Nutrition for Healing Gut Issues
By Nutritional Weight & Wellness Staff
February 28, 2023
A three-step approach to better intestinal health
Common Gut Issues
Most likely you have heard of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and maybe you deal with it yourself. IBS is a common condition affecting the large intestine and colon, and is characterized by cramping, abdominal pain, bloating, gas, diarrhea, and/or constipation. A whopping 25-45 million Americans suffer from IBS, which is about 10-15 percent of the U.S. population, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Whether they’ve received a specific IBS diagnosis or not, so many people are bogged down with these symptoms that they come to believe it is normal to feel this way. Do not be mistaken; this is your body’s way of alerting you that your gut is in need of repair before other health problems occur.
IBS has a big brother called inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) which is actually a term for two different but similar diseases, Crohn’s disease and Ulcerative Colitis. People with IBD often experience similar symptoms as IBS, but to a greater degree. They frequently experience chronic bloody diarrhea, fatigue, severe abdominal cramping, loss of appetite and weight loss. IBD actually is an autoimmune disease, meaning the body is actively attacking its own tissues, so the goal of treatment is disease remission.
Research over the past two decades has determined that intestinal health is critical to overall health. People living with ongoing symptoms of intestinal problems are at higher risk for a wide range of diseases including diabetes, obesity, depression, fibromyalgia and rheumatoid arthritis. On a recent Dishing Up Nutrition podcast, Intestinal Connection to Depression, two of our nutritionists talked about this very topic: how there is a connection between digestive health and mental health. Your gut even effects your mood!
How is Your Gut Health?
When reading those facts about intestinal health, did anything sound familiar? What symptoms can you relate to and have experienced recently? Take a look at this list and see where you might fall on the digestive spectrum:
- Early fullness
- Inflammatory bowel disease: Crohn’s, colitis
- Colon cancer
Nutrition for Healing Gut Issues
Whether you have the severity or the diagnosis of IBS/IBD or if you’re having “normal” and common intestinal issues, we know there are things you can do nutritionally to find relief!
To help clients reduce the inflammation in their gut, heal ulcers, stop the daily diarrhea and cramping, or relieve the constipation and bloating, we recommend this three-step approach:
Step-by-step guide to start relieving your symptoms
Step 1: Tweak your eating plan
Real foods will keep the intestinal inflammation down and give you the nutrients needed to heal the lining of your gut. Balanced real food meals containing protein (amino acids and minerals to heal that intestinal tract), fat (help heal cell membranes) and carbohydrates from veggies and fruits (contain vitamins, antioxidants, and fiber) will nourish you, your gut, and the rest of your body.
If you have IBS or IBD, real foods will help avoid an IBS flare up and it’s best to choose well-cooked, easy-to-digest protein, cooked vegetables (rather than raw), and healing fats. Here are some examples:
Chicken vegetable soup has all the components of a healthy meal wrapped up in one soothing-for-your-gut broth. Easy to pop in a thermos for work or school. Another option would be a chicken (protein) with roasted veggies (carbs) in avocado oil (fat), like this Chicken with Squash & Apples recipe, where you throw it all on a sheet pan and toss it in the oven. Use two pans to have extra for the week.
Salmon is not only a great source of protein, but it contains those essential omega-3 fatty acids that’s very healing for inflammation. Pair that delish fish with some cooked asparagus and sweet potato (carbs) cooked in coconut or avocado oil (fat). Burgers (protein) are also a huge hit when topped with an avocado (fat) and eaten with some cooked broccoli and brown rice (carb).
In addition to rebuilding your meals with healthy, healing real foods, reducing the amount of sugar and processed carbs in your meals also reduces the amount of inflammation your body creates in response to ingesting those man-made foods.
Bonus points: we’ll talk a little bit about probiotics in the next step, but another wonderful real food way to heal your gut is to incorporate more fermented foods, which are rich in probiotics. Foods such as whole-milk yogurt or kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha, and fermented vegetables (such as carrots and beets) support a healthy gut and add tasty flavor to your meals.
“Prior to addressing my nutrition, I lived in a constant state of discomfort in my body. Bloating and stomach pain were my set point, my “normal.” I discovered that my brother has colitis, and after comparing symptoms, I realized that this same condition is what I was struggling with. I was also dealing with depression and anxiety and working with a therapist. I knew I had to take action and try a different approach if I was ever going feel better without relying solely on medication. I went all-in and put the money toward the Nutrition 4 Weight Loss Program and nutrition consultations with Jamie. I’m so glad that I committed to both because the results have been unbelievable! My colitis symptoms are completely gone! I’m no longer bloated and I don’t need medication, like Pepto Bismol (my former go-to). She helped me pick foods that I love for meal plans and provided me with easy-to-make recipes. I used to be a sugar addict and ashamed of eating. I was uncomfortable eating in front of others and always had an unhealthy relationship with food. Thanks to Jamie, I see eating in a whole new way. I love food and cooking.” - Jacque (read her full story here)
Step 2: Populate your gut with good bacteria
The second step we recommend for people dealing with digestive issues is to help populate the gut with good bacteria. This means cutting back on or eliminating sugary foods and alcohol, reducing stress, and cutting back on use of pain medications (if possible) —all of which negatively affect the intestinal lining.
