While I take an individualized approach to digestion and optimizing gut health based on each patient’s conditions, medical history, preferences, and other factors, I’ve found these seven principles make a solid foundation for almost everyone. I talk about them in more detail in my free Quick Start Guide to a Happy Gut:
1. Eat a gut-supporting diet.
Focus on clean ingredients with foods that are easy to digest, low in fructose and other sugars, and devoid of substances hard on your gut like gluten, dairy, soy, and corn. I emphasize foods that are organic, pesticide-free, non-genetically modified (GMO), full of healthy fats, locally grown, and sustainably farmed. Those include healthy fats, nuts and seeds, high-fiber and low-glycemic carbs, nonstarchy veggies, and clean proteins like wild-caught cold-water fish.
If you want more specific instructions, when you fill your plate with food, imagine that it’s divided into quarters. Fill one-quarter of your plate with protein and healthy, omega-3-rich fats (like wild-caught fatty fish, grass-fed meats, humanely raised and antibiotic-free chicken, and avocado), and fill the other three-quarters with raw, baked, or steamed greens and veggies. This simple rule will ensure that you get the right balance of proteins, fats, and carbs without the stress of having to weigh your food or count calories. Now you can simply enjoy the act of eating.
2. Focus on fiber.
Dietary fiber comes in two “flavors,” and they each play a different role in gut health. Soluble fiber attracts water and forms a gel-like substance during digestion, helping you feel full longer and slowing the rate at which sugar from food enters your bloodstream. Soluble fiber also doubles as a prebiotic to feed your good gut flora (more on that in a minute). Good soluble fiber sources include apples, beans, blueberries, and freshly ground flaxseed. Insoluble fiber, on the other hand, is found in vegetables and whole grains and provides bulk to your stool and prevents constipation. Because it doesn’t dissolve in water, insoluble fiber passes through your gut relatively intact, promoting the passage of food and waste. Most foods contain a blend of soluble and insoluble fiber. If you also supplement, look for a powder that contains a blend of soluble and insoluble fibers that mimic what you get in food.
3. Support the good guys.
The trillions of bacteria in your gut play many roles including encouraging proper intestinal permeability (keeping things within your gut that shouldn’t slip out) and keeping out unfavorable bacteria, yeast, and parasites. You’ll always have some bad guys, but you want to keep your gut predominantly filled with good bacteria. To do that, eat plenty of fermented food like unpasteurized sauerkraut, kimchi, and no-sugar-added coconut yogurt. You might also want to supplement with a professional-quality probiotic. Look for dairy-free probiotics that contain at least 15 billion CFUs each of Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium (a total of 30 billion CFUs) guaranteed by the manufacturer through the expiration date. Take on an empty stomach once or twice a day for at least three months, and keep probiotics refrigerated after opening to maintain their freshness and potency. If you have a leaky gut or inflammatory bowel disease (such as Crohn’s or ulcerative colitis), you may need to take up to a total of 200 billion CFUs daily. For those and other conditions that require very high-dose probiotics, I recommend working with a gut-health specialist.
4. Feed your gut flora.
Your probiotic flora feed on nondigestible fibers called prebiotics that promote the growth of beneficial flora. The best way to get your prebiotics is to eat them. Incorporate more prebiotic-rich foods like raw chicory root, raw Jerusalem artichoke, and blanched dandelion greens. You may also take a prebiotics supplement, but so slowly. Going too fast increasing prebiotic foods or supplements can make you gassy.
5. Dial down inflammation.
Chronic inflammation contributes to nearly every disease imaginable, and it doesn’t do your gut any favors. Studies connect inflammation with everything from leaky gut to weight gain. Those are among the many reasons to add cold-water fish and other omega-3-rich foods to your diet. The two primary omega-3 fatty acids, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), are important anti-inflammatory promoters in the body often deficient in the American diet. Along with these foods, take one to four 1,000-milligram softgels daily with meals to enhance their absorption.