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Eating for Gut Health: How to make the most of your food

Eating for Gut Health: How to make the most of your food

The idea of “getting fit” or “getting healthy” can be quite an intimidating one! With so many changes to be made, it can all feel very overwhelming. On top of that, so many diet and exercise programs push a “eat less, move more” technique that frankly feels punishing.

For those of you that don’t enjoy the punishment, there’s an alternative: eating more! Eating more foods that promote health within your digestive system, and eating them in a way that helps your body process the food properly.

You don’t have to be hungry. You don’t have to use chemical slimming supplements. You don’t have to buy any special product.

You just have to understand what your body is trying to do, 

and eat in a way that helps it do that.

In light of that, let’s go over some basics about your belly!

Belly Basics: What is the gut?

“The gut” is a group of organs responsible for the digestion of your food. They include the mouth, esophagus, stomach, pancreas, liver, gallbladder, small intestine, colon, and rectum…pretty much anywhere your food goes.

Belly Basics: What is gut health?

“Gut Health” refers to the balance of microorganisms in the digestive tract (defined by Medical News Today).

Not many people realize it but the gut houses many critical bacteria that assist with digestion of food and even affect hormonal output and processing. When these bacteria are properly fed and cared for, the gut-and in turn the rest of the body-are healthy. When the balance of the health of the gut is off…well it’s not pretty. Unbalanced gut health is linked to so many diseases including obesity, diabetes, depression, estrogen dominance, hormonal imbalance, and even some types of cancers!

Belly Basics: What causes an unhealthy gut?

Gastrointestinal distress can be caused by any number of things but it is mostly caused in the diet. Diets high in sugars-especially processed sugars-and fatty foods such as deep-fried foods are very damaging to the health of your gut. They can be difficult for the body to process properly and usually leave a toxic byproduct in the body during processing, so it’s all around really stressful for your body.

Belly Basics: What are the symptoms of an unhealthy gut?

If your gut health is imbalanced in anyway, you will definitely feel and see it! Here are some things you may notice if your gut health is off:

  • Regular bloating, gas, and feeling full
  • Irregular bowel movements or consistency (constipation or diarrhea)
  • Fatigue and irritability
  • Inability to maintain a healthy weight or even maintain a consistent weight
  • Irritation of the skin such as eczema flare ups, dark spots, cystic acne, etc.
  • Weakness in the immune system such as slow healing times and constantly contracting colds
  • Being at risk or having diseases such as hypertension, diabetes, etc.


So, at this point you may be realizing that you have experienced some symptoms of gut health at some point in your life-if you aren’t currently experiencing them now!

First things first: don’t stress! This is fixable! 

Let’s take a look at the fundamentals of your belly…

Belly Fundamentals: What promotes gut health?

There are 3 main things you need to do to keep a healthy gut:

  1. Stay active. No, you don’t need to train like an athlete, but you do need to make sure you are walking several times a day at the very least. Moving around helps the body process nutrients and heal by allowing the blood to flow faster and deliver more to the organs. The movement also helps prevent constipation.
  2. Stay relaxed. Most people don’t realize this until it’s too late: your stress can literally break you down and kill you! Stress is experienced within the body by release of hormones that will absolutely throw off your gut bacteria-among other things. This is why when people feel stress they either: a) fast and even feel nauseous or b) want to eat-specifically-junk food. Please see my blog about Stress Management!
  3. Eat for gut health! It’s 2020 guys: we ALL know the dangers of the major fast food chains and the fatty, sugary foods they push. It’s time to get out of that mindset of trying to cling to these foods and make them work in our diet. Eat food that serves you! Eat food that has life and gives you life! Don’t eat foods that have been processed, frozen, cooked, frozen again, and then reheated for you. You deserve better than that!

Belly Fundamentals: What should I be eating for my gut health?

The answer to this question can vary widely because everyone has a different collection of intolerances, disorders, etc. If you have a medical condition, and especially a gastrointestinal condition, please seek the advice your doctor before changing your diet!

Provided you are medically healthy and have no reason to be concerned about a change in diet, there are several things you are looking for in a diet that will promote gut health:

