Five Steps to a Healthier, Happier Gut

Karen is a prairie girl now residing on the East Coast of Canada. She’s an active outdoorswoman, community builder and supporter of local food goodness… and a fabulous raw-food chef! Join In Balance consultant Karen Toews to find out how five simple steps can create a healthier, happier and more BALANCEd gut!


For some people (other than holistic nutritionists!), talking about “the gut” can be off-putting. But it’s very important; and really, who of us hasn’t at one time or other groaned, “oh, my gut feels terrible!!”

The gut is the stomach and intestine: grand central station where food is “exported to” for digestion to take place, for nutrients (fuel) to be available for us to function and to keep all our body systems operating.

In current language the gut is the internal complex ecosystem of bacteria that we call the microbiome, the short version definition being, a vast community of bacterial species. As an In Balance nutritionist, I’ve listed here five basic dietary steps to help your gut become a healthy and happy environment.

  1. Eat foods containing phytonutrients (containing compounds like carotenoids, lycopene, resveratrol, phytosterols – big names with a big mission to protect your health). These are some phytonutrient foods: vegetables, fruits, herbs, whole grains (gluten-free if gluten intolerant), nuts, beans – the bonus of these are their great fibre content which is necessary for gut health. Hands down, the best way to take in these nutrients is by eating the foods – and not relying on supplements. Supplements do have their place, but for that reason – just to supplement – and not as the main course. Other foods to support a healthy gut are healthy proteins, i.e. wild-caught fish, cage-free eggs, grass-fed/pasture-raised meat) and healthy fats (i.e. coconut oil, butter, virgin oil, seeds).green-juice_blogShort on time for breakfast? Blend up a green smoothie to-go, rather than picking up a sugar-rich, caffeine beverage in the drive-through on your commute to work.
  2. Resist using antibiotics as much as possible as they do harm to the healthy gut bacteria. (I am not suggesting they should never be used, but be informed and educated when making that decision.) Some natural alternatives I recommend are common ingredients from the kitchen. Garlic, onion, honey are powerful options. The spice cabinet holds offers: turmeric, curry powder, ginger, cinnamon, cardamon, curcumin (cayenne pepper). Then come the herbs (in either powder or essential oil form): oregano, thyme, basil, lavender, sage and more. Don’t wait for sniffles, scratchy throats, and upset tummies to reach for these natural immunity and antibiotic builders. Have little bottles of herbs accessible on the table at mealtimes, not only for their added flavour but also healing properties.
  3. Eat probiotic foods regularly. They contain the “good guy” bacteria that help your digestion. Some examples are yogurt and kefir (from organic milk – with casein sensitivity these may not be suitable, however fermentation can help to break down that protein) – and fermented vegetables like kimchi and sauerkraut. Find good quality products from your farmer’s market or supermarket but I challenge you to also try making your own. Click here for some how-to tutorials!yogurt-blog
  4. Some foods to avoid for good gut health? a) Refined vegetable oils, i.e. canola oil, soybean. b) Refined carbohydrates and processed grain products c) Added sugars found in packaged snacks, many breads and cereals d) Hydrogenated fats in packaged and processed foods, deep-fried foods.
  5. Drink plenty of water (about 8 glasses/day) – hydration is crucial for good digestion but also helps your brain function better, assists joint mobility and benefits a host of other functions of the body. Ideally drink filtered, non-chlorinated water. Added chemicals can disrupt that microbiome you want to support. Filtration systems abound – find one that fits the budget, removes harmful contaminants and remember to do the maintenance. Ditch the plastic water bottles and choose reusable stainless steel or glass ones. Mason jars work great – they aren’t expensive, come with lids and in all sizes.

The last word. Regardless of having the cleanest diet, the gut may not be in best form on its own. Being active, and managing and reducing stress are key. Love others and yourself, get out for a walk, enjoy nature, spend time in meaningful relationships, laugh a little (or a lot), forgive when needed, breathe deeply and be thankful!sauerkraut-blog

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