(This is part 2 in a 5 part digestive series. Find part 1 here.)
Now that you understand the basics of digestion, let’s get into what a healthy gut looks like and meet its best friends.
What Does Healthy Digestion Look Like?
- At least 1 solid bowel movement/day that sinks (if it floats, that means you’re not processing fats)
- Sustained energy, not getting tired after eating. Food should be your fuel and energize you.
- No stomach pain, nausea, gas, bloating or diarrhea
- Not experiencing the symptoms mentioned here
- Basically…you eat food, you feel good!
So how do we get that? Let’s learn a little about “The Microbiome”
Our bodies are made up of trillions of little bacteria as well as viruses that keep things runnings smoothly; these are also referred to as gut flora or the microbiota. There are about 1,000 different species throughout your body and they outnumber your cells 10:1…so it’s kind of a big deal.
Although you may hear there are good bacteria and bad bacteria…that’s a bit of a simplified way to explain it. Each type of bacteria exists to perform specific functions in the body and the key is to keep them in proper balance. The “bad bacteria” we often refer to isn’t necessarily bad if we have the right amount of it. But when we have an overgrowth of certain bacteria that we are only meant to have in small quantities, and not enough of the bacteria that we need in bigger quantities, that’s what leads to issues.
An example of this is with Candida (the cause of yeast infections, thrush and many other issues). The Candida Albicans fungus actually has a very important job of helping to detect and destroy other pathogenic bacteria that may enter the body. It is also responsible for decomposing your body once you die. So we need to have this present in our bodies at a certain level, but as you have probably figured, we do not need large quantities of this all the time. However, due to poor diet and other factors that disrupt the microbiome (coming in part 3), sometimes this little guy grows out of control, throws off the balance, and we start feeling it in all sorts of ways from digestion issues to fatigue and so much more.
So how do we balance this microbiome?
Think about a party going on in your stomach every time you consume food or beverages. If you invite a lot of your best friends and awesome people, it’s going to be amazing and you’re going to feel great. If you let in a bunch of crazies, they are going to cause drama and your house (body) is going to be left a mess.
So let’s talk about your gut’s BFF’s and how they help your digestion party…
BFF #1: Probiotics + Fermented Foods
Probiotics are the hosts of the party. This is where it all begins.
The first key to keeping your “digestion party” or microbiome in check is actually feeding it the bacteria that we need in high quantities. We refer to these as “probiotics”, which by now you have probably heard of. Many people find that taking probiotics improves their digestion immensely.
But why do we need to take a supplement to balance our bodies?
We don’t. The truth is that people have been taking probiotics in the form of fermented foods since the beginning of time. Before refrigeration, people ate fresh vegetables when they were in season. And when they weren’t in season? They let them ferment.
Vegetables naturally have beneficial bacteria from the soil and when you let them ferment in the right conditions, these bacteria grow and become extremely beneficial for our microbiome. The same logic applies for dairy and soy products (which I usually only recommend in fermented form).
Taking a probiotic supplement is great. You usually get billions of healthy bacteria.
Eating fermented vegetables and drinks is better. You get TRILLIONS of healthy bacteria.
Beneficial fermented foods + drinks include:
- Sauerkraut, kim chee and other veggies like carrots, kale, celery, etc (be sure these are raw, they are usually in the refrigerated section)
- Fermented raw milk such as kefir or yogurt (but NOT commercial versions, which typically do not have live cultures and are loaded with sugars that feed pathogenic bacteria)
- Tempeh and Miso (fermented soy)
- Certain types of kombucha (many commercial brands are pasturized)
Important note – pasteurization diminishes the beneficial bacteria so be careful when buying commercial brands.
Want to learn to make your own fermented veggies or kombucha? Contact me for a fermentation date >>
BFF #2: Water
Water is the girl at the party who’s making sure that everything’s going smoothly, that there’s enough to eat and drink, and that the music is just right…
One of the first questions I ask my client is always “how much water do you drink?” We are made up of mostly water and our bodies need it constantly. It is crucial to helping our bodies function and is vital to eliminate toxins and move them outside of the body. It’s also crucial for moving waste through our colon. Think about the colon like a waterslide…without the water, things aren’t going to move so smoothly. Ouch.
So how much water should you drink?
An easy rule of thumb is: drink half your body weight in ounces. So if you weigh 140 lbs, you should be drinking at least 70 ounces of water a day.
If you are consuming a lot of watery fruit and vegetables, or drinking green juice or herbal tea, this is part of your requirements. However, if you are drinking caffeine or alcohol (both which dehydrate you), that does not count towards your requirements and you should actually add an extra glass of water to replace what you have lost. You should also consume more if you are sweating a lot or in a really dry climate.
One caveat…you don’t want to drink too much water 20 minutes before and after your meal. This may dilute the essential enzymes that are necessary for digestion. You also don’t want to be drinking anything too cold while you are eating. Digestion is a process that requires heat so drinking cold liquids may interfere when trying to break down tough foods.
BFF #3: Fiber
Fiber is water’s boyfriend. He’s the guy who is walking around the party and cleaning up after everyone. He’s got a big trash bag that he keeps filling with toxins and waste and is constantly taking it out so that the party stays clean. Sure, you can have a party without him, but at some point your house is going to become a piled up mess, and you are going to feel like you need a deep cleaning.
Fiber comes in all forms, but the best way to make sure you’re getting enough fiber is eating a lot of vegetables (and some fruits, unless you are dealing with a sugar problem) and certain types of seeds that “bulk up” when you eat them.
Healthiest sources of fiber:
- Seeds like chia, flax and psyllium
- Cruciferous veggies – broccoli, brussel sprouts, cauliflower, etc
- Beans and legumes
- Green beans and peas
- Root veggies + tubers – sweet potatoes, jicama, onions
- Fruits like apples and berries
But remember, water and fiber are a couple, and they don’t like to be apart for too long…one without the other and you’re going to feel a little out of balance.
Other Digestion Party Friends:
So if you have your 3 BFFs above, your digestion party is probably gonna be a pretty good time. But if you want to have the best party experience, you need to invite some other fun people. What I’m referring to here are digestive enzymes and herbs and foods to stimulate them. We’ll go over that in parts 4 and 5.
And sometimes you get that one guy that just comes in and ruins everything. In part 3, we’ll learn how to avoid that guy.