Sometimes it isn’t the universe but your gut that is sending you signals. And these signals aren’t very pleasant. You would have trouble with your tummy – gas, stomach upset, bloating, diarrhea or constipation, sugar cravings, weight fluctuations, autoimmune diseases, food allergies, and sleep disturbances. These are your gut’s way of telling you it is sick. These are just the underlying symptoms of conditions like leaky gut syndrome, SIBO, irritable bowel disease, or inflammatory bowel disease. There are a lot of ways to correct this unfortunate situation i.e., supplements, a diet rich in probiotics and prebiotic bacteria, exercise, broth, and even juice. But at the heart of it all is food. What you eat influences the gut bacteria to a great extent. The more gut-healthy foods you consume the better the good gut bacteria thrive making you feel better. A little gut geography first.
Table of Contents
Your gut consists of everything from the mouth to the anus. Its main function is the consumption and digestion of food, absorption of nutrients, and excretion of what is not needed. However, that is not the only responsibility of the gut. It has now been found that the gut is accountable for a lot more than this. Your gut and the bacteria that live there – the gut microbiome, have greater responsibilities. The heart, kidneys, brain, skin, hair, immunity, obesity, blood pressure, depression, fatigue, cognition – the gut affects it all. So, if you want to function better, you have to have a healthy gut. The easiest way to improve gut health is to change up your food habits and also by incorporating foods, that are rich in good gut bacteria.
Do Diets Work?
Short answer – yes. The problems begin when the good gut bacteria are overwhelmed by the bad ones. This causes an imbalance in the gut that gives rise to a plethora of problems. Gut healing begins when we begin to set the balance right. And we can do that through food. First, you must have to check a few boxes before you start a healthy gut diet plan. So, let’s start there.
- A diverse range of foods must be involved
- Fermented foods must feature in the diet
- Prebiotic content must also feature.
- If possible, switch to a vegetarian diet
- Whole grains add fiber that benefits the bacteria
- Polyphenols should be involved
- Probiotics must be added throughout the diet
- It must not negatively influence digestive health.
Of course, it is difficult to find a diet plan that consistently adheres to the list above. But some diets come pretty close. To improve gut health alone is not the result we are looking for. The gut cleanse must last, the gut bacteria have to be restored and nourished and your overall health must improve.
A lot of diets are recommended for gut health, so let’s look at a few that don’t quite add up.
The GAPS Diet
The GAPs diet intends to heal leaky gut syndrome, preventing toxins from entering the bloodstream and ridding the body of a variety of ailments. This diet also claims to help the gut through which the cognitive capacities would also improve. The GAPS diet is a long commitment as it can last for up to 2 years.
The three-step process begins with the:
- Introduction Diet and this stage consist of 6 stages each introducing a new element into the diet. This stage heals the gut lining stopping toxins from crossing into the bloodstream. The first stage is the most restrictive but as the stage progresses more and more foods can be added to the diet.
- The full GAPS diet begins to post the introduction phase and lasts about 6 to 12 weeks, sometimes maybe more. This part of the diet relies heavily on bone broth, fish, eggs, and fermented foods and vegetables.
- The last stage is the Reintroduction Phase where all other foods are slowly allowed back into the diet. This phase is the longest as when food is allowed back there can cause some discomfort.
The diet is extremely restrictive about what foods can be eaten and the list of forbidden food is even longer. Benefits of the diet include fixing gut inflammation, almost completely resolving leaky gut syndrome, and resetting your gut completely. However, it takes way too long, hunger pangs are a constant reality and the diet was originally designed to fix autism which it doesn’t seem to do.
For a full in-depth analysis of the GAPS diet, you could visit – https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/gaps-diet
The Microbiome Diet
Created by Dr. Raphael Kellman, this diet is based on eating and avoiding certain foods in the hope to restore gut health. Similar to the GAPS diet, this has three phases as well.
- Phase one is the most restrictive, lasting 21 days, and follows the 4Rs plan designed to repopulate the gut with good bacteria and prebiotics that would help to seal the gut lining.
- Phase two lasts for 28 days and the assumption here is that the gut is a lot stronger than what it was before you began the diet. Here you can start eating a few fruits and vegetables and can have up to 4 cheat meals a month.
- Phase three is the maintenance stage and it can last for as long as you want it to. You can now reintroduce almost all foods back into your diet but with some discretion, of course.
