of our feel-good neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine.
Probiotics are found in fermented foods such as yoghurt, kefir, miso, kavass, kimchi, kombucha, sauerkraut, and other fermented veggies.
6. Gut-Healing Bone Broths
Using bone broth is a wonderful way to give your next soup or casserole a nourishing boost. Bone broths made from chicken, beef, lamb, or fish bones contain collagen that help soothe, nourish, and repair the gut lining. Bone broths are easy to digest and are a popular healing food for anyone with leaky gut. You can easily make bone broths at home and use them as a nourishing base for soups or stews, or as a warm wholesome drink.
Gelatin is pure collagen powder made from beef bones. Adding grass-fed organic gelatin powder to dishes is another easy way to increase your collagen intake and help support your gut health. Use gelatin to make healthy desserts, jelly, or gummies, or add some to thicken soups and stews.
Strawberry and Coconut Gummies:
2/3 cup full-fat coconut milk
1 cup diced strawberries
3 tbsp raw honey or pure maple syrup
6 tbsp grass-fed organic gelatin
Blend strawberries, coconut milk, and honey in your blender.
Pour through a strainer to remove any seeds.
Pour mixture into a small saucepan over low heat.
Sprinkle in gelatin and whisk until combined. Cook for around five minutes until it starts to thicken.
Pour into your moulds or into a square container and place in the freezer for thirty minutes until set.
Remove your gummies from the mould and cut into cubes if you’ve used a square container. Keep leftovers in an airtight container in the fridge.
8. Healing Herbal Teas
Sipping on gut-soothing, anti-inflammatory herbal teas like chamomile, ginger, turmeric, cinnamon, and licorice can help ease inflammation of the gut and promote healing. Slippery elm, aloe vera, and marshmallow are also lovely soothing herbs that are used to heal the gut mucosa.
Glutamine is an amino acid that is the primary fuel source for the cells that line the gut. It helps repair and strengthen the gut mucosa by tightening up the openings in the gut wall, preventing large undigested food particles and toxins from entering the blood stream. Glutamine also helps soothe the gut by suppressing inflammation. Glutamine supplementation is recommended for anyone with a leaky gut, Crohn’s disease, or any type of inflammatory bowel condition.
10. Gut Nourishing Nutrients
There are a number of important vitamins and minerals the body needs for optimal digestion and to reduce intestinal inflammation to help maintain and restore the gut mucosa.
- Vitamin A is found in high levels in cod liver oil and eggs, and beta-carotene (which is converted into vitamin A in the body) is abundant in orange and yellow fruits and veggies, and green leafy vegetables.
- Good sources of zinc include red meat, chicken, seafood, eggs, dairy, legumes, nuts, and wholegrains.
- B vitamins are found in red meat, fish, chicken, eggs, dairy products, brown rice, legumes, seaweed, and dark green leafy vegetables.
- Good sources of quercetin include black grapes, raspberries, broccoli, kale, onions and apples.
- Beneficial unsaturated fats including omega-3 essential fatty acids are found in oily fish, avocado, raw nuts and seeds (e.g., chia, flax, hemp) including their oils and pastes, and extra virgin olive oil.
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- Koh A, De Vadder F, Kovatcheva-Datchary P, Bäckhed F. From Dietary Fiber to Host Physiology: Short-Chain Fatty Acids as Key Bacterial Metabolites. Cell. 2016 Jun 2; 165(6):1332-1345.
- Hideo Ohira, Wao Tsutsui, Yoshio Fujioka. Are Short Chain Fatty Acids in Gut Microbiota Defensive Players for Inflammation and Atherosclerosis? J Atheroscler Thromb. 2017 Jul 1; 24(7): 660–672.
- Csáki KF (2011) Synthetic surfactant food additives can cause intestinal barrier dysfunction. Medical Hypotheses 76: 676–81.
- Chassaing B, Koren O, Goodrich JK et al (2015) Dietary emulsifiers impact the mouse gut microbiota promoting colitis and metabolic syndrome. Nature 519: 92–6.
- Cani PD & Everard A (2015) Keeping gut lining at bay: impact of emulsifiers. Trends in Endocrinology & Metabolism 26: 273–4.
- Arnold AR & Chassaing B (2019) Maltodextrin, Modern Stressor of the Intestinal Environment. Cellular and Molecular Gastroenterology and Hepatology 7: 475–6.
- D. Partridge, K.A Llyod et al. Food additives: Assessing the impact of exposure to permitted emulsifiers on bowel and metabolic health – introducing the FADiets study Nutr Bull. 2019 Dec; 44(4): 329–349.
- Kourtney P. Nickerson and Christine McDonald. Crohn’s Disease-Associated Adherent-Invasive Escherichia coli Adhesion Is Enhanced by Exposure to the Ubiquitous Dietary Polysaccharide Maltodextrin. PLoS ONE. December 12, 2012
- Liang Chi, Xiaoming Bian et al. Effects of the Artificial Sweetener Neotame on the Gut Microbiome and Fecal Metabolites in Mice. Molecules 2018, 23(2), 367.
- Kauko K. Makien. Gastrointestinal Disturbances Associated with the Consumption of Sugar Alcohols with Special Consideration of Xylitol: Scientific Review and Instructions for Dentists and Other Health-Care Professionals. Int J Dent. 2016; 2016: 5967907.