The intestinal tract has a shocking amount of bacteria living in it – 75 to 100 TRILLION. Some are good bacteria (probiotics) and some are bad bacteria. When the right balance of probiotics is achieved our intestinal tract is able to efficiently aid in digestion and absorption of nutrients, support the immune system, brain function, and much more.
For those experiencing digestive upset, there are two key supplements that can help quicken the healing process, along with avoiding those inflammatory foods we’ve talked about before. We recommend adding in a quality bifido bacteria supplement along with l-glutamine. The bifido bacteria and l-glutamine will begin the process of healing and rebalancing the intestinal lining. This is especially important during and after any antibiotic use since antibiotics will wipe out all bacteria in the gut (good and bad).
“I was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease 14 years ago when I was 19, and since then I have always been on medication and I even had surgery at the Mayo Clinic. The medication helped for awhile, but about two years ago, my doctors discovered that the medication was actually the source of another autoimmune disease I had developed. Instead of upping my dose of the medication the doctor wanted to put me on that wasn’t really helping my symptoms, I decided to try these two supplements [Bifido Balance and L-Glutamine] for six months and cut back on gluten in my diet. My doctor agreed to this plan if I continued to come in for my labs. I noticed an almost immediate change in my condition. I was less crampy and had less urgency. I’ve been taking these two supplements for the past five months and overall, I feel so much better than when I was on medication. As someone who has suffered since they were 19, this is amazing. I feel so much better knowing that I am using something more natural instead of more medication that can just cause my body more harm…” – Whitney (read her full story here)
Step 3: Figure out what your food sensitivities are
Another cause of general digestive distress and IBS is food sensitivity. Often, foods containing gluten, dairy, grains, sugar, and nuts can contribute to an irritation of the intestinal lining as well as the allergic response of IBS and can cause a flare up. You can start by doing a gluten- and dairy-free diet for at least 6 weeks.
In a 2014 study, researchers found that about 65 percent of study participants with IBD who had tried a gluten-free diet experienced fewer GI symptoms. From there, if you haven’t found relief, you can try figuring out what other foods you’re sensitive to by doing an elimination diet with other common food allergens.
“My digestive issues were starting to get in the way of my everyday life. I always felt bloated, even when I was hungry. I decided to make a nutrition counseling appointment and met with JoAnn. She suggested going gluten free. It took me six months to transition my house and this was my biggest step toward better health and healing my intestinal tract. Since giving up gluten, I noticed that the joint pain I suffered from while bar tending is much better. My energy level is higher and I am capable of so much more in a day. By eliminating gluten and later dairy from my diet, I had the ability to find out what foods make me uncomfortable and learned how to pinpoint how foods and drinks affect me. I no longer worry about digestive issues like bloating and gas getting in the way of my daily activities. “ – Anastasia (read her full story here)
Rebalance, Rebuild, Remove
To wrap it all up, healing your gut comes down to focusing on a few steps. As nutrition educators who study research on biochemistry and have seen relief for our clients firsthand, we first recommend incorporating anti-inflammatory foods of quality protein, healthy fat, and vegetable and fruit carbohydrates to provide the healing nutrients contained in real food. Then we suggest rebuilding the gut lining with a few key supplements and removing the irritants from your diet.
It can feel overwhelming to have gut issues, especially if you are struggling with IBS and IBD. We would love to help you can get back to enjoy eating and living. Set up an appointment via phone or Zoom with one of our nutritionists and get the support you need to feel better. We are here to help you resolve your gas, bloating, diarrhea, constipation, and stomach pain!
For more information on this topic, check out these resources:
- Listen: Intestinal Connection to Depression
- Listen: Is Your Gut Healthy and How To Fix It
- Read: What is the Microbiome? What Does it Do and How to Keep It Healthy
- Learn: Gut Reaction: Restore Digestive Health through Nutrition
- Learn: Creating Healthy Foods for Your Gut cooking demonstration
- Virginia Pascual, Romina Dieli-Crimi, Et al. Inflammatory bowel disease and celiac disease: Overlaps and differences. World J Gastroenterol 2014 May; 20(17): 4846-4856.
- Hans H. Herfarth, Christopher F. Martin, et al. Prevalence of a gluten free diet and improvement of clinical symptoms in patients with inflammatory bowel diseases. Inflamm Bowel Dis. 2014 July; 20(7): 1194-1197.
- The Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation of America. www.ccfa.org