Supporting Gut Health for Whole Body Health
Our bacterial health is incredibly important for our overall digestive health, immune health, mental health, and fertility. Without a balanced digestive system, we don’t have the ability to digest food or absorb nutrients from food. (If you can’t digest nutrients, you may need nutritional I.V. therapy). The ability to digest and absorb nutrients comes from eating a whole foods diet of real food, fresh food, colorful and varied food, and food prepared so that it optimizes digestion. Part of this not only includes the fibers for healthy bacteria to eat, but also naturally fermented foods and drinks so that the bacteria that are flourishing are helpful rather than harmful.
So, the first step is eating a diet high in fiber-rich foods like celery, asparagus, legumes, dandelion, and cruciferous sprouts and vegetables such as broccoli, watercress, kale, arugula, Brussels sprouts, collards, radishes, and cabbage. These non-starchy vegetables create a smorgasbord for healthy gut bacteria and scrub the digestive system to remove toxins. They also nourish the liver and kidneys to improve detoxification, and overall support the immune system.
Next, we need to decrease the starchy and sugary foods like potatoes, corn, rice, flour of all kinds and in all ways, sugar (including excess dairy), and sugar substitutes like maple syrup, honey, agave, and stevia or sugar alcohol. These foods are like a holiday for your harmful bacteria and make it very difficult for your liver and kidneys to remove toxins, ultimately damaging your immune system and hormonal function. And these harmful bacteria crave these sugary gut-damaging foods and cause you to reach for a second helping or sneak a cookie… or five… further causing gut imbalance and immune system damage.
Very few harmful bacteria can flourish on non-starchy sprouts or steamed vegetables and tart fruits. However, making the switch to eating high amounts of non-starchy vegetables and fruits means that some of our harmful bacteria are going to get quite angry for a few weeks. As beneficial bacteria and a nutrient-rich environment start to take over the harmful bacteria, these harmful bacteria die off. As they die, you might feel quite ill. It might start with painful gas or nausea, and may lead to headaches, or even feeling feverish. It isn’t a pleasant process, and often it feels so uncomfortable, people don’t finish the switch to healthier foods. You may need to go slow.
Now, you can start adding in beneficial bacteria through foods or supplements. Without access to the perfect fruits from the first garden, we have known for a very long time how important fermented food is, and these foods are still important today, have prebiotic fibers to feed the healthy bacteria, and are much cheaper than digestive enzymes and probiotic supplements. If you’re taking a supplement, get a variety of bacterial strains with at least 20 CFU of bacteria; though, eating fermented foods is going to give you much better results (as most whole foods do).
FOODS HIGH IN PROBIOTICS
- Fermented Veggies
- Water or Milk Kefir or Ginger Bug Soda
- Red Wine (obviously, caution in pregnancy)
- Apple Cider Vinegar
- Raw Milk Yogurt
- Raw Milk Fermented Cheese
Keep in mind that heated probiotics (like cooked sauerkraut or sourdough breads) are still more nutrient-rich than non-fermented foods but are no longer high in probiotics because high or long heat kills bacteria. Each fermented food will have different bacteria strains, so getting a variety of probiotic-rich foods in your diet daily is the most ideal for a healthy microbiome.
Depending on how these fermented foods and beverages are prepared, there could be well into the tens of billions of probiotics per tablespoon, and it takes pennies to make many of these. Water kefir is my family’s favorite, which is fermented sugar water (or fruit juice) with special tibicos “grains.” You can bottle water kefir and it will get very fizzy just like soda (but in moderation, is good for you!). My kids absolutely love lemons squeezed into water kefir for a healthy lemonade on a hot summer day picnic. Ginger Bug is a new adventure we are exploring that you can easily make, too.
How can you plan your food choices to support a healthy gut environment to support whole body health?