Having a healthy gut was not a concern during my 20s or even my 30s. Now that I have tiptoed into my 50s having a healthy gut has become a priority. I started to experience daily unpleasantries (TMI). Damn older age. I could not understand why, as I thought I was eating a healthy diet. No sodas, no fast-food, and a limited number of carbs was a main focus of my diet.
I went to the doctor and discovered after several tests that I was highly intolerant of dairy (well, more lactose intolerant than dairy intolerant). Oh, heck, no!! My love of milk, cheese, butter, yogurt, eggnog, and ice cream about put me into a depressive tailspin. After two years of not eating any dairy, I was done. I could not stand it anymore. I wanted some of these favorite dairy items back into my life. Yet, how was my stomach going to survive? I needed my gut to act like I was ten years old again. Mostly, when I could eat just about anything and I would not have any issues (like the tiny rocks my older sister would feed to me as a child, pretending they were Pop Rocks – till this day have not forgiven her for that one).
A healthy gut contributes to a healthy immune system, heart health, brain health, less stress, more restful sleep and effective digestion. I am not a pill taker. It is just not me. I would prefer to address why something is happening verses band-aiding the issue. I want to fix the problem, so it does not reoccur. So I set out to create a diet that would provide better gut health. Actually, it was easier than I thought. With just a few minor changes to my daily routine, my stomach now as solid as a rock (not to be mistaken for Pop Rocks – LOL).
1. Lemon Water
The first thing I take when I wake up in the morning is a warm cup of lemon water. Some people believe that lemon provides cleansing and digestive benefits and supports healthy respiratory function. Drinking warm or hot lemon water when you wake up may help get your digestive system moving. Drinking it warm, at room temperature or cold is just a matter of personal preference.
I use to buy lemons and squeeze part of one into my cup, which is relatively easy. Yet, I wanted the process to be even quicker. So then I started buying pure organic lemon juice and would pour about ½ teaspoon into the water. Since I have switched to using a drop or two of organic lemon essential oil, for me, it is the simplest way to use it daily. I can also easily plop it into my purse so that I can add to any glass of water throughout the day.
2. Apple Cider Vinegar
I drink one glass of vinegar water a day (I call it my vinegar tonic), usually before a meal. I prefer 1-2 tsp of Bragg’s Organic Raw Apple Cider Vinegar in 8 oz of water. Apple cider vinegar has been used as a remedy since 400 BC during the time of Hippocrates, the Father of Medicine. He used it for its cleansing properties and treated wounds. In recent years, people have explored apple cider vinegar as a way to lose weight and improve heart health.
Dietitians say kombucha helps your digestion, rids your body of toxins, and boosts your energy. It has good bacteria that are helpful for your body. Kombucha is tea which has a culture of bacteria and yeast added, which causes fermentation, adding probiotic benefits to the brew. It is similar to how cabbage is preserved as sauerkraut or kimchi, or how milk is turned into yogurt. Through the fermentation process sugars are naturally produced. If sugar is a concern, you must be mindful of the natural sugar content of certain kombuchas. I found GT’s Organic Gingerade to be one of my favorite flavors with less sugar than most other kombuchas. Plus, this brand has been around for a while, and I seem to be readily available in many stores. Lately, I have even seen it in gas stations, so it is a pretty mainstream drink.
Kefir is made by adding kefir grains to cows or goat milk, and then it ferments for about 24 hours (similar to how sourdough is made). Kefir is a drink which is teeming with friendly bacteria and yeast and contains more friendly probiotics than regular yogurt. Those friendly bacteria reduce flatulence, promote motility of the bowels (ahh, thank you!) and offer relief to upset stomachs. The benefits continue well after you have finished a serving. The bacteria and yeast in kefir can actually colonize your gastrointestinal tract and stay there for an extended period continuing to provide you with a healthy gut.
I drink about a cup of this tangy (and a little tart) beverage per day. I like the tartness, but it is not for everyone. If you like the taste of plain greek yogurt, you will most likely love kefir too. Many brands put additional sugars into kefir to offset the tang. I try to avoid those and have found Maple Hill Creamery, 100% Grass-Fed Organic Kefir, Plain to be my kefir of choice. If you still feel like you need a little sweetness, you can add cocoa powder, vanilla extract, cinnamon, or a bit of your favorite unsweetened juice. When making smoothies, you can substitute kefir in place of your usual liquid.