  • Nutrients: you want as many fresh vegetables as you can squeeze in for the day, and modest amounts of fruits. You want dark fruits and vegetables, especially green so that you are essentially eating a “natural multivitamin” throughout the day.
  • Fiber: This is why for nutrients; I’ve suggested fresh fruits and veggies instead of a multivitamin: you also want a decent amount of fiber in the diet. Eat as many dark veggies as you can and eat fresh fruits where appropriate.
  • Cruciferous Veggies: cruciferous veggies tend to be related to (or are actually) cabbage. Examples of cruciferous vegetables include broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, kale, bok choy, etc. They have high amounts of insoluble fiber which promotes the growth of healthy gut bacteria. 
  • Probiotics: Probiotics are the healthy bacteria in the gut. Foods that are considered to be a probiotic have bacteria added to them, or have been fermented to develop bacteria. Examples of probiotics include yogurt, kefir, pickles, kombucha, kimchee, sauerkraut, etc. 
  • Prebiotics: Prebiotics are the fibers that feed the probiotic bacteria so that they are nourished, balanced, and healthy. Examples of prebiotics are onion, garlic, leek, asparagus, barley, dandelion greens, seaweed, apples, oats, cocoa and flax seed.
  • Anti-Inflammatories: Anti-Inflammatories help reduce inflammation all throughout the body, including within the intestinal tract. Natural anti-inflammatories include turmeric, berries, green leafy veggies, etc.
  • Diuretics: Diuretics help the body release any unnecessary water weight by way of urination. Natural diuretics include green tea (or caffeine), asparagus, cranberry, etc. Diuretics will also help reduce inflammation.
  • Healthy Fats: Healthy fats not only help reduce inflammation, but they also help regulate the production of some of the hormones that play a large role in the health of the gut. Healthy fats are high in Omega 3 and include examples such as avocado, olive oil, salmon, nuts, eggs, etc.
  • Lean Protein: Lean sources of protein help ease the stress of digestion, ensure you are getting healthier fats, and do not contribute to the upset of the microbiome of your gut. Examples include, lean poultry, fish and even vegan options.
  • Slow Digesting Carbs: Slow digesting carbs tend to be lower on the Glycemic Index and in turn do not irregularly change the blood sugar. Examples include brown rice, sweet potatoes, quinoa, barley, farro, etc.
  • Low Sugar: An excess of sugar of any kind (including fruit and juice) can cause inflammation within the body and upset the gut health. Maintaining a low sugar diet is essential in regulating the gut health because it makes sure that you are not undoing any of the positive effects of everything above!

Belly Fundamentals: Can I not eat anything that is bad for me?

Sometimes you will have the desire and be in the position to eat or drink something that is not necessarily healthy for your gut-this is normal and completely okay!

In learning about our gut health, the goal is not to start an intense and restrictive dieting regimen. The goal is to understand our body, how it works, and how to best take care of it while enjoying our life.

Yes, you can go ahead and do a bottle of wine with your girls, but don’t do a bottle of wine, fried chicken, cupcakes, and then cocktails…too much abuse to your body in one shot. Keep these things in mind while indulging:

  • Pick your poison. Don’t try to do deep fried food and sweets in the same day-you will feel it and you will regret it.
  • Dilute everything with plenty of water. Drinking plenty of water while drinking or eating unhealthily helps soften the blow on the stomach and intestines.
  • If you know you will be doing an indulgent dinner out, spend the first half of the day eating for gut health. Forget how many calories you’re eating-an ENTIRE cheat day feels completely disgusting on the body. Nothing makes you feel old like waking up from a one-day bender with a junk food hang over-yuck!
  •  If you end up eating junk in an impromptu moment, follow it up with a probiotic to aid with the digestion of it. If you suddenly decide to go to brunch with a friend, instead of dessert go for a yogurt or a kombucha.

Belly Fundamentals: Is there a specific order I should be eating in?

Not necessarily, but I do encourage

  1. The “cushioning” of the gut by consuming foods that promote gut health before and after anything unhealthy.
  2. The first thing on your stomach everyday should be water, and then something light, nutrient-dense, and sustaining. Or in other words, do not make coffee and a ham and egg sandwich the first thing in your stomach in the morning!

Belly Fundamentals: How can I implement fasting?

If you want a more in-depth explanation of fasting and cleanses, please see my blog Spring Cleaning: All About Fasting.

As fasting relates to gut health, I will say this: I like an intermittent fasting approach and I will do it for up to 13 consecutive days. I have also done a liquid cleanse for up to 3 days which is another great way to restore the health of the gut.

NOTE: fasting and cleansing is not for everyone and should not be done the same for everyone. I really recommend that you seek the advice of a medical or fitness professional about how you, specifically, should implement fasting-if at all. This is a service I provide.

Belly Fundamentals: How long should I do this for?

I believe eating for gut health should be more of a lifestyle and less of a crash diet. Sometimes when addressing the gut health, a temporary cleanse or fast will be implemented to kickstart the process, but maintaining the healthy habits thereafter is what really makes a healthy gut.

So many people look at themselves in the mirror daily…they pull up their shirt, they poke and prod at their belly. They see this blob of fat that they hate, but they don’t see or even think about their abused gut inside.

Underneath this part of yourself (that some of you can’t seem to forgive yourselves for), is a beautiful, living system that is putting in overtime trying to turn whatever food (or poison) you put into it, into fuel and nutrition so that you can keep waking up in the morning.

See and recognize this process that is going on inside of you, respect it, and consider the health of it when you put food into it.