Benefits of the diet include the gut becoming stronger and healthier because of the large amounts of prebiotic and probiotic food intake. Your sugar intake is greatly reduced and that helps weight loss. The downsides are that some beneficial foods are completely ignored. Organic food is recommended and that is not a given for some folks. It relies heavily on supplements which can get expensive.
For a full in-depth analysis of the Microbiome diet, you could visit – https://healthline.com/nutrition/microbiome-diet#rules
The Ketogenic Diet
First appearing as an alternative cure for epilepsy, the Keto diet features high fat and low carb content. Keto gained popularity as a gut-healthy diet as it leads to quick weight loss and a feeling of satiety always. New research suggests that the Keto diet might do more damage than good. There is a clear divide of opinion about the diet so you will have to make up your mind on your own. One faction suggests that the low-carb diet would lead to lesser fermentable foods in the gut that cause inflammation and an array of gut-related discomforts. The other faction says that the good bacteria in the gut thrive on plant-based fibers, which are restricted in the keto diet. This means that the beneficial bacteria suffer leading to gut-related infections.
The ideal diet lasts 28 days with 60 to 8-% fats, 10 to 30% protein, and 5 to 10% carbohydrates. The keto diet does have its benefits though. It improves cholesterol, reduces blood pressure, and even represses appetite. It is also the best diet to follow if you are looking for short-term weight loss. The downside is that the lack of grains, vegetables, and fruits would lead to nutrient deficiencies and constipation. A condition called “keto flu” develops which manifests symptoms like upset stomach, brain fog, bad breath, and headaches.
For a full in-depth analysis of the Ketogenic diet, you could visit- https://healthline.com/nutrition/ketogenic-diet-101
Healthy Gut Diet Code
The diets mentioned above are just some of the methods recommended to change the gut’s existing problems. No diet is foolproof and has only pros. There will always be a downside to them – some severe and some not. So far, two diet plans have been identified that can help you reset the gut with the least number of flaws. Let’s take a look at them.
The Two Best Diet Plans for Gut Health
No. #1: Eat Clean Diet
This is actually a diet suggested for weight loss but it can do wonders for your gut. The idea is to stop counting calories. The path to a gut-healthy body is to eat food in its most natural form like raw veggies, etc. By avoiding processed foods, trans fats, saturated fats, and added sugar, you will be able to lose as much as 3lbs in a week.
There are several benefits to following this diet plan.
- Eating clean gives your body a steady supply of vitamin, minerals, proteins, and fats, all of which influence a healthy heart, brain, gut, and body.
- A natural diet does wonders for the gut as they contain the right kinds of fiber, fats, and carbohydrates that act as nutrition for the beneficial bacteria in your gut.
- Weight management is no longer a nightmare as natural foods do not contain added sugars or preservatives.
- The food you consume should not have tampered with processing, and this is good for the gut because it lowers the level of inflammation bringing relief to SIBO, IBS, and leaky gut syndrome.
- Glowing skin and thicker, shinier hair are something you can look forward to.
- As natural foods have higher antioxidant qualities, your immune system, gut, and mood will all see a boost.
The eat clean diet can be followed by anyone. It is vegetarian and vegan friendly and gluten can be avoided should that be your choice. All you have to ensure once you start the diet is that you have a balanced meal with all the food groups and ensure that you have plenty of water to keep yourself hydrated.
To begin the diet, start by grocery shopping. Read the labels of the item that you buy and put back anything that reads “modified” or “processed”. Also, avoid anything that reads “fructose” or “sucrose” – this is only a fancy way of saying added sugar. Prepare to prepare your own meals. For a while at least, avoid ready meals, packaged instant items, and microwavable dinners. Keep away from restaurants as most of them use frozen or processed ingredients. Once this is in order, you are ready to embark on your gut health journey.
Protocol to be followed in a Eat Clean Diet
A ‘Eat clean diet’ is no rocket science. It has a very clear plan to follow.
- Eat six meals a day
- Breakfast is a must and should be consumed within an hour of waking up
- Lean protein and complex carbohydrates must be had at every meal
- Healthy fats should feature in at least three meals a day
- Fresh plant foods for every meal
- Portion control is key and
- Water is critical. A minimum of 2 to 3 liters must be consumed.
That is pretty much it.
Meal Plan for Eat Clean Diet
A typical daily meal plan would look something like this
Breakfast: 1 cup low-fat Greek yogurt, a quarter cup of raspberries, and 3 tbsp of walnuts.
