How To Improve Gut Health With Food
By: Brandi Black, RHN
1 February, 2019 by
How To Improve Gut Health With Food
Sun Chlorella USA

Over 2,000 years ago, Hippocrates said "all disease begins in the gut” - and he was certainly on to something.

Today, it's become a well-known fact that the health of our gut dictates our overall health and wellness. It's understood that our immunity, skin health, energy levels and even our mood is dependent on having a healthy gut. [1]

Gut health is something we may not notice (and may even take for granted) until the classic "something may be wrong with my gut” symptoms appear: acid reflux, persistent stomach aches, and bloating after every meal. But the signs of a troubled gut aren't always so obvious. Acne, food sensitivities, eczema, yeast infections and depression are the less obvious symptoms of compromised gut health.

What Does it Mean to Have a Healthy Gut? 

Your gut refers to your digestive system- in particular, your intestinal tract.

In your digestive system, you have what's called friendly bacteria or microflora. These bacteria are commonly referred to as probiotics. You may have even seen them make their mainstream debut by doing a happy dance on TV commercials for the fermented foods they're found in, such as yogurt.

Probiotics are living microorganisms that exist in your digestive tract to help break down the food you eat, keep harmful bacteria from invading your system and manufacture certain vitamins. We require a balance of both good and bad bacteria in our gut for optimal health. But today, bad bacteria overgrowth is becoming more common due to a high sugar diets (sugar feeds bad bacteria), toxins, stress and frequent antibiotic use.

What Happens When Bad Bacteria Outweigh the Good? 

An overgrowth of bad bacteria can lead to various intestinal bacterial conditions such as candida overgrowth.

Candida albicans is a type of fungus or yeast that naturally exists in your mouth and intestines and other parts of the body. It only becomes problematic when it outweighs the good bacteria in your digestive system. An over consumption of white sugar, alcohol, processed foods, a diet lacking in fiber and heavy toxin exposure are among the common causes of yeast overgrowth, as those are the foods that yeast loves to feast on.

When candida overgrowth occurs, it has the ability to weaken the intestinal lining and create "little holes" or permeability where it releases its toxic byproducts into your bloodstream. This can do permanent damage to your organs, cause major inflammation in your body and further lead to a condition called leaky gut.

Leaky gut is especially hazardous to the body because it allows toxins and other food particles to "leak" or pass through your intestinal lining and into your bloodstream. Since food particles don't belong there, your body sees them as foreign invaders and elicits immune responses to attack them. This mechanism can cause your body to develop several food sensitivities and allergies, and can create the "ideal” environment for illness and disease to set in.

Leaky gut is suspected to be linked to serious inflammatory conditions such as inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD) 
[2], and may contribute to arthritis, eczema, acne and asthma.

The most common "early” symptoms of bacterial overgrowth are frequent yeast infections, rashes, brain fog, unexplained weight gain, abdominal cramping, bloating, intense cravings for sugar, the need for chronic fatigue treatment and a weakened immune system.

As you can see, without gut health you hardly have health at all. This is why it's so important to prioritize your gut health through your diet and lifestyle, since we're exposed to so many factors each day that can encourage the overgrowth of bad bacteria.

Common Factors That Harm Your Gut 

Gluten is a pro-inflammatory, "sticky” protein found in wheat, rye and other grains. It is used in the majority of processed foods as a binder or filler.Gluten is particularly hard for our bodies to breakdown because it has taken on a different form in the recent years. Sadly, we're no longer eating the type of wheat our parents ate. Instead, we're eating a hybridized version of wheat that's bug-resistant, grows faster and can withstand extreme weather conditions. Since we've altered the structure of wheat to benefit us in other ways, the proteins it contains have also been altered. Unfortunately, body isn't necessarily able to properly digest these altered proteins, which creates inflammation in the body.

Another unfortunate fact about gluten is that it can also promote intestinal permeability (leaky gut) as it triggers the release of zonulin, a protein that has the ability to break apart the junctions in your gut. [3]You can have a gluten sensitivity without being diagnosed with celiac disease, or a gluten allergy. Even if you don't experience symptoms after eating gluten, it's still best to avoid it whenever possible to promote optimal gut health.

There's certainly a time and place for antibiotics- but one of the downsides to taking them is that they can deplete the good bacteria in your system and encourage the growth of bad bacteria.

Refined Sugar
Refined sugar is one of the worst substances for your gut because it feeds the bad bacteria and allows them to overpopulate your system.

Refined sugar sources include most processed foods such as white bread, white pasta, alcohol, candy, chocolate and pastries.

StressChronic stress does a gut bad. The topic of stress and how it negatively impacts gut bacteria is extremely in-depth and could be another blog post altogether.For simplicity's sake, prolonged stress creates an inflammatory response in the body. Since the inflammatory response is elicited by your immune system (and much of your immune system is located in your gut), it can create intestinal damage and an environment that allows toxins such as yeast to thrive in.

Environmental Toxins
No matter how well we eat or how green we keep our homes, we're still exposed to toxins on a regular basis. They come at us in the form of pollution through the air we breathe and are found in the various products we use on a daily basis (whether they're household cleaning products, personal care or makeup). Toxins such as heavy metals, additives, preservatives, herbicides and pesticides are found in the food we eat, as well as the water we drink.All of these toxins get absorbed into our digestive systems and deplete our friendly bacteria, which encourages the overgrowth of bad bacteria.

