Healthy Gut Diet and Lifestyle including the effect of foods, stress and other habits

Eight little known super foods to heal your gut

When you think of gut health, and supporting the trillions of bacteria that live down there, you may immediately think of fibre, probiotics, and fermented foods. And yes, these are some of the best ways to support our gut bacteria.

But if you are suffering from bloating, gut discomfort, diarrhea, constipation or other gut symptoms, you will also want to address the fire in your gut, that is inflammation. These super foods can help:

Cruciferous vegetables: Such as cauliflower, cabbage, garden cress, watercress, bok choy, broccoli, kale, turnip, radishes, brussels sprouts, and similar green leafy vegetables. The polyphenols in these vegetables act as messages to your body that can move the needle away from inflammation and disease and toward health and vitality. But remember, these may not be a good idea if you have reactions to high FODMAP foods.

Curcumin (Turmeric): Curcumin is the supplement extracted from the spice Tumeric. Curcumin is a powerful compound that scavenges free radicals and prevents damage to the intestinal tract. Add turmeric to meat marinades, homemade stews, sauces and even your coffee and smoothies for added free radical protection. Try this yummy turmeric latte.

Carotenoids: from carrots, yams, sweet potatoes, papaya, watermelon, cantaloupe, mangos, spinach, kale, tomatoes, bell peppers and oranges

Stewed Apples: Stewed apples make the immune system in our gut smarter. Find out more here

Oily Fish: Such as salmon, mackerel, herring, anchovies or from walnuts, chia seeds, flax seeds provide the anti-inflammatory omega-3s which reduce gut inflammation.

Dark coloured vegetables and fruits: such as cherries, berries, red pepper, beetroot, red onions, red cabbage contain a higher concentration of polyphenols

Ginger: Ginger eases as gastrointestinal upset, stimulating saliva and bile production. It reduces intestinal inflammation and nausea. It is also a powerful anti-microbial which may benefit you if you have an unhealthy balance of bacteria in your gut

Garlic: When garlic is crushed it releases allicin, the phytonutrient thought to be responsible for garlic’s anti-microbial, anti-viral and anti-fungal properties.

Cooking stops the enzyme forming though, so if you crush your garlic and immediately throw it in a hot pan, you’ll receive little allicin. Instead, leave the chopped garlic for 10 minutes before cooking to allow the allicin to form, and then you should still receive the benefits.

Remember though, to fix a gut discomfort such as IBS, you will benefit from finding the root causes of your problems and also follow a plan to heal your gut.

High FODMAP Foods

How to use the Low FODMAP diet to heal your gut

The Low FODMAP diet is now commonly recommended to ease a range of digestive symptoms associated with small intestine bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). It works by removing foods that commonly cause digestive discomfort from the diet, allowing the gut to heal. Foods are then re-introduced systematically so that trigger foods can be identified. It may be used as part of a gut healing protocol.

FODMAP is an acronym for:

  • Fermentable
  • Oligosaccharides
  • Disaccharides
  • Monosaccharides
  • Polyols

Eek! So what is that in plain English? These are types of sugar that are poorly absorbed by the small intestine and are fermented by bacteria to produce gas. They can cause IBS type symptoms such as gas, bloating, constipation and diarrhea in some people.


Can a low FODMAP diet help you?

Recent research found up to 86 percent of people with IBS saw improvements in their symptoms while on a low FODMAP diet. It has also been found to decrease inflammation, as measured by histamine in the gut, which may reduce neurological symptoms such as brain fog which may be associated with IBS.

A Low FODMAP diet can help you to isolate the types of foods that are causing your symptoms. Once your GP has examined you for other conditions, such as coeliac disease, this diet can help you get back to basics – I commonly recommend this diet as a first step when working with gut issues. It has not only been shown to help many people with IBS, but may also be helpful for other gut conditions such as coeliac disease, Crohn’s and Colitis. It is recommended that you consult with a health care consultant, dietician or Nutritional Therapist, such as myself, before embarking on a low-FODMAP diet.

FODMAPs can feed bacteria in the small intestine, which should only contain a small number of bacteria compared to the colon. This can lead to Small Intestine Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO). Whereas in someone with a healthy gut, these sugars will pass through the small intestine until they get to the colon where they will act as a food source for beneficial bacteria that live there.

What is the low FODMAP diet?

The low-FODMAP diet helps you identify the foods that are causing your symptoms – this varies from person to person. You start by removing foods that are high in FODMAPs for 2-4 weeks or until symptoms ease.

There are many foods that are restricted but you have to remember why you are doing this – The long-term benefits far outweigh the difficulty of eliminating these foods for this period. Remember, everyone reacts to these foods differently so the Low-FODMAP diet allows you to find out which foods are problematic for you.

