5-day mini gut health re-set
Louise Murray is an Integrated Health Coach certified by the Institute of Integrative Nutrition and a Mindfulness Coach based between the Isle of Wight and London. She specialises in working with busy working women, taking a holistic approach to her client’s wellness and nourishing them both on and off the plate by looking at 12 core aspects of their life as well as providing nutrition advice.
Research over the past few years has shown us that our gut health impacts all aspects of our health and life. If you are looking to improve your immune system, your skin, brain function, digestion, and even your mood and mental health, gut health is the key. Follow this 5-day mini gut health re-set and it is not just your gut that will be happy – but your overall health and wellbeing!
If you suffer with any of the below symptoms, you might have an unhealthy gut, and so this re-set will be beneficial for you:
- Bad breath
- Indigestion, cramps, bloating, constipation or diarrhoea
- Food intolerances
- Skin-related issues (acne, eczema)
- Environmental allergies
- Weak immune system (you frequently get sick with colds, the flu, etc)
- Low energy
- High stress levels
- Excess weight around your midsection
- Irritability, mood instability, or mental illness
- Poor quality sleep
- Have taken antibiotics in the past 5 years
What is the gut microbiome and why is it so important to keep it healthy? One of the most interesting areas of recent nutrition research focuses on the gut – more specifically, the types of microorganisms that are present in the gut. These tiny organisms have a major effect on overall health. The gut microbiome refers to the billions of live bacteria humans have in the gut, but it also includes things like fungi and viruses. It is estimated that the gut contains approximately 35,000 different strains of bacteria. Approximately 2,000 different strains of bacteria live inside or on us. In fact, it is estimated that bacterial cells outnumber our own human cells. These bacteria serve a variety of functions, including breaking down food, metabolising detoxifying, helping the immune system mature, and regulating the immune system over time. Still, not all bacteria in the gut are beneficial – overpopulation of undesirable strains of bacteria can take a major toll on our immunity. When the “bad” bacteria outnumber the “good,” it is referred to as dysbiosis. It is vital to keep the good bacteria levels high for our overall gut health and this is important because our gut health has implications beyond simply healthy digestion; the state of our gut health may also regulate our mood (through serotonin production), immune response, and predisposition to weight gain.
This 5 day gut re-set guide will kick-start your gut health journey and guide you to take positive strides towards cultivating a healthy gut microbiome. This re-set will get you started in each of the key areas and show you how simple day-to-day adjustments can translate to long-lasting positive effects on your overall wellbeing.
Day 1 - HYDRATE
It is really important that you start off your gut health journey by getting into the habit of not only drinking enough water but drinking enough clean water. Tap water has been discovered to contain a variety of chemical, heavy metal and bacterial pollutants that can harm gut health. While some are needed to kill bad bacteria, they also kill good bacteria, so it is important to filter your water to remove as many of these pollutants before they enter your body.
Drinking enough water each day (at least 8 glasses) is also key because as you start to eliminate the main gut health offending foods, you may start to crave them, and so drinking enough water may actually help reduce cravings. This means you are more likely to eat in support of your energy needs and make food choices that best support gut health.
Day 2 - REMOVE
The next step is to remove the main gut health offenders from your diet:
- Dairy (especially cow dairy)
- Processed foods and processed sugar
If the above list seems intimidating at first, limiting the amount of processed foods is a great place to start. This doesn’t mean you need to cut out everything at once, but keep in mind that processed foods are often lower in nutrients and might contribute to weight gain and increased blood sugar levels. Try to base your diet on whole, natural and unprocessed foods.
Sugar is quite harmful to gut health so avoid it as much as possible. When you do have it, go for the types below:
- Sugar from fruits: Fruit also contains fibre, which prevents a sharp increase in blood sugar and makes you feel full for a longer time than other sugars do. A couple of portions of fruit a day provides a manageable amount of fructose that your body can utilize, plus crucial vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.
- Coconut sugar: This sugar contains iron, calcium, zinc, and potassium, some antioxidants, and a fibre called inulin which supports a healthy gut.
- Honey: Honey will cause a spike in blood sugar, but it also has antibacterial and antimicrobial properties. Manuka has additional anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects too.
Chronic alcohol use impairs the balance of microflora (bacteria, algae and fungus) in the gut, the gut barrier function (leading to leaky gut), the liver’s ability to detoxify bacterial products and the brain’s ability to regulate inflammation in the periphery – so eliminate alcohol for optimum gut heath.
Although antibiotics are necessary to treat certain illnesses and diseases, frequent use or overuse can potentially wipe out the good bacteria in your gut. Lack of friendly gut bacteria and microbial diversity can contribute to more serious health issues down the road. If you do have to take antibiotics, then taking probiotics during and after a course of antibiotics can help restore your gut microbiota to a healthy state. What's more, eating high-fibre foods, fermented foods and prebiotic foods (including baobab powder) after taking antibiotics may also help re-establish a healthy gut microbiota.
