Updated: Oct 12, 2022
To have a robust immune system that will help us to fight off infection, our gut health must also be strong. A healthy interaction between the cells of the immune system and the beneficial bacteria in our gut is crucial for the maintenance of our health and well being.
There are many things we can do to support our gut health naturally with the healing power of foods, without the need to take supplements. Nutritional supplements can be a beneficial addition to any treatment plan and are able to do wonders to accelerate healing, especially if symptoms are connected to a nutritional deficiency or a need for a specialised probiotic strain to help to restore the gut microbiome.
However, in the middle of a global pandemic, money is tight for many people so supplements, unfortunately, become a luxury item. In addition, it may not be possible to access the same variety of supplements which makes it so important to look at what we can do with food to support our gut health and food can do a lot!
For some people healing may be slightly slower without the support of supplements; however, we can do so much with foods that we can easily access from the supermarket or vegetable garden.
Here are 5 ways to support your gut health with healing foods:
Start your day with a warm water and lemon
A large percentage of the population has low or no stomach acid to digest food, are you one of them?
Hydrochloric acid (stomach acid) is essential for the breakdown of proteins so they can be absorbed and used by our bodies. However many people do not make enough stomach acid (Hypochlorhydria) which can have a number of health implications.
Signs you may have low stomach acid:
You frequently burp during and after meals
You experience a heaviness in the stomach after eating
You don't feel good after eating meat
You suffer from bloating and gas
You are low in iron even though you regularly eat red meat (stomach acid is critical for the absorption of iron, B12, and other crucial nutrients)
You suffer from acid reflux or heartburn after eating (yes this can actually be a sign of low stomach acid rather than too much so taking medications such as Omeprazole that suppresses stomach acid even further is not the best idea)
You have food intolerances, allergies, and digestive issues (it is even common for children with asthma, eczema and allergies to have low stomach acid).
You have a leaky gut and an imbalance in gut bacteria (stomach acid kills bacteria and other bugs from food preventing them from entering the lower intestines)
As you can see stomach acid is critical and can affect people of any age, although it is more common as we get older as our body becomes less efficient at producing stomach acid.
So what can we do to help our bodies produce more stomach acid? A simple thing you can do each day to boost your own stomach acid production is to have a cup of warm water and the juice from half a lemon about 20 minutes before a main meal.
As well as before meals to help stimulate stomach acid production, warm water and lemon is also great first thing in the morning to help support your liver and kick start your digestive system.
Meat stock for healing the gut
Meat stock is one of the key gut-healing foods if you are on the GAPS gut healing protocol (Gut and Psychology Syndrome). Meat stock is extremely nourishing and is full of vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and gelatin in bioavailable forms that are easy to absorb. Meat stock aids digestion, heals, and seals the gut lining and has been known for centuries as a healing folk remedy for the digestive system. The nourishment comes from the bone marrow, cartilage, and other connective tissue.
All you need is some meat with bones to make a good meat stock plus a large pot of water and salt and pepper. You can very use beef, lamb, pork, or chicken.
How to make meat stock:
For lamb, pork or beef – put the joints, bones, and meat in a large pot. Add 5 – 10 peppercorns and salt to taste and fill up the pot with water. Heat until it boils, then cover the pan and reduce the heat to the minimum and simmer for at least 3 hours. The longer you cook the meat on the bones the more they will give out to the stock and the more nourishing the stock will be.
For chicken – put a whole or half a chicken in a large pot. Fill it up with water, add salt, and heat until it boils. Reduce the heat and simmer for 1.5 to 2 hours. Take the chicken out the pot and put the stock through a sieve.
Use the stock to make soups, gravy, or stews. Or alternatively, drink it warm from a mug. The stock will keep in the refrigerator for 7 days.
Aim to drink about 3 – 4 cups a day for chronic digestive complaints, food intolerances, inflammatory conditions, and autoimmunity. For daily maintenance and a nutritional boost drink 1 cup a day.
Eat bitter foods with your meals
Bitter foods and herbs are crucial to your health as the bitter taste helps to stimulate digestive juices (stomach acid, digestive enzymes, and bile flow) which supports the digestion and absorption of nutrients from food.
Unfortunately, we are not getting enough bitter foods in our modern diets as it is common for people to neglect bitter foods in favour of more appealing choices like sweet or salty. This causes a problem as not only are bitter foods important for digestion and absorption, they also support liver detoxification (through their sulfur-containing compounds). According to Ayurvedic tradition, bitter foods reduce cravings and aid in weight loss.
Examples of bitter foods are kale, dandelion, watercress, parsley, radish, leafy greens, bitter melon, and basil.
A simple way to ensure you are getting a daily supply of bitter foods in your diet is to have a handful of Mesclun leaves with each meal. You can grab a bag of Mesclun all year round from supermarkets and fruit and vegetable retailers.
A daily dose of sauerkraut can do wonders for your gut health
Cultures around the world have been eating fermented foods for years as the process of fermentation creates a powerhouse of beneficial bacteria, much more than you would ever get from a probiotic supplement and much cheaper too.
Fermented foods are foods that have been through a process of `Lacto fermentation' in which natural bacteria feed on the naturally occurring sugars and starches in the food creating lactic acid. This process preserves the food, making the food easier to digest, and creates colonies of beneficial bacteria which is so good for our digestive and immune health. I have heard reports of people with chronic allergies and health issues healing themselves by adopting a diet rich in fermented foods!
Sauerkraut is the king of fermented foods! It is so cheap and easy to make as it is just shredded cabbage fermented in salt and caraway seeds for 7 - 14 days. A tablespoon a day with meals can do wonders for your gut.
For a basic sauerkraut recipe click here
When I first started recommending sauerkraut to clients 10 years ago, they had no option but to make their own. Nowadays we are so fortunate to have some really great brands of sauerkraut available in supermarkets.
When starting to introduce sauerkraut, always start slowly as too much at once may cause detox symptoms or bloating and gas as your body is adjusting to the influx of bacteria.
We need prebiotic foods to feed our good bacteria
Prebiotic foods are non-digestible fibre foods that pass through the stomach and small intestines without being broken down by stomach acid and enzymes. As prebiotic foods are unable to be broken down, they reach the colon where they feed our beneficial gut bacteria. They are fuel for our beneficial bacteria to thrive.
Here are some beneficial prebiotic foods to include in your diet:
Chicory root. Use chicory root powder as a coffee alternative (on its own or mixed with roasted dandelion root)
Unripe banana – not that nice to eat but fine to blend in a smoothie
Raw or cooked onion, leeks, or chives.
Garlic - preferably raw added to salads.
Dandelion greens (often found in mesclun)
Apple Cider Vinegar also helps to feed beneficial bacteria so has prebiotic action.
If you start to introduce these top 5 foods into your diet on a regular basis as well as reducing foods that are inflammatory to the body such as white sugar, gluten, and processed foods you may start to notice some real positive changes to your gut health.