Your gut is your bodies foundation. It is responsible for the digestion of the food you eat, absorbing nutrients, to fuel and maintain your body. So, if your gut is imbalanced and your immune system isn’t working properly, it will be challenging to stay healthy.
Eating well and having efficient, comfortable digestion and elimination begins well before we our food reaches the gut. The way we think, plan and consume our food is very important. Getting to know and train our body and mind to receive nourishment takes focus and patience, especially if we have been of track, stressed or unaware of its importance. Everyone has a personal constitution and stage in life and will differ in requirements and routine. By tuning into what you need currently, you can make some simple adjustments with big benefits or a more thorough overhaul of bad habits if this is required and you feel empowered to make big changes and commit to caring for your body, mind and being more carefully.
Taking time to feel into your body to find out what you are actually hungry for can combat cravings and address emotionally based eating habits. Taking time to prepare food and drinks for yourself and others is also a nourishing activity when done mindfully. Taking time to sit, smell, chew and enjoy your meals is the best way to begin effective digestion. Sharing mealtimes in this manner contributes to family and community. These practices greatly increase the benefits we receive from our food, both physically and emotionally. We truly are blessed to have plentiful nourishing foods to eat and enjoy.
Proper digestion is as much about the nervous system as is the functioning of the Gut, so mindful eating is paramount to our health and wellbeing. We can look further into this on a much deeper level to understand and enjoy our food properly. Where did our food come from? And how did it get to us? Many aspects are necessary for us to have the availability of fresh produce to make nourishing meals. From correct growing circumstances, transport availability, growers, packing and picking staff and much more, all to bring to us what we require to thrive. Awareness can help us make better decisions for ourselves, our community and our environment.
How the gut works
So once we have finally eaten, food follows the digestive tract (gut) thought these aspects; mouth, esophagus, stomach, small intestine, large intestine, rectum and anus. Additional supportive organs are the liver, gallbladder, pancreas. All have specific roles in digestion and absorption of nutrients and elimination of waste. Nerves that feed information to and from the rest of our body including our brain are found all through the gut. Blood supply carries essential nutrients and waste to and from the gut all around the body. This system functions automatically and productively when supported with correct mindset and substances.
A big part of effective digestion is health balance micro flora. We need thousands of friendly bacteria in our gut to digest and eliminate foods. Sometimes they get out of balance due to stress, excess sugar intake, infections, or parasite exposure. Some of these aspects may need direct and specific treatment. We can also continue to support our microbe friends with beneficial pre- biotics, pro- biotics, variety of fibre and plenty of pure water to drink. We can focus on foods that contain these benefits like fermented and cultured foods. Sauerkraut, sourdough, miso, kombucha and kefir are some examples of probiotic containing foods. Prebiotics can be found in fruits such as papaya, kiwi, mangoes, green bananas and apples.
Intestinal Permeability and Fibre
The gut wall needs to have a very high surface area to ensure we’re getting all the goodness out of our food. This contact point needs to be cared for and nourished with soothing foods if we expect it to work properly. Consistent fibre intake with a variety of fibre types ensures the gut wall is well cared for. Fibre makes our food workable for the digestive system, allowing all the nutrients to be absorbed and the wasted products to be swept away. Two main types of fibre help this happen; soluble or water absorbing with slows the process down and insoluble or intact fibre that sweeps through the gut moving things along. Different types of fibre have more specific roles to play. Resistant start provide nourishment for our microbe. Oat derived beta glucans, a soluble fibre reduce blood cholesterol by binding cholesterol rich bile. Other substances such as Diatomaceous Earth and activated charcoal are often employed to target specific toxins, infections and parasites. It best to have a good understanding of your own Gut function before using these as they are not part of our everyday nourishing fibre rich food intake.
Great foods for keeping your fibre intake up include; whole grains, beans, variety of vegetables and fruits and nuts. It’s really quite simple. There are a few helpful things that can get out gut back on track quickly, such as slippery elm, psyllium and chia seeds. These help soothe the gut wall and move the digestive process along. It’s very important to drink lots of pure water as we increase out fibre intake.
Having a happy, healthy gut wall prevents development of leaky gut and inflammatory processes in the gut that contribute to chronic illnesses, allergies and discomfort. Often with ongoing exposure to processed food or stress the gut wall loses its integrity and we become sensitive to certain foods. At this point it’s best to avoid aggravating substances until healing has taken place. When the gut wall is compromised our digestive ability is lower further reducing out capacity to tolerate foods that require a lot of enzymes and microflora to process. This situation requires a more gentle nurturing approach to our food intake and often leaving out food groups until the gut has healed. Foods that can cause aggravation and inflammation are gluten containing grains, and dairy products. Sometimes a more specific intolerance may develop but on average these two groups become the most difficult to digest and leaving them out of the diet for a period of time can help the healing process. Meats can also become difficult to digest if the gut is inflamed or sluggish. These require a lot of work to digest so a break from eating meat can allow the gut to heal, reducing inflammation and remove toxic build up. For a healthy gut, quality meat and dairy foods provides a lot of beneficial nutrients and vitality. Bone broth contains collagen, glutamine, gelatin and minerals that heal the gut, reduce inflammation without the digestive power required to assimilate these aspects from meat.
We may discover that certain food types aggravate our digestion on a more permanent basis. The typical suspects in this category are Gluten and FODmaps. Their chemical structure can be difficult for some of us to digest. Gluten containing grains such as wheat, spelt, kamut, rye and other relatives as well as any foods produced from these grains like pastas and breads are best avoided if symptoms are directly linked to their intake. Gluten free alternatives such as rice, buckwheat, paleo breads and pastas are now widely available. Its best to avoid unhealthy processed gluten-free substitutes as these can be deplete of critical nutrients like B vitamins and fibre. FODmaps are type of carbohydrate found in some fruits, vegetables, legumes and grains that are not digested well and increase digestive discomfort once they reach the microflora in the large intestines. Identifying specific foods with the FODmaps that aggravate and avoiding them as well as focusing on good Gut micro flora can alleviate these symptoms.
Healing the gut
Traditional approaches to health and well-being have very helpful and nourishing strategies that can bring us back to basic simple clean healthy eating patterns that suit our evolution and constitution.
As we each express our unique genetic make-up, which is then influences by diet, lifestyle, stress and environmental factors, we all have specific needs and requirements. Traditional systems such ayurveda have been tracking human wellness for thousands of years and have much to offer in establishing a balanced, comfortable state of being. Ayurveda offers a gentle, effective, nourishing approach to healing the Gut by providing easily digestible whole foods rich in fibre and protein with tonifying herbs and spices that soothe and stimulate the digestive process. The diet is very low allergenic, based on rice and moong dahl, the best tolerated legume. Being well cooked and eaten fresh the meals provide all the essential nutrients in the most easily digestible form. Allowing your body the vitality and time to repair and restore in any areas that are in balanced.
The Healthy Gut – by Tessa Davidson BNat, Dip Counselling