Digestive problems can be uncomfortable and disruptive to our everyday lives. Poor diet, antibiotic overuse, and chronic stress cause the digestive system to malfunction in several ways. This leads to a cascade of systemic reactions and contributes to everything from autoimmune disease to depression, obesity, and skin disease. Following these guidelines will promote healthy gut function and protect against disease.
Reduce or Avoid
Reduce your intake of (or avoid entirely if possible) the following substances:
Processed foods, industrial seed oils, sugar, and refined flour all harm gut health. They unbalance the bacteria living in our gut, causing inflammation and intestinal permeability.
Gluten and Grains
Many people with digestive problems are intolerant to gluten, one of the proteins found in wheat, and find relief from a gluten-free diet. Grains—even those that are gluten-free—can also cause digestive upset in some people.
Insoluble fiber can be irritating to the digestive system in some people. You will want to limit your intake of the following foods. You can also peel, mince, blend, and ferment these vegetables to break down the insoluble fiber they contain and make them easier to digest.
• Greens (spinach, lettuce, kale, mesclun, collards, arugula, watercress, etc.)
• Whole peas, snow peas, snap peas, pea pods
• Green beans
• Kernel corn
• Bell peppers
• Onions, shallots, leeks, scallions, garlic
Excessive alcohol consumption creates a pro-inflammatory environment in the gut. Limit your consumption to four to six drinks per week.
Several medications—such as NSAIDs, aspirin, antibiotics, and (paradoxically) acid-suppressing drugs—hurt your gut over the long term. While these drugs are sometimes necessary (and even life-saving), you should minimize your use of them when possible. Please speak with your doctor before making any changes to your medication regimen.
Increase your intake of the following substances:
Bone broth is rich in nutrients that have a soothing and healing effect on the gut. Aim for ½ to 1 cup of beef or chicken bone broth per day.
The fermentation process makes foods more digestible, but also produces healthy bacteria that are beneficial to the gut. Fermented foods include sauerkraut (and any other fermented vegetables), beet kvass, kombucha, yogurt, kefir (water or dairy), kimchi, and more. Aim for one to two tablespoons at each meal, plus other fermented foods such as kombucha or yogurt throughout the day.
Soluble fiber is soothing to the gut—focus your vegetable intake on vegetables high in soluble fiber, such as the following:
• Winter squash
• Summer squash (especially peeled)
• Starchy tubers (yams, sweet potatoes, white potatoes)
It’s also essential to address your lifestyle since stress and lack of sleep may contribute to digestive problems. Daily meditation, deep breathing, and getting seven to eight hours of sleep each night are essential.
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