As women, and as a culture at large, we are urged to focus so much attention and care on the external. We all have beauty regimens for our skin and hair, investing money in an array of products to enhance their appearance. Even though from a young age we are told that there is meaning in inner beauty, I find that this is an elusive concept. So many of us are seeking to grasp an understanding of how to truly care for ourselves from the inside, out. Along this journey I have come to recognize that the most influential organ is the gut. Traveling from one end of our bodies to the other, the gut offers the body a connection to all nourishment. As opposed to messages from every major cosmetic company, our external appearance is reflective of our internal health. We are not truly what we eat, but rather what we digest and absorb. A deeper practice of self-care calls for a shift in our attention from photo-driven glamour to this vital organ that lies below the surface.
The gut is our foundation for digestion, metabolism and immune function. Emerging research is showing that gut health is linked to: malnutrition and obesity, food allergies, chronic inflammatory conditions (irritable bowel disease (IBS), ulcerative colitis, Chron’s disease and even diabetes), brain function (Alzheimer’s, ADHD, autism-spectrum disorders, depression and anxiety), and skin conditions (acne, eczema and psoriasis). To sum it up: every aspect of our physical and mental health originates in the gut. The following protocol offers dietary recommendations to help you support gut function and enhance your inner & outer beauty.
Mindful Eating. Managing stress around meal times is critical to repairing the digestive system. The root of so much digestive distress is in our rushed, stressful eating style. The enteric nervous system, or “gut brain,” has more neurotransmitters than the brain itself. These neurotransmitters signal for the intricate process of digestion to occur. When we eat too much, too quickly our “gut brain” becomes confused. Symptoms of reflux, nausea, bloating, constipation & diarrhea can all be linked to stress. For example, instead of relaxing muscles in the lower esophagus to allow food to pass, the muscles become tightened in stress causing symptoms of reflux. Slowing your pace of eating at meals can help improve digestion and repair an inflamed gut.
Probiotics. These beneficial bacteria play an important role in our digestive health, metabolism, and immune function. Over 100 trillion microbes live in our digestive tract – most of which are beneficial to human health. Our gut flora can be altered by many external factors, including poor dietary choices, antibiotic over use, emotional stress, lack of sleep, and environmental toxins. When our gut has the appropriate balance of good and bad bacteria, it is able to filter out and eliminate these harmful chemicals and toxins – thus allowing us to optimally digest and absorb the nutrients our bodies need. In addition to maintaining gut health, probiotics help exclude harmful pathogens to improve our immune system defenses. Although historically our diets used to be rich in fermented foods (which contain these beneficial cultures), I find now most need a supplement to meet their needs.
If you are looking to try a capsule form, I recommend trying the following: Dr. Ohira’s Probiotics® Original Formula or Garden of Life RAW Probiotics (which offers varieties for men and women). If you are open to trying a liquid supplement, I recommend Inner-ēco™ Fresh Coconut Water Probiotic – serving size is 1 Tbsp. All probiotic supplements need to be refrigerated to keep the cultures active.
- Cultured yogurt (**check to see that the probiotic culture is listed on the label)
- Kefir (fermented milk drink)
- Sour kraut (“sour cabbage”)
- Kim chi (fermented vegetables, a spicy Korean side dish)
- Tempeh (fermented soybeans, originally from Indonesia)
- Miso (Japanese seasoning made from fermented rice, barley, or soybeans)
- Kombucha (fizzy beverage, can be a great alternative to soda)
- Raw Apple Cider Vinegar (fermented vinegar, mix with olive oil for salad dressing)
Prebiotics. These non-digestible fibers remain intact through the upper part of the GI tract and are fermented by bacteria in the colon. These compounds essentially become nutrient sources, feeding the beneficial bacteria in your gut.
- Under-ripe bananas
- Onions (raw or cooked)
- Raw garlic
- Raw dandelion greens
- Raw leeks
- Raw jicama
- Raw asparagus
These are not the easiest foods to incorporate into your everyday diet. Here are a few simple (tasty) suggestions: Try adding raw garlic to salads, dips, or hummus. Purchase bananas when they are still a bit green and add them, along with dandelion greens, to your morning smoothie. Order your next sushi rolls with raw asparagus. Cook with onions to add more than just flavor to your dishes.
Digestive Enzymes. Primarily produced in the pancreas and small intestine, digestive enzymes play an important role in helping the body break down food for absorption. If our bodies are not producing enough enzymes, we are not able to absorb all of nutrients available in the food we consume. Supplemental digestive enzymes are a great option to provide extra digestive support, especially when you are first beginning to work on repairing gut health.
Take 1-2 digestive enzyme capsules before heavier meals to help promote optimal digestion and ease discomfort, gas, and bloating. There are a wide variety of digestive enzymes on the market – I recommend a full spectrum option like Rainbow Light® Digestive Enzymes.
Aloe. In the same way that Aloe vera gel is used to soothe a sunburn, it can also be ingested to cool and sooth intestinal irritation. Aloe is rich in enzymes and nutrients that support a healthy gut lining. It has anti-inflammatory properties that are particularly helpful for anyone dealing with IBS or IBD. Daily ingestion of aloe will promote regular bowel function and ease constipation. Aloe is also considered a prebiotic, which feeds healthy gut bacteria. If you have an edible aloe plant, you can cut open the leaves, scrape out the inner gel, and add it to your water. To simplify things, you can also purchase aloe vera liquid at health food stores. I recommend adding Lily of the Desert aloe vera juice to your morning glass of water to reap the benefits of this soothing plant.
Bone Broth. Made from beef, poultry, or fish, bone broth has been shown to help heal the digestive tract and is a remedy to treat leaky gut syndrome. The lining of the gut is designed to allow small particles to pass through to the blood, but acts as a barrier to larger particles that can damage your system. Leaky gut, or increased intestinal permeability, occurs when the gut lining is not effectively controlling the passage of particles – allowing things like proteins, bad bacteria, and undigested food particles into the bloodstream. “Bone broth” is created by boiling animal bones to break down collagen to gelatin. The broth is extremely nutrient dense, containing amino acids required to repair gut lining. You can drink the broth or incorporate it when preparing soups or stews to reap its benefits. Bone broth is found in culinary traditions around the world and we are recently acknowledging its nourishing qualities.
Tea. The simple practice of sipping tea is relaxing for both the mind and body. As a bonus, particular types of tea leaves can help promote digestive function and soothe the gut lining.
- Burdock Root – enhances digestion (best if taken prior to meals)
- Chamomile – calms nervous system, eases gas & bloating
- Dandelion Root – enhances liver detoxification
- Ginger – healing for immune & digestive systems *try freshly grated ginger mixed with local honey & lemon
- Peppermint – calms digestive upset
- Slippery Elm – “mucilage” to coat and soothe gut lining