Foods That Improve Gut Health 

The good news is that improving your gut health and encouraging the growth of friendly bacteria is as easy as adding a few new foods to your diet.

You may already be familiar with popular fermented, probiotic-containing foods, such as yogurt. But any fermented food will contain beneficial bacteria for your gut and help promote healthy digestionFiber (from cooked and raw vegetables, fruit, nuts and seeds) is also important to include in your diet. These foods are referred to as "prebiotics" because they feed the probiotics and allow beneficial bacteria to grow.

Here are the best foods to include in your diet regularly to improve your gut health:

Sauerkraut is fermented cabbage. It's fermented using salt, water and a naturally occurring strain of bacteria on the cabbage called lactobacillus. Sauerkraut is incredibly easy to make, tastes delicious and is an effective way to repopulate the good bacteria in your digestive system.

Apple Cider Vinegar
Apple cider vinegar is made from fermented apples. While it is not actually considered a probiotic (despite being fermented), it contains pectin, a type of fiber that feeds your good bacteria and encourages their growth.Apple cider vinegar adds a delicious, tangy taste to recipes and goes especially well in salad dressings. It can also be diluted with water and blended with raw honey, lemon juice and ginger. Consume it regularly as a digestive tonic and friendly bacteria-promoting beverage.

Kefir is a fancy name for fermented milk. It contains a few different strains of healthy bacteria, such as lactobacillus and has a sour taste. It is often well tolerated in those who have a hard time digesting dairy because it has been predigested by the good bacteria it contains.

Plain Unsweetened Organic Yogurt 
Yogurt is the most popular food known for containing probiotics. But be careful with the yogurt you choose, otherwise you may end up accidentally feeding the unfriendly bacteria instead.

Most yogurt is sweetened and flavored, which means it contains sugar. Non-organic yogurt can also contain the growth hormone, rBGH, which acts as a toxin to the body when ingested.

When choosing yogurt, opt for a plain, unsweetened organic version to avoid growth hormones, sugar and other additives that harm friendly gut bacteria. Sweeten it yourself using natural sweeteners such as pure vanilla extract, raw honey or pure maple syrup, and high fiber, prebiotic fruit such as berries.

Chlorella is an amazing green superfood that's beneficial to your gut for many reasons.

One of the main benefits of chlorella tablets is that they can bind to toxins such as heavy metals, and safely eliminate them through a natural process called chelation. These toxins are important to eliminate from the body because they can create inflammation in your gut and allow bad bacteria to flourish.

Chlorella is also a source of antioxidant vitamins that builds up your immune system. It's considered a fibrous food, which means it acts as a prebiotic to feed the friendly bacteria and support the overall health of your digestive system. Taking Sun Chlorella tablets or granules each day makes it easy to regularly promote good gut health.

Spices: Fennel, Cardamom, Cloves Spices have incredible gut supportive properties, and the ability to soothe the intestinal lining that can become inflamed from the toxins in our diet and environment. Fennel is high in fiber which feeds good gut bacteria, while cloves and cardamom are said to have antibacterial properties.

Other Ways to Promote Gut Health (That Don't Involve Food) 

While food is one of the quickest ways to begin increasing your good bacteria, let's not forget that your lifestyle also plays a role in the health of your gut. Here are a few suggestions to promote good gut health through your daily routine.

Reduce Stress
As you now know, stress can create an inflammatory response in the digestive tract, which can lead to the depletion of good bacteria.

Consciously incorporating stress reducing methods that work for you, such as yoga, meditation, taking time for self-care, reading, regular exercise and deep breathing will all promote gut health on a fundamental level.

Do a 30 Day No Sugar Challenge
While giving up sugar may seem like a drag, you can make it fun by turning it into a 30 day challenge and trying new sugar-free recipes. Not only will this help improve gut health, but eliminating the sugar from your diet has a positive ripple effect on every system in your body. Just wait and see how good you feel by day 30!

Use Natural Healing Remedies Whenever Possible 
Antibiotics can be very helpful in certain situations. If your doctor prescribes you antibiotics, follow their advice. But in instances where natural alternatives are a safe possibility (for example, catching a cold), consider opting for that first before trying antibiotics to avoid depleting your good gut bacteria.In the instance you do take antibiotics, it's always a good idea to take a high quality probiotic supplement afterwards to replenish the good bacteria that have been depleted.

Switch to Natural Products Wherever Possible 
Some toxins are simply unavoidable, such as those found in the air we breathe. But to reduce the overall amount of toxins that wind up in your digestive system, try switching to natural household cleaning products, laundry detergents, makeup and body care products.

As you can see, the healthier your gut is, the better you'll feel. If you have a good amount of beneficial bacteria in your system, you'll experience the benefits of increased energy, clear skin, improved digestion, a stronger immune system, a happier mood and an overall sense of well-being.

About Brandi Black, RHN
Brandi Wagner is a Registered Holistic Nutritionist from Vancouver, B.C. Experiencing her own health challenges at a young age led her to become passionate about educating on the healing properties of food, and how to achieve hormone balance, clear skin and sustainable weight loss naturally. In her spare time you'll find Brandi writing in her blog and hanging out with her teacup chihuahua, Coconut.

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