The morning snack: an orange
Lunch: A salad of fresh vegetables with white beans and sprinkle a little olive oil on your salad dressing.
The evening snack: An apple and some peanut or any nut butter.
Dinner: Roasted fish with a side of steamed vegetables.
Time your meals in such a way that there is at least a 12-hour gap between dinner and breakfast the next day. This gap optimizes metabolism, facilitates weight loss, and manages cravings.
Foods to Add and Avoid in an Eat Clean Diet
Here’s a list of what you should include and what to avoid.
|Food Type||Foods To Include|
|Protein||Grass-Fed meats like bison, elk, goat, lamb|
Organic/ Free-range eggs, pork, quail, goose, duck
Fatty fish like salmon, sea bass, Lean fish like tuna, pike, snapper
Shellfish like shrimp, lobster, scallop
Quinoa, lentils, peas, edamame, tofu, beans and legumes, nutritional yeast
|Carbohydrate||Gluten-free: Rice, oatmeal, quinoa, buckwheat, teff, millet, amaranth|
Gluten-containing: Bread, pasta, crackers, barley, cereal grains
Vegetables: yucca, yams, potatoes, corn, peas, lentils
Fruits: cherries, grapes, peaches, pears, mangoes, tangerines
Sweeteners: agave, coconut sugar, maple syrup, date paste
|Fats||Avocado, cacao, olives, coconut, tahini|
Nuts & nut butter: cashew, almond, pecans, walnuts, Brazil nuts
Seeds: flax, chia, sesame
Oil: flax seed oil, olive oil, avocado oil
|Dairy||Cow’s milk, sheep’s milk, goat’s milk, yogurt, cottage cheese, and cream butter.|
Foods to avoid include all processed and packeted foods:
- Artificial sweeteners
- Refined sugars
- Hot dogs, spam
The only downside to the eat a clean diet is that it is not very convenient and it can become expensive. There is also a chance that this sort of diet can become a habit and if followed for too long you may become unhealthy. At the start of every diet, there are a few problems like cravings, hunger pangs, and maybe gas. But these discomforts usually disappear in a few days.
All in all, this diet will have your gut back in good condition as the high-fiber diet keeps the good bacteria healthy.
No. #2: The Low FODMAP Diet
This diet plan is usually recommended to those who suffer from IBS – irritable bowel syndrome. One of the most common digestive disorders in the US, food becomes a common trigger for stomach cramps, pain, and bloating. This diet suggests restrictions on certain inflammatory foods that can aggravate the gut.
FODMAP actually stands for fermentable oligo di- and monosaccharides and polyols. These are non-digestible short-chain carbohydrates that are osmotically active – they allow water into your digestive tract. Because they are non-digestible the bacteria in the gut ferment them causing gas and short-chain fatty acid production. FODMAPs are infamous when it comes to causing digestive distress like – gas, bloating, bowel irregularities, and diarrhea.
The main benefits of following the low FODMAP diet include:
- A major reduction in the occurrence of digestive discomforts. So good are the results of the diet that it is now the therapy recommended for those with IBS.
- Because FODMAPs directly influence the gut, the resulting effects of the FODMAPs are widespread. It influences your immunity, skin, bones, muscles, and cognition. When on the diet, you will see a general improvement in all these avenues.
Not everyone benefits from this diet. It works best when you already have a gut-related medical condition. Otherwise, it could do more harm than good. Most FODMAPs are prebiotic foods in nature and prebiotics are what keep the gut bacteria alive. Eliminating them from your diet, unless absolutely necessary, would result in you killing off the healthy gut bacteria. This diet also calls for a cut in the consumption of fruit and vegetables that may lead to vitamin and mineral deficiencies.
Some Precaution before you start with Low FODMAP Diet
Before you begin the diet, here are a few things you need to check:
- Ensure that you have IBS or a serious gut-related condition. Get in touch with your licensed healthcare physician and start the diet only once you have confirmation.
- Try lifestyle and dietary changes first, before you jump to FODMAP. If the condition persists then you can start the diet.
- Planning ahead is essential – empty out the fridge of all high FODMAP foods and make meal plans way ahead. A week-long meal plan could save you a lot of distress.
Protocols to be followed in a FODMAP Diet
The protocol is not as simple as the eat a clean diet. It is a three-step process.
