When someone wants me to help them improve their diet, I don’t tell them to eat more vegetables or more organic foods. Not right away at least. Instead, the very first thing I tell them to do is to work on their digestive health—the gut.
Your digestive system (gut) consists of several different organs that allow your body to process and absorb nutrients from the food you eat. If your gut isn’t healthy, you will not be healthy–it’s that simple. Your gut is the foundation of a healthy body and mind. Nobody in their right mind would build a nice house without making the foundation first.You should look at your health in the same way. That’s why it is best to start with the gut when you want to improve your diet or overall health.
Now that you know why your gut is so important to your health, let’s get straight to the point.
1. Get Enough Magnesium
Magnesium is needed for more than 300 different reactions in the body. If you are deficient in magnesium it can cause many issues such as constipation, muscle aches & spasms, chronic headaches, and even chocolate cravings.
There are small substances in our gut called enzymes which help the body absorb fats, proteins, and carbohydrates. Magnesium activates (turns on) these enzymes which allow the body to digest and break down food so it can be used.
As you can probably guess, if you don’t get enough magnesium, these enzymes remain inactive and your gut will not properly digest your food.
What you can do: start consuming magnesium through your diet or check out a magnesium supplement to boost your levels (consult your doctor first). I have found that most people who increase their magnesium immediately notice a difference with their digestion. As an added bonus, magnesium supplements can also help you sleep. Just take your supplement before you go to sleep and you’re good to go.
If you experience loose stools, however, you should reduce the amount of magnesium you are taking and slowly work your way up to an amount that works for you.
2. Start Eating Bone Broth
I know, it may sound weird or gross if you are not familiar with bone broth. But believe me, bone broth tastes great and it is an incredibly nutrient dense food.
Homemade bone broth (or stock) is chocked full of minerals, gut-soothing gelatin, and amino acids such as glycine and proline which provide several benefits to your skin and joints. Gelatin is thought to sooth the digestive track and improve nutrient absorption.
3. Restore Your Healthy Gut Bacteria
Your gut is teeming with tens of trillions of microorganisms (bacteria)—65% of which are completely unique to you. Some of the bacteria are essential for digesting food, while other types are actually harmful to your body. When the balance of helpful and harmful bacteria gets tipped in the wrong direction, a lot of health
issues can follow.
Antibiotics are one of the biggest culprits of destroying the delicate balance of bacteria in your gut. Every time you swallow an antibiotic, you kill the beneficial bacteria which gives room for the harmful bacteria to grow. When this happens, harmful yeasts, such as the infamous Candida albicans, grow freely and can eventually take over. Candida overgrowths can cause a range of health problems including weight gain, fatigue, joint pain, and leaky gut syndrome (by poking small holes in your intestines).
This is why I usually avoid antibiotics if possible. If it’s a serious infection and I have to take antibiotics (like I did with my wisdom teeth), I am always sure to supplement with a quality probiotic supplement . Even if you are not currently on an antibiotic, you may want to take a probiotic for some time to restore the helpful bacteria in your gut.
Another fantastic way to boost the beneficial gut bacteria and enhance your digestive health is to consume fermented foods or drinks on a daily basis. Fermented foods are an excellent source of helpful bacteria and enzymes which improve nutrient absorption. When combined with a probiotic supplement, fermented foods and drinks can make a serious difference in your digestive health.
4. Be Active
Exercise is important for many aspects of your health and your digestion is one of them. Movement and gravity helps food naturally move through your intestines. Even a short walk every day is an excellent aid to digestion.
The sedentary (inactive) lifestyle many of us live is actually harmful to our digestive system. When we sit all day, it puts a kink in our intestine which makes normal digestion difficult. If you find that you are sitting for a good portion of your days, there is an easy fix: walk a few miles at a comfortable pace every day. I know this is not possible for everyone—just do what you can because anything helps.
5. Stay Away From Sugar
Eating a low sugar diet will not only keep your gut healthy, it will also keep your body healthy and prevent disease. Excess sugar can make you gain weight, destroy your teeth, cause diabetes, and even cause cancer.
When it comes to the gut, a high sugar diet will promote the growth of harmful Candida albicans which can cause leaky gut syndrome and many other problems. Harmful bacteria and yeast like candida actually feed on sugar. So when you consume sugary things such as doughnuts, candy, soda, or alcohol (yes this is sugar too!), you are actually feeding the harmful bacteria in your gut.
This is why it may be in your best interest to look for ways to reduce your sugar intake. Here are some quick tips to reduce the amount of sugar you consume:
- Don’t add sugar to your coffee or tea; or try to slowly reduce the amount each week
- Try purchasing unrefined sugar–your body deals with it much better and it contains beneficial minerals
- Stop drinking soda… even if it’s “diet” soda
- Avoid low fat foods such as yogurt that add extra sugar to compensate for the low fat flavor
6. Eat More Healthy Fats (and fiber)
Yep…eat more fat. No this is not a typo, you heard me right. While many professionals may tell you to do the opposite, I will tell you why eating more (healthy) fat is actually helpful: fat is slippery and helps things glide right along in your gut.
