How do you optimize your gut health?
Is there an optimal strategy for gut health? Is it just about eating yogurt and other foods with healthy bacteria or is there more to it?
There is more to it. I just read an excellent book on gut health called Good Belly Bad Belly by Brad Pilon.
In his book, Brad reveals a more comprehensive nutritional approach to gut health than just eating foods with probiotics.
According to Brad, the biggest problem with gut health is an excess of endotoxins, or toxins released by gut bacteria.
When in excess, endotoxins can leave your gut and enter your bloodstream. This can cause a whole host of problems including autoimmune responses and insulin resistance, which can lead to weight gain and diabetes.
The best way to optimize gut health is to reduce the endotoxins in your gut.
This can be done in several ways.
Reduce overall calorie and fat intake, while keeping protein sufficient:
The more you eat, the more endotoxins your gut releases. Brad suggests the following approach.
“A simple calorie reduced diet with moderate amounts of protein – aiming for roughly 100 to 120 grams of protein per day and slightly reduced fat intake (under 25% of total calories) is the first step. This one step alone has been shown to improve gut bacteria richness and be an effective method of weight loss.”
Choose antibiotic free foods and avoid anti-bacterial products:
Endotoxins are not just a result of the foods you eat, they are triggered from elements in the air and society that we do not control. The good news is that we can control the consumption of some anti-bacterial products known to trigger endotoxins.
One such antibiotic called Triclosan is found in common household products such as toothpastes, soaps, and cleaning agents.
What’s the solution?
“Whenever possible choose antibiotic free foods, and avoid anti-bacterial soaps, cleaners, toothpaste and mouthwash. Also, monitor the air quality of your house and work place. Change your furnace filters and invest in an air purifier, do the little things that help improve your health.”
Include plenty of colorful fruits and vegetables in your diet:
“There is an abundance of research on the potent effects of a class of nutrients called ‘polyphenols’ – special health promoting chemicals found predominantly in fruits, vegetables, coffee, tea, chocolate and wine, and their ability to reduce endotoxin load, even when combined with a high fat, high sugar meal.”
Ideally, we should include foods containing these polyphenols, such as citrus fruits, berries, and colorful vegetables in every meal. However, they can also be used strategically as damage control.
One interesting fact I previously didn’t know is that including fruits and vegetables with polyphenols in a high-carb, high-fat meal can actually reduce the impact of endotoxins from the meal.
Brad actually recommends a glass of OJ instead of water with a giant cheat meal, which is counterintuitive because most people think this is just unnecessary added sugar.
Include resistance starches into your diet:
Resistance starch is a special type of starch that is found in foods containing traditional starches, such as rice and potatoes, that have been cooled. It also occurs naturally in certain foods such as pumpernickel bread.
Resistance starch is an ally in gut health because it acts as a form of dietary fiber. It isn’t absorbed by the small intestine, resulting in no insulin response and fewer net calories. It can also prevent endotoxins from entering your body, which is the theme of the book.
Brad recommends 20–40g of resistant starch per day.
Fast once a week:
“Short-term fasting, and the calorie restriction and weight loss it causes, is able to greatly reduce markers of chronic inflammation. Combine this with the health promoting effects of fasting, its ability to lower endotoxin levels, and the fact that recently short-term fasting has shown to increase gut bacteria richness in animal models, and we have good evidence to suggest a weekly, 20-24 hour fast as part of our overall strategy.”
If you are interested in learning more about this topic, I recommend Brad Pilon’s book, Good Belly Bad Belly. It is well-researched and a very short read. I got through the whole thing in a couple of hours.
As you can see from my review, it promotes a more wholistic approach to improving your gut health, which is ultimately better than taking a supplement or searching for some magic bullet superfood.
First published on Quora.