Gut Instincts: Reducing Sensitivity Through Diet
Is your stomach making funny noises and leaving you feeling sluggish? Does your tummy feel uncomfortable after what felt like a healthy lunch? Your gut might just need some TLC to start working well again. Dr Katrina Gallagher, an experienced Clinical Nutritionist across Singapore and America, shows you how to turn your allergies around and reduce gut sensitivity.
GAIN ACTIONABLE INSIGHTS TO:
- Managing your food sensitivities and allergies so that you can eat your favourite yoghurt again without visiting the toilet every time
- Habits and lifestyle hacks to take better care of your gut so that it stops groaning in pain for the whole office to hear
- Stop running on adrenaline because your food isn’t providing you with the fuel you need day to day
- Why you need a diverse diet, apart from getting the right nutrients in your system
ALLERGIES AND DIVERSE DIETS
Do some foods leave you with a horrible tummy ache? Or does it seem that some foods just aren’t sitting well in your tummy? Chances are your gut isn’t at its optimal level. While good sleep and exercise will help, much of what you eat will make a huge difference. You don’t have to be stuck with these discomforts and pains forever. There are ways to manage your diet and care for your gut without having to completely give up your favourite foods forever.
If you have any clinical symptoms, known allergies, immune issues or any suspected diabetes, high cholesterol, hypertension, high blood pressure or a history of cancer, then it’s best to get some medical check-ups and blood work done. You want to be checking the count of your red blood cells, white blood cells, liver enzymes, triglycerides, cholesterols, uric acid, thyroid hormones, vitamin D, and do a urine and stool analysis for a start before tweaking your diet according to those results.
However if you don’t have such clinical symptoms and are instead looking to enhance your gut health day to day, there are many things you can consider doing. I’ll outline all the types of habits you can start in the subsequent chapter. For now, I want to walk you through how you can test for any allergies, sensitivities, or intolerances you may have towards specific food items.
Just because you’re allergic or intolerant now doesn’t mean you’ll have this reaction forever so don’t worry if you can’t have your favourite omelette anymore. You can start testing your sensitivity by doing the food elimination test to reset your body and reduce your allergic reactions.
The food elimination test is simple. Cut out certain foods that are known to trigger allergic reactions. The foods to cut out are dairy, shellfish, eggs, corn, peanuts, fish, wheat, gluten, soy and tree nuts such as almonds, cashews, and walnuts. Take these ingredients out of your diet for about 3 weeks. In place of them, you can have a diet rich in leafy greens, broccoli, and cauliflower with some plain and unprocessed foods, such as beans, chicken, and fruits. It’s a boring diet, but it will help your body to reset. By eliminating these items, you’re also helping your gut to calm down so that it doesn’t have an alert response to some allergens.
After 3 weeks, re-introduce one of the food items while continuing your plain diet. For instance, you can reintroduce dairy back into your diet for 3 to 4 days. But as you do so, you need to be sure that you continue having your greens and eating the diet you have been having for the past 3 weeks. You’re not switching to a new diet but rather adding on to it.
If your body reacts well to this re-introduction of dairy, you can slowly add another potential allergen like corn for a few days. If that goes well, you can add another food item like eggs for a few days. It’s vital that you reintroduce each food item step by step to see how your body is responding. If it doesn’t react well then take a break from that food item and try it again in a few weeks. You’ll find that some foods may need to be cut out for a year and get slowly re-introduced in this manner.
Some allergies come from overeating the same food again and again without having a diverse diet, this overexposure to a certain type of food, causes your body to produce an allergic reaction. More often than not, we tend to gravitate towards the same kinds of food. Whether the food you eat is healthy or unhealthy, it’s not good to have a limited diet.
Apart from shocking your body and causing an allergic reaction, there’s another vital reason for why you need to diversify your diet.
“You need a diverse diet so that you have diverse bacteria.”
Research shows that the more diverse our diet, the more diverse the bacteria in our gut, which is crucial for digestion. It also offers a greater variety of nutrients so that we aren’t lacking such essential nutrients over a long period of time.
Eating in is definitely more ideal to eating out because you have more control over what goes into your meals. But most households rotate between the same five to six meals because it’s easy and simple, especially when you’re working. This then limits the variety of bacteria in our digestive tract which affects our overall digestion.
Eating a diverse diet doesn’t mean you can’t be a vegan. It simply means that within the types of food that you eat, you need to have a diverse range and get a mix of vegetables, fruits, grains, nuts and seeds, and legumes to ensure that you cover all the bases. But if you struggle to get certain food types in your neighbourhood, you can consider taking some supplements to complete that picture.
You need to listen to your body because various foods and diets are required depending on your age, genetics, the level of your activity and many other factors. Some days you are going to need different nutrients to repair the muscles or to provide energy. You can’t afford to keep getting regular medical tests done to figure out what to eat. Also, not everyone can afford a nutritionist. So the best way to pick the right foods is through trial and error while listening to your body.
GOOD GUT HABITS
There are some habits you can start developing to care for your gut. Ideally, you should try to cultivating all of these habits but if you struggle then you can consider starting with a few habits and slowly building more over time.
SKIP THE SUGAR
The more Western the diet, the more likely it has unnecessary added sugars. There are many different kinds of sugar and your body recognises and utilises them differently, depending on your body’s needs. Sugar feeds bad bacteria and yeast in the gut, which may lead to an imbalance of the good and bad bacteria. While we do need some sugar in our diet (mother nature created it for a reason), we should try to get all sugars directly from whole foods, such as fruits and vegetables. Make the conscious choice to skip commercial sauces and dressings, which are not only full of sugar but also are usually sugar alternatives such as high fructose corn syrup or artificial sweeteners. Processed or manmade ingredients are loaded with chemicals that may damage your gut.
