Now that I shared what leaky gut is and how it starts, I’m excited to share my top tips for nourishing your gut! If you’re already feeling nervous or annoyed that I’m going to share a long to-do list that will overwhelm you, scroll down to Tip #4, then come back up to the top and be encouraged! Learning to take care of your gut is such a rewarding process.
First things first – because I love all things food, my inclination is to start there. But that may be backwards.
See, if you don’t take care of external triggers, it doesn’t matter what food you eat.
Tip #1: Manage Stress
We can’t avoid traffic, work deadlines, soccer practices, family conflicts, etc. But we CAN handle how we manage the stress they create.
The best thing I’ve done for my stress levels is learning to breathe. Guided breathwork has been so beneficial. There are various studies into why and how they assist the parasympathetic nervous system, but let’s focus on this – deep nostril breathing will decrease the stress center in your brain. It will instantly calm and soothe you. Just a few minutes of calm, steady breathing can be a game-changer for your stress levels.
One other thing that helps lighten my stress load when my mind is racing is taking a bath with Epsom salts. I am NOT a bath person, and I’ve never been a fan of just laying there, but an extra hot bath that leaves me alone with my mind and deep breathing practices is something I’ve come to depend on during stressful times.
I’m also a big fan of a gratitude journal, either first thing in the morning or at the end of the day. Reflect on what went well the previous day. Try to list 3-5 things. It’s hard to be stressed or fearful when you’re acknowledging the positive in your life. Being grateful changes your brain, the expression of your genes, and improves your gut health!
Tip #2: Eat Real Food!
…And eat it slowly. It’s no secret that processed food is damaging for us. But we all know that, and we just keep on keeping on with our gut issues. So while ideally, one would focus on cutting out the triggers, for some it is a much more realistic approach to crowd in the most fueling foods. Eating slowly and mindfully gives your digestive system time to digest and process the food. Taking breathers between bites and chewing slowly gives your enzymes a chance to do what they need to do and break down your food.
Vegetables contain prebiotic fiber that feeds the good bacteria in our gut. They detoxify our bodies and provide much needed vitamins for our brain health. They also help produce short chain fatty acids like butyrate, which is so important for mental health and has even been studied to be helpful in reducing symptoms of mania. Side note – butyrate is found in grass fed butter and ghee, so by cooking vegetables in either of those you’re increasing your fat-soluble vitamin content AND getting a double dose of brain goodness!
High quality animal products are also important to crowd into your diet. Because many people who suffer from mental illness and gut issues also have the MTHFR gene mutation, wild caught salmon, grass fed beef, and pasture-raised eggs contain sources of omega 3s and B12 that you wouldn’t receive from a plants-only diet. Omega 3s keep your gut bacteria diverse and healthy, and B12 is difficult to absorb if your gut isn’t healthy, so it is very necessary to find natural forms of B12 in your diet.
Because gluten can trigger leaky gut, being aware of gluten consumption and how you feel when eating it is important. There are many sources of gluten free grains, like rice and quinoa, that may not be as irritating. I love fajita bowls with rice or or salads with quinoa sprinkled in!
Getting adequate amounts of healthy fats are ways to crowd out sugar cravings for me. Sugar is a brain drain, and I feel better when I’m not a slave to it. Nuts, nut butters, coconut oil, olive oil, avocados, grass fed butter and ghee are all fats that I regularly consume as frequently as I want and I’ve found that I don’t desire sugar as much as I used to. Could it be that the anti-inflammatory powers of these fats are increasing my good gut bugs and decreasing the bad, therefore decreasing my cravings as a result? It’s possible, based on all my gut research but no way to tell without looking at my gut bacteria and I haven’t done that… yet.
Which brings me to
Tip #3: Out With the Old, In With the New!
Based on all the new research on the gut microbiome, we know that various medications can lead to an increased risk for intestinal permeability and leaky gut. Birth control pills, acid reducers, NSAIDs, steroids, and antibiotics ALL contribute to disruption in the gut microbiome.
Some say it takes your gut bacteria a full year to recover from one round of antibiotics, so for those who feel they are catching every little virus – look at your medications. Is anything you take messing with your gut bacteria? Not only will this impact your immune system, but it will take a major toll on your mental health. Like I said in part 1, I truly believe the antibiotics and steroids I was on as a child, combined with trauma and genetic predispositions, contributed to my poor gut health and ultimate diagnosis of depression as a teen.
More and more medical professionals are now recommending probiotics for a variety of issues. Even psychiatrists are beginning to recommend them to patients, because of the importance of the gut-brain connection. My very favorite probiotic, called Probio5, contains an enzyme that breaks down candida! It also contains grape seed extract, which is an antioxidant and antifungal that fights candida as well. There are thousands of probiotics out there, but not all of them make the trip to the lower gut, so finding the right one that is also affordable is huge. Find my favorite here.
Other supplements that help with the gut include collagen, glutamine (which is found in favorite whey protein shake), turmeric, DGL, and marshmallow root. One of my favorite gut healing supplements that decreases intestinal inflammation is called Ease. It contains New Zealand Green Lipped Mussel, turmeric and bromelain to block inflammatory cytokines, and serrapeptase that controls harmful bacteria.
Now for the last tip, and this is the most important one of all:
Tip #4: GIVE. YOURSELF. GRACE.
Please know I share all the above as friendly suggestions. Going back to number 1, stress will KILL your gut health. So if you’re reading everything and thinking about how hard that would be or how much anxiety it would cause you, then pick one or two things that are doable for you. Focus on breathing. Take a walk or go to a yoga class (I didn’t even get into the importance of movement and gut health, but yes – that is so important, too)! Take it one day at a time.
Many of us nutrition nerds get on our high horses about certain eating plans or good food/bad food lists, but your food choice does not define you as a person.
Will you feel better if you eat more vegetables? Sure. Are you a horrible person if you eat some gluten-filled bread? Nope, not at all. Our love/hate relationship with diets as a culture has caused many of us to demonize certain foods that make us “bad” for having a “bad” food day.
You are not bad if you have a “bad food day.” You are not superior if you check all the boxes and your nutrition is 100%.
Eat for YOUR body. Eat what fuels you. This is a process for lifelong health, for navigating through our modern world of easy access and quick fix living.
You get one body, y’all. Find what works for you – but give your gut a little TLC. It does so much for you. The least you can do is love it back.