DID YOU KNOW?
How many people do you think get sick from food-related illnesses every day? Would you believe more than 200,000? According to estimates from the Centers for Disease Control, 76 million Americans per year suffer from food poisoning.
But our problems go far beyond tainted peanut butter and beef. Multiple environmental toxins, an increase in imported food, overuse of antibiotics, airline travel, and other factors have dramatically increased the incidence of parasites and antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Add to that the rising—but often undiagnosed—occurrences of yeast sensitivities, gluten intolerance, and food allergies, and our intestinal tracts need serious help.
While intestinal distress most often manifests in unmistakable symptoms, such as gas, bloating, indigestion, constipation, or other disorders, the signs may be more subtle. A toxic gut may also contribute to many other conditions, including skin disorders, weight gain, unexplained headaches, mysterious aches and pains, and even mood swings and depression.
“If you’ve been battling some kind of chronic health condition that has no apparent cause, there’s a good chance your gut is involved,” says Ann Louise Gittleman, PhD, CNS.
The goal then, is to identify and eliminate food allergens, and heal irritated and inflamed digestive systems. Here’s how:
Arm yourself with allies.
Many of us are lacking in the essential compounds we need to properly digest and absorb food and keep the gut balanced. Some basics that can help:
Hydrochloric acid (HCl), or stomach acid, not only helps digest food, but also fights off bacteria and parasites. Low levels of HCl are caused by aging, stress, and other factors, and can cause chronic indigestion, malabsorption of nutrients, and an underfunctioning liver and pancreas. Gut remedy: take two or more HCl tablets with pepsin with meals.
Digestive enzymes are the catalysts for food absorption that break down the carbohydrates, protein, and fat in food into smaller molecules that can then be absorbed. Partially digested food can create toxins as they travel through the system, resulting in food allergies and the overgrowth of pathogens. Gut remedy: up to four digestive enzymes, derived from pancreatin or plant sources, with meals.
Probiotics are beneficial bacteria that inhabit the walls of the small intestine and the colon, forming a protective barrier that makes it harder for pathogens such as salmonella and E. coli to take root. Stress, sugar, alcohol, pharmaceutical antibiotics, second-hand antibiotics in food, and other factors destroy probiotics, so most people are severely deficient. Gut remedy: look for a probiotic that has at least 5 billion each of the main organisms and lists a strain, such as DDS 1 or NCFM, after the name. Probiotics naturally get into the body by riding on food, but stomach acid can destroy them like it destroys other organisms. So take them with food once or twice a day.
Fortify your gut.
Why do some people resist pathogens, while others fall ill? “Terrain is everything,” says Gittleman. “If your internal environment is balanced, healthy, and not hospitable to pathogens, you won’t get sick.”
Fortifying your internal terrain is crucial to warding off foreign invaders. And if your gut isn’t overburdened by toxins, you’ll also be less susceptible to food sensitivities, hidden allergens, gluten intolerance, and/or yeast overgrowth. Some steps to bolster your inner resources:
Feed your gut.
Once your gut is fortified against pathogens and flushed of any remaining offenders, it’s time to rebuild. Do it mindfully: if you’re adding back foods you’ve avoided during the first two stages, do it slowly and one at a time to avoid flare-ups. And focus on healing foods, herbs, and fiber to build a strong gut lining. The most important steps include the following:
Try the two recipes on the preceding page. Both contain high-quality protein, soluble fiber, prebiotics, and antioxidant-rich vegetables. Your gut—and your taste buds—will thank you.
Adzuki Bean Salad with Yellow Pepper, Basil, and Avocado Serves 4
PER SERVING: 365 CAL; 11 G PROT; 19 G TOTAL FAT (3 G SAT FAT); 40 G CARB; 0 MG CHOL; 299 MG SOD; 10 G FIBER; 5 G SUGARS
Cumin-Seared Sea Scallops with Cilantro and Parsley Pesto Serves 4
PER SERVING: 591 CAL; 41 G PROT; 44 G TOTAL FAT (5 G SAT FAT); 12 G CARB; 88 MG CHOL; 586 MG SOD; 2 G FIBER; 2 G SUGARS