GET PLENTY OF HEALTHY FATS
Fat in the diet stimulates the release of bile, which helps break down the fat for digestion and absorption. This process helps move food along the intestines for smooth, healthy digestion. Increasing your ratio of omega 3 to omega 6 fatty acids will improve not only your gut health but your entire body’s health. Omega 3 fatty acids are anti-inflammatory, while Omega 6 are pro-inflammatory.
Most people consume more Omega 6 than Omega 3 in a 10:1 or even a 20:1 ratio. While a 1:1 is ideal to strike a balance between pro-inflammation and anti-inflammation, a 4:1 ratio seems more realistic in today’s world. Increase your Omega 3 intake with foods like salmon, mackerel, walnuts, flax seeds, and chia seeds. You can also supplement with fish oils, algae supplements, or flaxseed oil.
LOAD UP ON FERMENTED FOODS
To maintain healthy gut bacteria, we should be consuming bacteria on a regular basis. Fermented foods, such as pickled (cultured) vegetables, kimchi, sauerkraut, miso, tempeh, and kefir, are great sources of healthy bacteria. Kombucha, a fermented tea beverage, is also gaining more momentum in the health food scene.
Fermentation not only supplies you with a great range of microorganisms, but the process can even help make foods more bioavailable, meaning they are more easily digested and absorbed, allowing you to reap even more nutritional benefits. Supplements with prebiotics and probiotics can also provide and support good bacteria.
REMEMBER TO CHEW
Chewing is the first step of digestion and plays a very important role in the digestive process. Our saliva contains digestive enzymes that help to break down our food as we chew. Smaller pieces of food are also more easily and quickly digested throughout our intestinal tract. When we don’t chew enough, a whole host of digestive issues such as bloating, gas and stomach pain can arise. Chewing at least 20 times per mouthful is advisable and can be worked up to much more over time. This will allow for maximum vitamin and mineral absorption.
ADOPT THE 4RS
If the simple changes above helped but didn’t completely heal your gut, you may be in need of a total reboot. Work with a trained professional to guide you in the process of the 4R program, comprising of Remove, Replace, Re-inoculate, and Repair. First, remove stress, pathogens, and allergenic foods. Second, replace your digestive enzymes (protease, lipase, amylase, and pepsin) and hydrochloric acid. Third, re-inoculate the healthy bacteria with fermented foods, prebiotics, and probiotics. Fourth, repair your gut lining with healthy omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins, and minerals.
You need to have some level of discipline to take care of your gut health. As with all good habits, change doesn’t happen overnight. You need to be disciplined and consistent so that your healthy eating habits become a sustainable lifestyle.
AWARENESS WHILE EATING OUT
While you may try your best to cook at home rather than eat out, it may not always be possible. When you do have to eat out, start being a little mindful. If you can, stick to options that you know are good for your body. I know it’s not always easy, especially when you’re out with friends or family who enjoy sinful dishes and tease you for getting refreshing and healthful meals instead of indulging. But the reality is that eating healthy will leave you feeling good, so don’t compromise despite such experiences. When you can, do your best to think of the long-term benefit on your body, energy and health.
You can also ask questions to the waiters and waitresses to get into the habit of being aware of what is in your food. You can ask if the beef is grass-fed or grain-fed. They may not know, and they may even lie to you thinking they are telling you what you want to hear, but asking them to give you an idea of your food helps you get into the habit of being aware and making better decisions. It also shows that people are interested in their food, and restaurants may begin to be more conscious and cater to healthier habits.
Another way to help in your discipline is to suggest places that you know have good choices. Healthy food doesn’t have to be boring or bland. You can choose places that offer food with local ingredients or humanely raised meat and other sustainable healthy practices.
GETTING YOUR FAMILY AND FRIENDS ON BOARD
Before my husband and I got married, we were doctors working in the same clinic. We would eat the same type of foods, go to the same restaurants and cook the same meals. He then started eliminating food items, and I joined him. Even though it didn’t seem to have much of an impact on me, I noticed a huge difference for him. Since we did this meal planning together, it helped us both to stick to it. If you’re doing food elimination, you may want to do them with friends so that you can build the habit together. It really helps you make better choices in the long run.
As a parent, it may be challenging to get your child on board because you know they want certain types of unhealthy food and they can’t always avoid them. You don’t want your children to resent you or start hiding junk food from you. You can remind them of how junk food leaves them feeling unwell or tired, but you can’t micromanage them in this area too much. It’s important to discuss with them and share details, but ultimately it’s their choice.
At the end of the day, the choice needs to begin with us and then our influence can expand to those around us. When we understand how food can affect us and take practical steps to make our gut health better, we make our lives a whole lot more wholesome and enjoyable.
Steps to Take in 24 Hours
1. Elimination Test
Eliminate dairy, shellfish, eggs, corn, fish, gluten, soy, tree nuts and anything else that seems to hurt your stomach from your diet. Plan out a diverse meal plan that’s filled with leafy greens, broccoli, cauliflower for the next 3 weeks. Then slowly introduce it back into your diet as I’ve highlighted in chapter one.
2. Start Good Habits
Pick 2 healthy habits from chapter 2. Take note of them and before you prepare or purchase any meal, ask yourself if they fall within this habit. If they don’t fall within the habit, find another option.
3. Get a Buddy
It always helps to have a buddy to be on the healthy gut journey with you. Ask someone that you spend a lot of time with (a partner or colleague), to start these good habits with you. Make your plans and habits clear so that it’s easier for both of you to follow them.