Whenever I experience a little upset stomach especially when I am traveling (often referred to as traveler’s stomach), I drink extra kefir and my symptoms tend to dissipate or disappear within a short time. Like kombucha, the abundance of kefir is becoming more conventional and can be found most anywhere yogurt varieties are sold.
5. Greek Yogurt
Like kefir, Greek yogurt is a fermented food which naturally contains lots of probiotic cultures that strengthen the digestive tract. The secret to making Greek yogurt is the straining process, which removes most of the whey (liquid) attached to the milk and leaves a thicker, tangier, and more nutritious yogurt. Greek yogurt is higher in protein and lower in sugar and sodium than traditional yogurt although there are a lot of varieties that add sugar, especially the ones with added fruit – obviously I shy away from these pretenders. I like Wallaby Organic Greek Whole Milk, Plain.
You can also exchange Greek yogurt in place of sour cream in almost any recipe, and it works beautifully. We also swap out buttermilk for Greek yogurt when tenderizing meats. Both of these tips will deliver additional healthy gut benefits to your meal.
If you have been reading any of my other blog posts on Golden Tribe, you might have noticed that I often will eat full fat versus low or non-fat products as many of these lower fat items will add sugar in place of fats. It is not a hard rule, but it is what I gravitate towards as far as flavor and I look for a higher amount of protein. Adult women, particularly those of us who are postmenopausal, should focus on getting enough protein which can help to prevent loss of muscle mass and increase bone density.
6. Bone Broth
When I was sick as a kid, the first thing my mom did was make me chicken noodle soup. That soup and a kiss on the forehead cured everything. It all started with the broth. Bone broth is one of the most nutrient-dense, healing foods for the digestive system and therefore, a great way to help resolve symptoms related to weak digestion like leaky gut syndrome and other health concerns. Bone broth is one of the best natural sources of collagen, a type of protein needed to form tissue that makes up the lining of our GI tract. I dive a little into the benefits of collagen in my “Collagen, Your Secret Anti-Aging Weapon” article.
Even though my mom’s chicken noodle soup came out of the famous red can, it was still better than no broth at all. As an adult, I went to the other side of the health spectrum and would make my broth from scratch. However, it is a time-consuming undertaking that usually takes 24-hours and left lingering odors in my kitchen. Luckily with today’s advances, there are trouble-free ways to add bone broth into almost every meal. I use a bone powder from Ancient Nutrition Organic Bone Broth Collagen. It is a neutral, almost tasteless powder that I mix into every smoothie, soup, sauce, stew, or chili recipe. Even if I am cooking with a liquid broth, I still add a few scoops of powdered version because it is highly concentrated.
(My PSA) Be super careful about the bone broth you purchase. Look for organic bone broth whenever possible. Selecting an organic bone broth ensures that it is not made using genetically modified organisms or sourced from animals with added antibiotics and hormones. Check the label to certify you are getting a bone broth free of fillers and additives and one that has a lower sodium content.
7. Fermented Vegetables
The most popular pickled items have matured to have their own generic names, pickles (pickled cucumbers) and sauerkraut (pickled cabbage). When vegetables and fruits (did you know that cucumbers are actually a fruit?) are fermented, healthy bacteria break down the natural sugars and produce healing probiotics. This process is what gives fermented pickles and sauerkraut their sour taste.
However, there is a distinction between a vegetable or fruit that has been pickled versus fermented. Since the main ingredient to pickle vegetables is vinegar then you will get some good probiotics from the vinegar. But the fruit or vegetables has not been fermented. If the vegetables were fermented in the traditional way using brine (only water and salt), they would create a greater variety of healthy bacteria than what is contained pickled items. Typically these fermented products are only sold in the refrigerated section and are labeled with “live cultures”. My two favorites are both by the same brand, Bubbies Pure Kosher Dill Pickle and Bubbies Sauerkraut. If I want a quick snack, I just go grab a pickle or a large spoonful of sauerkraut. My husband has caught me a time or two eating directly out of the jar of kraut.
Here’s to a Healthy Gut
You do not have to do all of these daily. Just pick the 1, 2 or 3 that are easiest for you and your family. Take baby steps and pat yourself on the back for each one of them you accomplish. Before long you and your loved ones will have a healthy gut which is providing you all a healthy immune system, heart health, brain health, less stressful life, more restful sleep, and improved digestion.
Wishing you good health.