As a qualified Nutritional Therapist, I can guide you through this process, help you with tasty and tolerable alternatives to high FODMAP foods, and guide you through the re-introduction phase and help you to identify other causes of your gut issues

The main sources of FODMPs include (there are other high FODMAP foods not on this list):

Oligosaccharides: Wheat products, vegetables such as onions and garlic, all beans and pulses including chickpeas, lentils and soybean, and inulins added to foods such as certain yoghurts, protein bars, and milks.

Disaccharides: The main one is Lactose and many people are Lactose intolerant. Lactose is not the same as dairy: Cream, hard cheeses and butter contain a limited amount of lactose. Most people with malabsorption can handle 4g of Lactose before they encounter issues, and so a thin spread of butter or a dash of milk may be OK, but a Latte may not.

Monosaccharides: These are simple sugars with excess fructose being the main one. Examples of foods containing an excess of fructose include fruit juices, apples, cherries, watermelon, peaches, plums, nectarines, mango

Polyols: Mushrooms, fruits such as apricots, chewing gum, and added sugar alcohols 

How does the low-FODMAP diet work?

Phase 1 – FODMAP Restriction

Phase 1 is a strict restriction of all high FODMAP foods for two to four weeks, or until symptoms settle. The low-FODMAP diet originated out of research by Monash University and they have developed an app which can be used to know the FODMAP content of various foods. It has proven invaluable to many people.

Keeping track of how particular foods affect you is also recommended. That way, you can more clearly see patterns between what you eat and how you feel.

Phase 2 – FODMAP Reintroduction

During this phase, you methodically re-introduce foods that were restricted in Phase 1. Foods are re-introduced one-by-one and in a specific order. The idea is that at the end of this process you will have a better understanding of which foods trigger your symptoms, and you can continue to eat the ones, you do not react to. This process will take several weeks or months, and I suggest you work through this process with a Nutritionist, such as myself, or a dietitian.

Is this the perfect diet?

Like anything, there is a downside. When you do a restrictive diet like this, you run the risk of cutting out many nutrient-rich foods and good sources of fibre –  fibre is fuel for the beneficial bacteria in our colon, and is an important part of a healthy diet. For this reason, eliminating all high FODMAP foods is not a long term solution, and you should always work to re-introduce as many of them as possible. But for many people, this diet can be a lifesaver and is well researched.

What next?

You can, of course, do the low-FODMAP diet and re-introduction on your own, but many people prefer to work with a Nutritionist such as myself to help them identify what they can eat (that’s tasty too!), what they are reacting to, and to guide them through the re-introduction phase. We even have a coaching app for your phone so that I can support you through this process.  

Also, as the diet doesn’t necessarily help you find the root cause of your IBS, a practitioner can help you with testing for a bacterial or fungal overgrowth that may be causing your issues and work with you on other causes of your health issues.

If you’d like to talk me to about the low-FODMAP diet, or your options for working with IBS or other health conditions, please contact me with any questions or give me a call.

Home cooked food

Mindful Eating

Many of us eat for comfort when we are stressed or tired, and can lose track of how physical hunger and fullness feels. We are simply not aware of when our body is telling us to start eating and when we should stop. This is not surprising as we are constantly surrounded by easily available food, at the gas station, from vending machines, or from fast food drive-throughs.

How and when we eat is as important as what we eat.

We no longer ask ourselves ‘am I hungry?’ or ‘am I full? Instead, we reach for easily available food whenever we have the urge. So firstly, we must recognise, when we are physically hungry, not just when we have the urge to eat.

We can relearn to listen to our bodies and their natural cues. I say ‘relearn’ as we are born with an awareness of these cues. You can’t force a baby or toddler to eat when they are not hungry. To break the habit of eating mindlessly, we need to pay attention whenever we have the urge to eat.

We can use the Hunger Scale to measure our true hunger and judge when it is time to eat. For most people, a good time to eat is when they are at 3 or below, and a good time to stop is when they reach a 6.

The scale can be used to see when we eat when we are not hungry. It’s important that we try not to judge ourselves. Eating is an emotional as well as a physcial thing. Instead, we can reflect and ask ourselves ‘why did I eat that whole bar of chocolate when I wasn’t hungry?’. It may be because I feel I’m stressed after a hard day at work. We can then reflect on what we can do instead of eating at that time…

Mindful Eating Scale

 

Quit sugar: The effect of sugar on our guts

When we are stressed or tired, we automatically seek out something sweet to fill an urge. And many of us find it difficult to stop eating sweet foods such as chocolate once we have started.

