A few months ago I chatted all things gut health with Tessa Yanonne, the Wellness editor at Boston Magazine…
What is gut health?
In my opinion gut health is the foundation and the starting point of optimum health. Over 80% of our immune system is housed in our gut, it is the first stage of the body’s detoxification process, what we absorb or don’t absorb gets decided in the gut, and if our gut health is compromised then it can create systemic or chronic inflammation, which is the root cause of all disease. Sub optimal gut health is also a huge contributor to hormonal imbalance, heart disease, insulin resistance and depression and anxiety
A healthy gut is one that one that has healthy walls (or intestinal lining) and a balanced microbiome (the population of good and bad bacteria): these two elements will mean that we eliminate toxins, absorb nutrients, and provide an optimum environment for the hormonal and neurotransmitter production that takes place in the gut.
What causes gut issues?
Modern day life! Processed foods, environmental toxins, medications, stress, over exercising, lack of sleep - all this things can contribute to comprised gut health.
What are the symptoms and signs of a gut that is out of balance?
We can have comprised gut health without even knowing, and as it so prevalent I ask all my clients to make it their priority. Most often however we see signs of systemic inflammation that can manifest as skin issues (eczema, acne, rosacea), joint pain, and brain fog. Often I see hormonal imbalance that can lead to irregular periods, low energy and hair thinning, and then there are the more obvious symptoms of gas, bloating, diarrhea and constipation.
What foods cause gut problems?
Processed foods are the number one offender when it comes to gut health, and by cutting these out of our diets we can avoid so many of the ingredients that cause inflammation such as gluten, dairy, sugar and processed soy.
However if the gut is damaged and we have systemic inflammation even nutrient dense foods such as eggs and some vegetables can be challenging as we are unable to digest them completely.
What foods promote a healthy gut?
Great quality proteins that contain healing amino acids such as glycine and L-glutamine are key (these can be found in collagen and bone broth), healthy fats such as avocado, coconut oil, extra virgin olive oil and ghee, and easy to digest polyphenol rich fruits and veggies such as berries, tomatoes, baby spinach and dandelion greens. Fermented foods such as kombucha and sauerkraut should actually be consumed in moderation, as if there is an imbalance of bad to good bacteria these can actually cause digestive issues. I recommend starting with a more gentle options such as coconut yoghurt.
How do you go about repairing the gut?
I use a four step process, that differs to the most of the current approaches. We have to start by removing foods causing an inflammatory response, such as gluten, dairy and eggs. Secondly, we repair the intestinal lining by using targeted proteins and amino acids.
The third step is to rebalance the microbiome by using specific strains of probiotics and lastly, once these measures have had time to work I re-introduce the foods that have nutrient value to our diets.
You mentioned raw vegetables could be challenging for those with gut health?
Salads can be one of our healthiest choices when it comes to lunch in a hurry, but for those with gut health and digestive issues the wrong order can be a disaster! Avoid hard to digest raw cruciferous veggies such as broccoli, cauliflower and kale (yes, avoid the raw kale), and choose a base of easier to break down leafy greens such as baby kale combined with cleansing and digestion boosting bitter greens such as arugula and dandelion leaves.
A dressing combining any kind of acid (balsamic or apple cider vinegar, lemon or lime juice), will help to break down the fibrous membranes of the veggies, and fat (avocado, extra virgin olive oil) will help move the food through the GI tract, and ensure the fat soluble vitamins in the salad are bioavailable to the body.