When focusing our attention on optimal health, we cannot ignore the importance of the gut. Everything that we eat goes into our gut, where it gets broken down and absorbed. There is a common saying “you are what you eat”, but really “we are only what we absorb”.
If you get bloated, have irregular stools, or other physical symptoms that you cannot fathom why you have them, your gut function and the foods you eat could be a key issue to try and unravel. The gut is the gateway into the rest of the body, if this isn’t working properly, or is having to deal with foods that aggravate it, we cannot expect optimal function as the body will be fighting inflammation whenever the offending foods are consumed.
When this environment exists we leave the door wide open for issues. When the body is having to deal with food that aggravates it, this causes inflammation which will not only stay in the gut but radiate into other areas of the body.
It’s not just one factor; it can affect the body in a plethora of ways. So dealing with gut health, even when you don’t think there is a problem, could be one of the most valuable steps you make with your health.
It could literally be anything: bloating, fatigue, lack of concentration, itching, clammy throat, regular ENT issues, eczema, psoriasis, joint paint, arthritis, osteoarthritis, irregular stools or unusual consistency, migraines, water retention, low energy, low feeling of vitality, lack of physical performance, and auto-immune issues, along with other less common symptoms.
If you know the gut is something you need to look at, the first port of call is for us to try work out what the offending foods are. The most common foods, in an order of commonality that aggravate the gut and cause issues are:
There are of course more, anyone can be intolerant, have a sensitivity, or an allergy to anything. There are no rules as to what someone has an issue with, these are just the foods we know to commonly be an issue, with gluten and dairy being the two most common food sources. It’s one reason ‘free from’ foods are so popular in the supermarkets now, many people are realising that they have food intolerances or issues and need to find alternative food sources so they can have as normal a diet as possible.
The easiest way to assess if one of these food sources is an issue with you is to keep a food diary. Write down what you eat, then 2-3 hours later write down how you feel. Once you feel confident a certain food group, or food, is the cause of the issues, you can look to remove this food from your diet and find alternatives. This could be with direct replacement foods (be careful that these are not just nutrient devoid replacement foods like many ‘free from’ foods are, whole foods like potatoes and oats are always best to replace bread for example) or with different foods, thus changing what you would usually eat at a particular meal.
While removing foods and changing your diet can be tough, and feel like an annoyance stopping you from eating foods that you usually regularly enjoy, this will be an essential step in health optimization and will likely lead to you eating foods with greater nutrient value anyway.
Often food intolerances and sensitivities can be ‘fixed’ or alleviated via improving gut function, and thus the immune systems reaction to these foods. This is done via supplements like probiotics. But it is advisable that once you identify this issue, you work with someone that is knowledgeable and can coach you through this process so that you can assess when the ‘damage’ might be fixed, what supplements to take and where from, and how to re-introduce those foods. Exclusion diets can safely be performed yourself through trial and error, but to rectify the issue long term it would be advisable to work with a qualified practitioner.
Most people don’t have gut issues, but a minority do so if you think you are affected start to take a food diary, start to assess how your health changes with what you eat, and in what way. Identify the foods, or food groups you think are the culprit and remove them from your diet, and see how your symptoms change as a result. If symptoms persist or are severe, approach your GP and ask to see a gastroenterologist – there may be something more serious going on, or work with a practitioner that can look at your diet and work with exclusing problem foods with you.