Those who have problems with constipation can especially benefit from consuming moregood fats in their diet. Consider adding healthy fats to your diet such as coconut oil, grass-fed butter, animal fats such as lard and tallow, fermented cod liver oil, and high quality olive oils (never heated or cooked with).
You should never eat vegetable oils or margarine because they are highly processed, contain GMOs, and are just plain bad for your health.
Fiber is equally as important for your digestion. If you have the opposite problem (loose stools), you can try eating more foods with fiber such as leafy greens or whole foods in general.
7. Stay Hydrated
When it comes to health, there are so many things you have to consider–it can be overwhelming at times. This makes it easy to forget the simple things, and water is one of them.
Digestion depends on the presence of fluids. Among those fluids is water, which helps “break down food so that your body can absorb the nutrients,” according to Dr. Michael F. Picco. Water in your digestive system helps dissolve fats, soluble fiber, and prevents constipation.
It’s easy to forget to drink water throughout the day. I have found it helpful to always keep a water bottle (I use glass Life Factory water bottles to avoid plastic) or a cup full with water with me at all times. That way I am inclined to drink more water rather than getting for water when I am thirsty—usually when you feel thirsty, you’re already dehydrated. Over time, drinking water consistently will become a healthy habit that comes naturally to you. At that point, it’s easy to stay hydrated.
8. Control Your Stress
Stress is unavoidable. But the negative effects of stress can be avoided. Did you know that stress is only bad for you if you perceive it as a harmful? Stress is your body’s way of preparing you for a challenging task or threat. Believe it or not, you can train yourself to use stress as a tool for completing challenging tasks (like a job interview). But stress is not always controllable. Even I slip up sometimes and let stress take control of me.
When stress becomes chronic (it’s there all the time), that’s when it becomes an issue for your gut. Chronic stress has been found to decrease the blood flow to the intestines, slow nutrient absorption, and it even change how the bacteria in your gut function.
What you can do: try different stress management techniques such as meditation, yoga, take a few moments to sit still and breathe every few hours, or you can even try a relaxing hot herbal bath at the end of a long day. Whatever your method is, just make sure it works and you are consistent. And no, having an alcoholic drink at the end of the day doesn’t count because that is sugar, remember 🙂 ?
9. Kick Processed Foods to the Curb
Processed foods should be avoided at all costs. They are filled with harmful chemicals, tons of processed salt & sugar, and trans fats. But it doesn’t end there. Since processed foods are…well…processed, they are digested very quickly. This may sound good at first, but it’s not.
When food is digested quickly, it is rapidly released into the body. So let’s say you just ate a pre-packaged oatmeal cookie. All of the ingredients in that cookie including the sugar and flour are processed as well. When these processed substances hit our gut, they are quickly digested. The sugar in this case would cause for a rapid spike in your blood sugar which puts stress on your pancreas (this can eventually lead to type II diabetes over time). The calories are also quickly made available which can cause your body to store the excess energy as fat. This is how processed foods can make you gain weight considerably fast.
Easy Fix: Instead of purchasing processed or pre-packaged foods, opt for traditional and whole foods. Here is a chart of some common processed foods compared to their whole-food (traditional) original form:
|Processed||Traditional / Whole|
|White Rice||Brown Rice|
|White Bread||Whole-Grain Bread|
|Corn-Fed Butter||Grass-Fed Butter|
|Refined (White) Table Salt||Celtic Sea Salt|
10. Prepare Your Grains & Nuts the Right Way
The vast majority of people and restaurants do not properly prepare their grains and nuts. When you don’t prepare your grains or nuts the right way, it results in what most people may consider a food intolerance. In fact, wrong grain preparation may be the reason so many people claim to get digestive issues from grains such as wheat. Personally I have found that my body digests grains much better when I take the time to prepare them ahead of time.
So what is the right way to prepare grains and nuts?
Usually the proper preparation of a grain or nut involves a pre-soak in water. Dr. Weston A. Price, author of Nutrition and Physical Degeneration, discovered that traditional societies who never stepped into the modern world all intuitively did the same thing with their nuts and grains: they always soaked before eating or cooking. To them it was ridiculous to eat a nut or grain without soaking it first.
Nuts, grains, and legumes all contain substances which make it hard for our gut to digest them. Many grains, for example, contain a substance called phytic acid which prevents the grain from being digested and even steals nutrients before we can absorb them. That means when you eat a whole grain, you are not getting all of the amazing stuff like vitamins, minerals, enzymes, and fiber. Soaking grains opens up the grains and allows an enzyme called phytase out which breaks down phytic acid. You see, when you soak grains, you drastically increase the amount of nutrients your body gets from your food.
If you want to learn more on this subject, you can check out this article on grain soaking.
Not everyone has the time to apply this last tip–that’s ok if you can’t but I want to give everyone the tools to optimize their gut. You can make the decision if the effort is worth it on this one
Your gut is one of the most important aspects of your health. Treat it well and it will treat you well in return. So if you want to know how to become healthier and happier, your gut health is the perfect place to start.
If you need any more help beyond what this article provides, feel free to comment below or you may want to consider talking with a health coach (that could be me or someone else).
What are your experiences with digestive health? Do you have any other tips that will help our readers out? Feel free to any ask questions in the comments section below and I will get back to you within 24 hours.