It is as if, we are biologically hard-wired to crave sugar. In Paleolithic times, that sweetness was probably hard to find and the calories were valuable, and so our bodies today do not know how plentiful sugar is in today’s society and we still have that craving. It’s not your fault that you crave sugar, and it’s perfectly normal.

Sugar in Australia

Australia’s sugar intake has been described by experts as ‘alarming’ with the worst habits among children and adolescents. The 2011 Australian Health Survey of more than 8000 participants found 55% of people consumed more added sugars than recommended. The average American is eating somewhere between 130 and 152 pounds, or 58 to 69kg of sugar a year! 152 pounds of sugar equates to 52 teaspoons a day. If we could see this amount of sugar laid out, I’m convinced we would immediately do something about it. But as it is hidden away in many foods, we simply do not realise how much we are eating.

Sugar and gut health

But is sugar particularly bad when it comes to the gut? It sure is! The microorganisms that live in our gut, that is yeasts, bacteria, protozoa, act in a similar way to a metabolic ‘organ’. Sugar changes the gut microbiota in a way that increases intestinal permeability. It can particularly feed Candida (a type of yeast), and ‘bad’ bacteria that cause inflammation, damage the endothelial lining, causing leaky gut. This allows larger molecules to come into contact with immune cells, which react with further inflammation. These molecules then pass into the blood, and are transported to the liver via the portal vein.

And so the microbiome and intestinal permeability have been reported to be involved in the development of chronic liver disease and portal hypertension (high blood pressure). Intestinal permeability has also been associated with visceral fat (fat around the tummy), presumably as the body uses the fat cells to store the toxic macro-molecules that have entered into the bloodstream. So it seems, leaky gut can make you fat, and that’s not just from all the calories in all that sugar!

Because there is so much sugar in the typical diet, our blood sugar levels are soaring, and high blood sugar has also been shown to increase intestinal permeability directly, at least in mice. These sugar spikes trigger the centers in our brain associated with reward, pleasure, and seeking out the source of that feeling. Amazingly, these are the same areas of the brain that light up in people that are addicted to cocaine, heroin, and nicotine.

It’s not your fault that you crave sugar!

It’s clear that sugar has addictive properties and we need to put in the effort to de-normalize sugar, so it loses its group on us. We can then choose to eat it in small amounts, as a treat, and under our control 🙂. We may find that our energy is more even, our gut is healing, and we have lowered our type 2 diabetes risk.

Retrain your taste buds

You can retrain your taste buds, by eliminating all added sugar from your diet for four weeks

At the end of four weeks without added sugar, your taste buds will have adjusted, and you may find sweetened foods just too sweet for your new tastes. The tea you drank with two teaspoons of sugar, may now taste weird and kind of disgusting. Congratulations!You have now successfully de-normalized sugar!

Added sugar is any form of sugar or sugar alternative added to, or contained in, your food. This includes the raw sugar in your tea, coconut sugar, rice bran syrup, maple syrup, molasses, or agave syrup on your fruit. While there are some metabolic differences between the forms of sugar, your gut and its microbiome don’t discriminate between the type or source of the sugar, or whether it is refined or unrefined. It is all the same:

Sugar = Sugar = Sugar

At the end of four weeks without added sugar, you can introduce a little maple syrup or raw local honey if you want to…

Artificial sweeteners aren’t recommended either as they wreak havoc on the gut by altering the gut microbiota. Small amounts of stevia are probably the best option, although even that may cause gut irritation in some sensitive people.

croissants

What does the science tell us about gluten and leaky gut?

Catchy headlines poke fun at the gluten-free ‘fad’, and many GPs still do not believe non-celiac gluten sensitivity could be affecting their patients. But many people are finding that they feel better when they avoid gluten. So what does the research tell us?

In case you didn’t know, gluten is a family of proteins found in most cereals including wheat, rye, spelt, and barley. It gives dough a glue like consistency which holds it together. Gluten is not only found in obvious foods such as bread, pasta, and beer but also soy sauce, sweats, chips, hot dogs and battered fish!

Celiac Disease

In people with celiac disease, gliadin is a powerful trigger of zonulin release. Zonulin increases intestinal permeability by opening the tight junctions in the epithelial lining, and in people with celiac disease, an auto-immune response follows.  This is a serious condition, and full-blown celiac disease is associated with complete atrophy of the villi which line the small intestine and absorb your nutrients. If you suspect celiac disease, particularly if you have a family history of celiac disease, please speak to your GP about testing.

Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity

Whilst increased intestinal permeability in response to dietary gluten is most severe in those with celiac disease, zonulin, a marker for intestinal permeability, is also increased in people with what is called non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS) and also irritable bowel syndrome with diarrhea.

NCGS is a term applied to people who experience symptoms in response to consumed to gluten consumption but do not have celiac disease. They may feel gastro-intestinal discomfort, fatigue or neurological symptoms. These people tend to improve on a gluten-free diet. Unfortunately, these people can be mocked for avoiding wheat and told that it’s all in their head.

But researchers have found that people with NCGS have increased intestinal permeability compared to healthy subjects. This should not be surprising as we know gliadin increases the release of zonulin, which can affect tight junctions. The opening of these tight junctions, our gateways. allows macromolecules to come into contact with our immune system and our bloodstream and explains why the group with NCGS also had a systemic immune activation on eating gluten.

Gluten increases Intestinal Permeability in All Human Tissue

In a 2015 study, researchers found tissue taken from the duodenum of humans became permeable, and there was increased inflammation when exposed to gliadin (i.e. leaky gut). As this study is in tissue taken from people rather than directly in people themselves, we have to be careful extrapolating the results. However, this backs up the experiences of many people .. they feel better when they don’t consume gluten.

In people with gluten sensitivity and NCGS, the damage did not clear after 36 hours, and what is most surprising, is that after five hours the tissue taken from ‘healthy’ people without celiac of NCGS, still had increased permeability.

Now, the epithelial lining of the small intestine is made up of the fastest growing cells in the body, creating a new lining every 3 to 7 days, and the gut lining would heal itself after exposure to gluten. But, if you have toast for breakfast, a sandwich for lunch, and pasta for dinner, it is never getting a chance to heal. Remember, I’m talking about people who aren’t celiac or don’t have NCGS here. If you consume gluten for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, your gut lining never has a chance to repair and you leaky gut will develop.

Researchers refer to this as the loss of oral tolerance. Now, your body can not deal with the toxins you are exposed to, and it may also start reacting to foods you didn’t react to both, as your immune system fights to defend itself. You have pathogenic intestinal permeability or a leaky gut and this can lead to inflammation in the body and autoimmunity.

Although lab tests do exist to look at your sensitivity to gluten, it’s widely accepted that an elimination diet is the best way to test for gluten intolerance. If you have a chronic health condition, it may be a good idea to remove gluten from your diet and see if that is of benefit. If you want to go further with the elimination diet, a Low FODMAP diet may be the next logical step to improve gut health.

How to fix your gut by lowering your stress

I got sick a few years ago, with IBS type symptoms, that turned out to be due to parasites in my gut (Blastocystis Hominis and Dientamoeba Fragilis to name names!).

Nowadays, I’ve cleared up the parasites but that doesn’t mean I don’t get gut symptoms anymore.

Occasionally I get a flare-up of symptoms, and what I’ve noticed is this happens at the times when I’m the most stressed out, even when my diet is still good. And this happens for many other people.

We can have our diet dialed so that it’s perfect, and we can be exercising regularly and getting enough sleep, but if we are constantly stressed out, this can be causing us problems.

And this is backed up by research in mice, that have found stress affects the gut microbiota to the same degree as a poor diet.

From what we know, when we are stressed out and in flight or fight mode, blood is redirected from our gut and digestion to the muscles so we are ready to run away from a perceived threat. In the body’s view, digestion is just not important at that time. As the gut is serviced by a multitude of neurons, it makes perfect sense that stress and our modern hectic lives affects our gut.

What this means is that if we are our stressed, our attempts to treat small intestine bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), parasites, or IBS may not be effective, or they appear to work, but symptoms soon return after treatment. We need to address our stress to balance our gut microbiota and the messages the gut sends to the brain via the gut-brain axis.

And yes, this can be hard!

It can be easier to pop a pill, or change your diet, rather than address stress which can seem to be just a result of a modern lifestyle. We may need to take a step back, and deeply see how we relate to ourselves and all aspects of our lives.

Everything is Information

Our brains are constantly monitoring all aspects of our physiology, including our breath hormones, nervous system and gut, as well as the outside world. Every situation we find ourselves in and every thought we have affects our body’s chemistry on a molecular level.

The brain is always calculating am I safe or am I under threat

 

One of the big issues with the way we treat stress today is that we tackle it from only one angle. Whereas our stress levels are built up by many small stressful events throughout the day. We can’t tackle overwhelm from work stress, solely by meditating for 15 minutes in the morning or having a glass of wine after work.

It is better to work with stress in all its forms: psychological, emotional, technological, dietary, physical and chemical stress. Michael Neil offers a good introduction on ending psychological and emotional stress here.