When it comes to improving your gut health, there’s nothing more important than the foods that go into your mouth. While processed and unhealthy foods have been shown to damage the intestinal lining and worsen gut health, there are several foods and natural supplements that can actually repair intestinal damage and heal the gut. The following functional foods and nutrients are an important part of any gut-healing protocol because they help to repair leaky gut and feed the good bacteria in your intestinal tract:
- Gelatin: Gelatin makes up almost a third of all of the protein in our bodies, and a dietary deficiency of this key nutrient can wreak havoc on your gastrointestinal system. Gelatin, which comes from animal bones, was traditionally an important part the human diet. Our ancestors generally ate all parts of the animal, including the organs and bones, while modern cooking largely focuses on using only animal meat. Not only is this wasteful, but it is also a disservice to our health because gelatin provides important amino acids for gut health and joint support. Typically I’ll just throw all of my favourite health-promoting powders into my daily smoothie, but gelatin thickens very quickly as it cools so (unless you’re a weirdo who likes drinking thick gelatinous smoothies) it’s best to eat gelatin in gummy form or drink it warm from bone broth.
- Glutamine: I often prescribe glutamine supplements to patients with suboptimal digestive systems because it acts as an anti-inflammatory in the gut and is also necessary for the repair of the intestinal lining. Stress, medications and poor food choices can all impact the lining of your digestive tract leading to a condition called ‘leaky gut‘. The lining of your digestive system relies on the protein zonulin to regulate the spaces between the cells of the intestinal lining, called tight junctions. When your digestive system is under stress, either physically via inflammatory foods or indirectly via increases emotional stress, the space between the cells of your gut lining inevitably opens up. This allows larger protein molecules to get into the bloodstream where an immunologic reaction can take place. When food proteins and toxins are able to pass through your gut lining and into your bloodstream it leads to systemic inflammation and immune system problems. While probiotics can indirectly aid regeneration of gut lining, L-Glutamine is an incredible supplement because it can directly feed the cells in your gut so they can regrow. Studies show that glutamine supplementation maintains tight junction integrity and improves gut barrier function after injury.
- Bone Broth: I drink a cup of homemade bone broth daily to maintain a healthy digestive system (glowing skin is an added bonus!). Bone broth falls under the category of digestive tract super food because it’s full of amino acids and nutrients which speed the turnover and healing of the gut lining to prevent damage from inflammatory foods, daily stress and medications. It’s also especially high in the nutrient zinc, which can improve intestinal permeability and heal leaky gut. Bone broth naturally contains collagen, gelatin, and glutamine which all help repair the gut lining and prevent future damage. Check out my daily bone broth recipe to start making your own at home.
- Kombucha: Kombucha is made by fermenting sweetened tea with a symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast (aka SCOBY). During the fermentation process the bacteria in the SCOBY breaks down the sugar in the tea to release probiotic bacteria. A recent study analyzed the probiotic content of Kombucha and found it to be rich in 2 strains; Gluconacetobacter and Lactobacillus (the most prevalent strain found in a healthy human microbiome). Consuming probiotics has been shown to improve overall gut health since the presence of good bacteria helps to prevent bad bacteria and yeast from overpopulating the gut. Healthy bacteria from probiotic-rich drinks like Kombucha can also act as an indirect digestion aid since they helps us breakdown foods and turn them into nutrients.
- Fermented foods: Fermented foods are another great source of naturally occurring probiotics. These beneficial bacteria are important because they prevent harmful pathogens from accumulating in your GI tract. Probiotic-rich foods help to keep your gut flora balanced by maintaining high levels of ‘good’ bacteria, which creates a favourable environment to begin the gut healing process. My favourite fermented foods are sauerkraut, kimchi, homemade coconut yoghurt and tempeh – and I try to include at least one serving into my diet each day. Pro tip: when choosing store bought fermented products make sure to only purchase from companies that ensure a ‘live’ product.
- Coconut oil: High-lauric acid levels found in coconut oil make it a wonderful gut-healing super food. Lauric acid has antimicrobial and antifungal properties to help maintain a balance between good and bad bacteria in the digestive tract. Coconut oil is also a natural anti-inflammatory, which can help heal the intestinal lining and improve symptoms inflammatory bowel disease. I typically recommend that my patients start with a conservative dose of 1 – 2 tsp daily and build up their intake after a few months of working on the gut with the other foods and supplements listed above. This gradual tapering is important because it can prevent a harmful condition called metabolic endotoxemia. Metabolic endotoxemia begins with the gram-negative bacteria residing in the gut. These bacteria produce compounds called endotoxins, which can be pushed through the gut wall into the blood stream if intestinal permeability is present. This creates a problem because high levels of endotoxins in the blood stream can cause low-grade systemic inflammation. According to a recent study, consuming high doses of fat increased levels of endotoxins in the blood stream since fat can actually ‘push’ endotoxins through the lining of the gut. It’s therefore important to work with a professional who specializes in gut healing for 1 – 2 months before increasing dietary fats.
Looking to connect with a Naturopath in Oakville to discuss your digestive health goals and guidance through a personalized gut-healing protocol? Book your appointment here or visit my website for more information.
*Note: online services provided by Dr. Sarah to those of you living outside of Ontario are delivered as a Certified Functional Medicine practitioner consult and not as an Naturopathic doctor appointment & as such they will not be eligible for reimbursement through private insurance.