I’m sure you have at least heard that taking care of your gut is important. The connection between the health of our gut and the rest of the body is becoming more well-known, and for good reason. Our bodies are able to function because of the nutrients we absorb through our digestive systems. The incredibly complex ecosystem of good and bad bugs living in your gut influence your body, mind, and health more than is even known at this point.
If you have a known autoimmune condition, any kind of obvious digestive issue like IBS, IBD, or inflammatory bowel disorders, allergies, mood or mental health conditions, or skin issues you can likely assume the state of your gut is partly to blame. Even if you just feel tired all the time, foggy in your mind, or have hormonal imbalances you would also benefit from giving your gut some loving!
So today I’m going to lay out a basic template for allowing your gut the space and time to heal and seal. Because it depends on how long you’ve been dealing with symptoms and about a million other factors, the length of time needed to work within the different stages of this protocol will differ for each person. I wanted to give you an idea of how you can be good to your gut so it can be good to you. There are a lot of things out there that stress our bodies and while our guts and bodies are amazing at dealing with stress, they can only take so much. Inflammatory foods (that we eat day in and day out for years!), pesticides and other environmental pollutants, physical, mental, and emotional stress, and the myriad of other stresses we encounter on a daily basis eventually take a toll. We don’t have control over all of those but we can largely control the foods we eat or don’t eat.
To give your gut a break and chance to heal, a great way to go about it is called the 4-R Protocol. I didn’t come up with this, this idea is used by many functional practitioners to help folks get to the root issues of their health concerns. Let me break down what the 4-R Protocol includes.
REMOVE: First step is to remove the sources of inflammation to the gut. It’s hard to know for sure what these are without more extensive testing but we can make some assumptions. A good place to start is with the most common offenders.
- sugar – particularly any refined sugar. Natural sweeteners could be removed for increased healing as well
- gluten – you don’t have to have Celiac Disease to have a negative response to gluten. If your gut is healthy and robust you can likely handle some gluten here and there but if you have any of the above issues, I would highly recommend removing it from your diet.
- dairy – can be a nutritious food group for many people but again, many people also have an inflammatory immune response to eating dairy. It’s more than “oh I eat dairy and feel fine” – you can feel fine but your body is likely launching an internal attack, keeping you in that inflamed state in which we’re trying to get out!
- soy – unless it’s organic and fermented, soy is not really the health food it’s been made out to be. If you are working on your gut health, it would be best to avoid it in its many forms – read labels to find all the sneaky places soy shows up!
- industrial seed and vegetable oils – everyone should avoid these as much as possible anyway, but especially if you are trying to heal your gut. They do nothing good for you. Refined canola, soy, corn, cottonseed, safflower, sunflower, and anything labeled “vegetable oil.”
Those are some basics. If you want to take it a step further and really learn more about what is good or not good for your body you made consider removing the following from your diet for a time to really encourage healing:
- eggs – what?? eggs? yes, I know. Eggs are full of nutrition, especially the yolks. But, they also can be a source of inflammation to a compromised gut. If you have a known autoimmune disease you may want to consider removing these for a few weeks.
- nuts / seeds – Another whaaaat? Yes, this is not easy either. Again, lots of good stuff in them but also potential to cause problems to an unhealthy gut.
- legumes – beans can trigger inflammation and be difficult to digest, thus blocking absorption of good nutrients.
- nightshade vegetables – nightshades have a compound in them that often causes inflammation for people with autoimmune conditions. Especially if you suffer from some kind of joint pain, you may want to experiment with taking these out.
- all grains and products made from grains – like all these other foods, grains have some good properties but if you’re trying to heal your gut, the bad outweigh the good here. By avoiding grains you’ll just about cut out all crappy processed and refined foods so that alone would be good!
- high FODMAP foods – if you experience a lot of bloating, constipation, and/or diarrhea, this might be something to consider. It’s pretty restrictive but can give great relief and in conjunction with the other steps of healing, be really worth it.
- Bad bugs, fungus, yeasts, parasites, etc – don’t try this on your own. See a practitioner for help in this area!
Ok, did I lose you with all that? You’re probably thinking ‘what the heck DO I eat?!’
I get it, it can seem really overwhelming. The fact is, some of those foods are just not good for us but many of them can be inflammatory for some people and just need to be removed for a time until they can be added back in.
