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Natural Awakenings Boston

A Functional Nutrition Approach to Gut Health: A Healthy Gut Equals a Healthy Life

Jun 29, 2020 03:00PM ● By Tamara Luck
Our complex digestive system works like a beautifully designed machine, releasing digestive juices, disassembling food, absorbing nutrients and promoting balance throughout all our body’s systems. In addition, our digestive tract houses our microbiome, which plays a role in our digestion, mental health, inflammation and immune system. This means an imbalance in the gut microbiome may be involved with allergies, inflammation, autoimmune diseases, skin conditions, like eczema and so much more. Here are the top three ways to support gut health using a functional nutrition approach.

Eating Hygiene

All too often, we eat on the run, but eating in a chaotic, frenzied way impairs our digestion. Although it is not a very sexy topic, our eating hygiene can play a huge role in our digestive health. Eating hygiene refers to the ways that we eat and how they support optimal digestion and gut health. The key tenants are being relaxed when eating, chewing (then chewing some more) and avoiding drinking too much liquid with meals.

When we are stressed, our body does not prioritize digestion. However, if we are able to sit down and take a few deep breaths before we eat, our body actually sends more blood to our digestive organs and we release our digestive juices at the right time. This means less bloating and more nutrients broken down and absorbed.

Chewing is absolutely essential for gut health. Chewing is one of the first steps to digestion, and if we do not chew adequately, our body has a harder time breaking up large pieces of food. This may create more food for unfriendly bacteria to feast on, causing microbiome imbalances. Lastly, drinking too many liquids with meals is not ideal because it can dilute stomach acid, which, contrary to popular belief, is a very necessary step of digestion. Soups and smoothies are still perfectly fine to eat, just avoid chugging large amounts of water with a meal. These small steps alone can help to optimize digestion and improve symptoms like belching, gas and bloating.

Eat Real Food

A healthy diet should minimize what is harmful to the body and maximize nutrients. The easiest way to do this is by eating real, whole foods. Start by building meals around a foundation of vegetables, fruits and high quality proteins and fats. Limit heavily processed foods that are often very nutrient poor. Eating unprocessed foods supports our gut health and body directly by delivering important nutrients. For example, fiber from vegetables, fruit and grains are extremely beneficial for regularity and feeding our bacterial friends. Try eating jicama or organic kiwis with their skin on for some great sources of fiber. Other foods like sauerkraut, kimchi and yogurt contain some probiotics that are beneficial to the majority of the population.

Balance the Microbiome

Many people are already eating a balanced, nutritious diet but are still experiencing chronic digestive discomfort or some of the other previously mentioned conditions that often originate in the gut. This may be a sign to further explore your microbial health. Functional dietitians can be a great resource for more specific and personal recommendations for microbial and digestive support. For example, certain probiotic strains have been studied to benefit specific conditions. Working with a functional practitioner may also allow for a comprehensive stool test to be run to assess microbial diversity, potential pathogens and digestive function. This is especially beneficial if an underlying dysfunction is expected and probiotics have not been helpful so far. Balancing our microbial friends is key for overall health.

When taking a whole body and holistic approach to wellness, gut health is a great place to start. Environmental toxins, overly processed foods and medications can all negatively impact gut health. However, through food and lifestyle choices, we can take easy steps to rebalance our gut health and set a foundation for long lasting whole body health.

Tamara Luck, RDN, LDN, is an integrative and functional dietitian in Waltham. She works to uncover root causes of imbalances in the body and take an individualized approach to wellness with her one-on-one clients. She is currently accepting new patients at Johnson Compounding and Wellness and appointments can be made at Calendly.com/TamaraLuck.