August 8th, 2012 by Jason
Your nutrition is only as good as your digestion; luckily, you can use elements of your nutrition and diet to improve your digestion.
The first place to begin is by eliminating the common culprits that can plague our gastrointestinal tracts. In general, if you are experiencing digestive issues, you'd be wise to avoid the following:
- Gluten & other grains
- Processed foods - particularly ones with additives and preservatives
- Potential irritating or antigenic foods such as corn, soy, and dairy - if you note any negative reactions to these foods (conducting an elimination diet can help determine this)
In addition to eliminating these potential gut-busters, adding some specific gut healing foods can serve to strengthen the intestinal barrier, balance the environment of the gut, and support overall digestive health.
Bone broth or stock is a phenomenal food for repairing the digestive wall. The collagen and amino acids such as glucosamine, proline and glycine that are derived from the bones and connective tissue (such as cartilage) of the meat/fish serve to rebuild the tissue of the intestines. In addition, broth helps squelch inflammation in the gut and is gentle for those experiencing diarrhea, constipation and GI discomfort. Broth is a staple in the diets of many traditional cultures and a cornerstone of gut healing protocols such as the GAPS diet among others.
Besides collagen, cartilage contains something called glycosaminoglycans (GAGs). Studies have found an underlying deficiency of glycosaminoglycans (GAGs) in patients with Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis. Here are some of the unique, specific benefits derived from the nutrients found in broth:
- Collagen and gelatin have been shown to benefit gastric ulcers.
- Proline is necessary for the formation of collagen.
- Glycine improves digestion by increasing gastric acid secretion.
- Glutamine, also found in bone broth, is important metabolic fuel for cells in the small intestine.
How to Prepare Bone Broth
- Purchase some beef marrow bones (grass-fed & pastured ideally) from a local farmer/butcher or a pastured whole chicken and after cooking the chicken gather the carcass and bones. You can also opt for bones from whole fish - choose wild caught, fatty cold-water fish such as salmon or tuna.
- Fill a large crock-pot with filtered water.
- Place the bones in the pot with the water and add 1-2 tbsp of apple cider vinegar (acidity of vinegar helps begin break down of bones, collagen and amino acids for the broth). Let sit for 1 hour.
- Place pot on stove and bring to boil.
- Reduce heat and simmer on low for at least 8 hours up to 24 hours (the longer you simmer the more essential nutrients you can draw out of bones.)
- Remove from heat and let cool.
- Remove bones and strain broth through fine mesh strainer.
- Refrigerate – once cooled, a layer of fat will solidify on top of broth; simply scoop/skim off.
- You can then portion broth into individual jars or large bowl and heat up when ready to enjoy. Be sure to warm on low heat and not microwave. You can add spices such as ginger, garlic (both great for GI tract) for flavor. Broth can also serve as base of soup where you can add veggies such as carrots, onions, etc.
Kefir (pronounced /kəˈfɪər/ kə-FEER) is another digestive health superfood. Kefir is a traditional food that has long been touted for its healing properties in both European and Asian cultures. Recently, this powerhouse food has become more well researched to determine its specific nutritional qualities.
The primary mechanism by which kefir confers its gut healing potential is through the wide spectrum of microbiota or beneficial bacteria. These probiotics inoculate the gut to balance out any bad bacteria. Recent research has also shown that "the action of probiotics in the host is exerted by three mechanisms: modulation of the content of gut microbiota; maintenance of the integrity of the gut barrier and prevention of bacterial translocation; and modulation of the local immune response by the gut-associated immune system." (1)
Because kefir is a fermented food, the complete proteins in it are already partially digested, and are therefore more easily utilized by the body. Along with the rich protein sources, kefir is high in a variety of vitamins and minerals such as calcium, magnesium, Vitamin K2, thiamin, B12 and biotin - a B vitamin that helps the body assimilate other B vitamins.
If you want to opt for the convenience of store bought kefir, check out commercial brands Redwood Hill Farm’s Traditional Goat Kefir and Lifeway’s Organic Whole Milk Plain Kefir. Be sure to always opt for plain to avoid added sugars. If you are the adventurous type and would like to learn how to make your own homemade kefir, check out this recipe and tutorial.
Fermentation is a process which helps pre-digest foods and results in beneficial bacteria. Just as with kefir, fermented vegetables impart probiotics. The prebiotics and probiotic bacteria from fermentation can help to ease digestion and restore integrity to the gut lining.
In addition, fermented veggies provide a good dietary source of fiber. While soluble fiber can be great for the gut, some with inflamed guts may not handle or do very well with insoluble fiber in the diet. Fortunately, the fermentation process creates that initial breakdown process making fermented vegetables more well-tolerated.
Vital Choice offers a fantastic line of fermented vegetables that includes kimchi, sauerkraut, beets, and daikon; you can select them individually or choose a sampler pack!
*NOTE - Fiber may not always be beneficial depending on your specific digestive condition and in some cases (such as bacterial overgrowth or yeast/candida) may even exacerbate it. For more info on the impact of fiber on digestion check out this great article by Integrative Health Practitioner Chris Kresser.
When you opt to include these new foods, or any new foods for that matter, be sure to first determine the true nature of your digestive condition and then when incorporating anything new, note your body's reaction with a basic food log. Look for signs of increased symptoms such as bloating, gas, diarrhea, constipation, brain fog, or generally not feeling well. If you experience adverse reactions, remove that food for the time-being while your gut continues to heal. You may be able to later reintroduce the food again after several weeks/months.
Do you know what's going on in your gut? Want to find out? Schedule a FREE 15-minute phone consultation TODAY to get insight and answer into your health challenges and learn more about how Functional Diagnostic Nutrition and our gut testing/healing protocols can help you.