What you CAN eat during this time is plenty of meat, seafood, vegetables, healthy fats, and some fruit. This ‘Remove’ part of the plan and what you CAN eat are going to look different for everyone so working with someone who can help you determine what that should be FOR YOU is helpful. I happen to know someone…
REPLACE: Next up, we want to add back IN important ingredients to help digestion work properly.
- Digestive support like hydrochloric acid to support protein breakdown in the stomach and pancreatic enzymes to ensure all your food is actually being broken down properly
- Good quality sodium from a natural, unrefined sea salt like pink Himalayan, Celtic, or Real Salt. Gastric juices require good quality sodium and the trace minerals that come along with it.
- Bile support for fat digestion – supplements or food sources to support bile flow. Lack of good flowing bile will hinder your ability to absorb those good fats you’ll now be eating! Lemon, radishes, beets, bitter greens (kale, beet greens, turnip greens, etc.) all help keep bile healthy and thin.
REINOCULATE / REPOPULATE: Now we want to work on starting to bring a healthy balance of good bacteria back into your gut.
- Fermented foods – naturally fermented sauerkraut (either homemade or from the refrigerated section of the store) or other fermented veggies.
- Probiotics – this is highly dependent on what kind of symptoms you’ve had. You can sign up for free to my Fullscript Dispensary and check out my practitioner recommended probiotics on the bottom half of the page.
- Prebiotics – prebiotics are the fuel on which the good gut bugs (probiotics) feed. They are non-digestible plant products and while there are prebiotic supplements, you can really get all you need from food. Garlic, onions, asparagus, Jerusalem artichokes, leeks, carrots, peas, radishes, apples, pears, strawberries, celery, cucumbers, nuts, and flax all contain pre-biotics.
Now if you start including these types of foods and/or supplements and notice symptoms come back, it may be a sign that you need to work further on the removing step, including removing pathogens like unwanted bacteria, yeasts, parasites, fungal overgrowths, or other nastiness. I think it’s helpful to work with a practitioner for any of this but especially if you aren’t seeing the relief you think you should.
REPAIR: Now we really need to make sure we supply our gut with the nutrients needed to encourage healing. If you’re struggling with those health issues, we need to really ramp up the nutrients needed to repair!
- Omega-3 fatty acids – absolutely necessary for healing an inflamed gut. If you’re not eating cold water fatty fish like salmon, sardines, mackerel, or trout several times per week (and maybe even if you are!) you should be taking a high quality omega-3 supplement. These fatty acids are an integral part of healing inflammation. Can’t happen without them.
- Gut healing supports like l-glutamine, aloe, marshmallow root, collagen
- B vitamins – first from bio-available sources like grass fed beef, poultry, and wild caught fish. Dark leafy green veggies are good sources of b vitamins as well
- Zinc – necessary for good gut function. Red meat is a great source of highly bio-available zinc.
- Other nutrient dense food! It’s easy to get hung up on what you need to avoid. Plan your meals around all the stuff you CAN have that are actually filling, give your body what it needs, and are easier to absorb. A nice, slow cooked chuck roast on top of a mish mash of mashed veggies like butternut squash, celery root, and rutabaga and a side of sauteed dark greens can be a very comforting meal! Or if you’re pressed for time, keep it simple with quick cooking proteins like burgers, salmon, shrimp, scallops, or chicken thighs, and some frozen veggies steamed with a big ol’ plop of ghee on top. Yum!
This can all seem like quite a lot and not worth the time or effort. We’ve become accustomed to quick fixes and prefer to take a pill to make a symptom go away. It usually takes years for the stress of bad food and the other factors I mentioned to start to take a noticeable toll on the body so we can’t really expect things to heal up in a few days or a week. Changing the way we think about ourselves and our food is important in this process. Acknowledging first that you are indeed worth this effort is important. Your body needs filling, real, whole, actual food. And if you are struggling with a health condition your gut probably just needs some time and space to heal! Reach out to me with any and all questions!
Oh and again, to search good quality (you can’t trust everything on Amazon, unfortunately) supplements, sign up on my Fullscript Dispensary so you know you’re getting the best quality. If you’re going to take a supplement, please make sure it’s a quality one. There are a lot of bottles of junk on store shelves so check out these trusted brands through Fullscript!