Day 3 - REPLACE
Rebuild the microbiome with fermented foods - eat them every day! Fermented foods provide the gut with healthy bacteria while crowding out unhealthy bacteria. Rich in probiotics, they also improve digestion, boost immunity, and promote a healthy weight. Here are a few examples to explore:
- Kefir yoghurt
Day 4 - REPAIR
Heal the gut wall with healthy fats like coconut oil, specialist supplements, probiotics, prebiotics and digestive enzymes:
- A great start in this area is to start taking a probiotic every morning. I like the Victoria Health Mega Probiotic ND which is a natural probiotic supplement containing eight probiotic strains to support healthy gut function. Mega Probiotic ND is an all-natural non-dairy, acid-resistant probiotic supplement providing a full spectrum of probiotic strains.
- Use coconut oil as much as possible for cooking and in baking
- L-Glutamine: Often in powder form (so best in smoothies or a smoothie bowl), it is an amino acid that gut tissues use as a fuel source to function at their best. It is also thought to help strengthen the gut lining.
- Include plenty of inflammation reducing foods in your diet: avocados, berries, broccoli, cacao, extra virgin olive oil, fatty fish (like wild salmon, mackerel, and sardines), grapes, green tea, mushrooms, onions, peppers, turmeric, walnuts, watermelon.
- Include plenty of high fibre foods: avocados, lentils, black beans, chickpeas and most beans, bone broths, and prebiotic foods like onions, garlic, asparagus, bananas, nuts, peas, artichokes.
- Add plenty of prebiotics into your diet to enhance your gut flora, they help to nourish the “good” bacteria. Because prebiotics occur naturally in food supplements like almonds, chicory, garlic, and chickpeas, onions, asparagus, leeks, bananas (still a little under ripe are best). If you are looking for a supplement, Baobab powder is great to add into your diet as it is a rich source of prebiotic fibre to support your good gut bacteria.
- Moringa is a stellar superfood for gut and overall health as it contains nutrients, fibre, and phytochemicals. These compounds, including polyphenols and isothiocyanates, have been shown to promote gut health by stimulating the growth of beneficial bacteria and suppressing that of pathogenic bacteria. It also helps you de-stress (vital for gut health) and is high in calcium to help with digestive enzyme function for gut health.
Day 5 - REBALANCE
Chronic stress suppresses your immune system and your gut bacteria, so it is really important to try and mindfully manage your stress levels. Mindfulness and relaxation will reduce stress levels, which have a direct impact on the gut. Try and incorporate the following tips into your daily routine
- Meditate: even if it’s just for 10 minutes a day, a regular meditation practice will really help your stress levels. If you are new to meditation, there are hundreds of wonderful guided meditations available via Insight Timer. The most important thing to remember with meditation is that you can’t do it wrong, just by practicing it, you are doing it right. And it is completely normal for your mind to wander, as and when it does, congratulate yourself for noticing and gently bring yourself back to the words of the guided practice.
- Breathe deep! Stop what you’re doing and take a deep breath. Do not underestimate the power of a deep breath. With this exercise, we’re focusing on deep, diaphragmatic breathing because this activates your parasympathetic nervous system – your rest or digest system and this eases your body into calmness. Diaphragmatic breathing means we’re not using our chest or upper body to breathe. We are engaging our lower belly as we inhale and exhale. On the inhale, your lower belly should rise outwardly. On the exhale, the lower belly moves inwardly, towards the navel. These movements draw air into the lungs, and not just the upper lungs, as in chest breathing. Diaphragmatic breathing fills every part of your lungs, including the lower parts.
Do this simple breathing exercise twice a day or whenever you feel your stress levels rising:
- Deeply exhale with a whoosh sound
- Deeply inhale through the nose for 4, hold for 7, exhale through the mouth for 8
- Repeat for 4 breaths
You can integrate breathing into your daily living very easily — you simply have to be conscious of it. When you wake up in the morning, think about it. When you go to sleep at night, think about it. Instead of yelling at a red traffic light to change, focus on your breath. When someone is talking to you and you have no interest in what they are saying, turn your attention to your breathing! When your toddler is driving you mad….you get the jist!
- Move your body BUT not like you are training for the Olympics because too much high-intensity exercise stresses the gut. Moving for 30 minutes five times a week will improve both your gut and overall health. In fact, physical activity can actually increase the diversity of bacteria in your gut – a sign of good gut health.
- Help beat stress with dietary changes - again eliminating sugar and processed foods will help, as will including stress supporting foods like cacao powder. Cacao is packed with magnesium, otherwise known as natures ‘chill pill’ for its ability to help de-stress and calm and happiness boosting serotonin and endorphins. Cacao also helps support gut health with its anti-inflammatory properties and flavanols.
Movement and stress reduction are critical, but here are some other lifestyle tips you can try too:
- Chew food 30-40 times per bite
- Toss out chemical-filled cleaning products and personal care products
- Sleep more
- Bare feet on the ground (earthing reduces inflammation)
How to tell when your gut is healed?
You will know when you are making progress in your gut health journey as your digestive health will improve – signs of this include; being able to tolerate hard to digest foods better, fewer intolerances, improved/more regular bowel movements, less bloating and gas. You will also experience improved mood, improved energy, a stronger immune system and auto-immune response (e.g. chronic skincare issues will have cleared up).
Good luck with your gut health journey!