- Stage 1 Elimination: (2-6 weeks) it would take that long for the symptoms to subside. If you suffer from SIBO – small intestinal bacterial overgrowth, the process of starving out the overgrown gut microbiome can have detox effects making you feel worse before you feel better. In this phase, you rid of your fridge and your system of all things that are categorized as high FODMAP.
- Stage 2 Reintroduction: (6-8 weeks) the aim is to identify which foods trigger distress and which do not – worming out the problem foods.
- Stage 3 Integration: (Lifelong) once you have identified the triggers, you can now start to introduce FODMAPs back into your diet.
Do not follow the diet on your own. Keep a dietician in the loop always.
Meal Plan for Low FODMAP Diet
A typical meal plan for a day would look like this:
Breakfast: Poached eggs on sourdough toast with kale or spinach.
Lunch: Tuna and sweet potato patties with steamed vegetables.
Snacks: Yogurt with kiwi.
Dinner: Grilled salmon with lemon juice and Asian greens tossed in olive oil.
Foods to Add and Avoid in a Low FODMAP Diet
Here’s a list of what you can enjoy and what not:
|Vegetables||Alfalfa sprouts, carrot, bell peppers, bok choy, lettuce, cucumbers, tomato, eggplant, bamboo shoots, ginger, chives, olives, potatoes, etc||Onion, garlic, broccoli, cauliflower, sweet corn, snow peas, leeks, celery, beetroot, mushrooms, asparagus, artichokes, cabbage, etc|
|Fruit||Oranges, grapes, kiwi, banana, blueberries, lemon juice, strawberries||Peaches, apricots, apples, mangoes, plums, watermelon, cherries, pears|
|Grains||Rice, rice bran, oat, oat bran, quinoa, corn flour, sourdough, gluten-free bread, and pasta||Beans and lentils, pizza, pasta, crackers, cereals|
|Dairy||Lactose-free milk, hard cheeses, brie, camembert feta||Milk, ice cream, custard, pudding, cottage cheese|
|Meat||Beef, pork, fish, chicken, and eggs||–|
|Nuts||Almonds, macadamia, peanuts, pine nuts||Dried fruits|
|Sweeteners||–||Artificial sweeteners, sorbitol, honey, agave nectar, maltitol, isomalt|
|Drinks||Tea, coffee, fruit drinks, water||Alcohol, coconut water, sports drinks, carbonated beverages|
The biggest con to this diet is that you would be eliminating almost all prebiotic foods which could spell disaster for healthy gut bacteria. So, proceed with caution. A dietician must constantly be kept in the loop to ensure that you do not develop any deficiencies due to dietary restrictions.
Even though very restrictive, the low FODMAP diet is ideal for correcting gut-related distress.
Changed Diet to Changed You
When suffering from leaky gut, IBS or SIBO, there would be an increase in intestinal permeability which lets all sorts of harmful substances into your bloodstream. And this leads to chronic inflammation. Intestinal permeability can be corrected by eating the right kind of food and by promoting the growth of gut bacteria. Probiotic supplements with probiotic fibers could help you as well, read more about some of the leading gut health supplements; Probiology Gut+ and Bauer Nutrition’s Biotics 8. The health benefits that result from a healthy gut are numerous.
Regardless of which diet plan you follow; your changed food habits will improve gut health. There are certain signs of gut healing.
- Your digestive system will no longer be a war zone. The food restrictions would naturally detox the gut which will reduce inflammation. Inevitably, gas and bloating incidents would reduce.
- Once your system starts to heal, you will find that you would be able to reintroduce foods that would once have caused you distress.
- Your bowel movements would be more regular and would be of the right consistency.
- Your immune system attacks itself when certain undigested particles of food make it through the intestinal wall and into the bloodstream. Your immunity would improve drastically when your gut health is no longer an issue.
- Skin issues like rashes, breakouts, and acne would slowly clear up.
- Mental issues like brain fog, fatigue, restless sleep, and attention deficit would no longer plague you.
Depending on the symptoms you suffer from, the healing process would take longer or otherwise. It is standard that the above changes should begin to manifest in a week into the diet. But diet alone cannot bring these changes about. Certain lifestyle changes have to be made too.
- Chronic stress must be avoided.
- Begin an exercise routine.
- Sleep longer and space out your meals.
- Along with prebiotic and probiotic foods, add supplements that could benefit you as well. Also read about the top 10 best gut health supplements that are trending right now!
With these steps, your gut health should vastly improve.