It’s where 80% of your immune system is housed, all the food you eat, and your poop.
It’s practically the clearinghouse for your body’s health – the gut.
It seems that for almost any health issue you’re experiencing, from skin rashes to stomach pain, from weak joints to mental fog, “heal your gut” is the first line of defense.
And for good reason!
If your gut health is in order, the good things you eat impact you more, that bad things impact you less, and your body is able to stop fighting gut inflammation and start dealing with the rest of what might be going on.
What does it mean when people say “heal the gut?”
If you read a lot of real food or natural health blogs, you’ll probably notice that many people have “healed their guts” to help a myriad of problems such eczema, ADHD, seasonal allergies, inability to lose weight, and more, and “you probably need to heal your gut” is an often recommended strategy.
But what the heck?
You might know how to heal from a cold, a headache, or a skinned knee, but how does one “heal the gut?”
I received that question recently from someone who had seen the advice without enough explanation a few too many times, and it seems like an important question to address head-on. The really basic, one-line answer is this:
Give your gut a rest.
When you’re sick with a horrid cold, a fever or a stomach bug, what do you do? If you’re smart about taking care of yourself, if you really want to heal, and heal as quickly as possible, you rest.
Sure, you might take some immune-boosting herbs, you might try to knock out your bugs with antibacterial oils or homeopathic treatments, and you definitely want to stay hydrated, but if you don’t slow down and get some sleep, first and foremost, you’ll slow your recovery for sure.
When you skin your knee, a bandage is a good idea to keep dirt from getting in and to prevent you from re-scratching it constantly with your pants or daily life.
Your gut is the same.
If it’s been bombarded by processed foods or harmed by something that your body reacts to – gluten, dairy, whatever – it needs a break, not just from those foods, but from anything else that’s going to “scratch it up” in a manner of speaking and prevent healing.
It’s kind of like letting paint dry. Or watching grass grow.
If you want your new grass seed to grow, don’t walk on it.
If you want paint or cement to dry, give it a rest before you touch it, right?
If you want the lining of your gut to heal, don’t let stuff scratch it either.
What? “Scratch” my Gut?
Here’s the deal: your gut is lined with tiny, hair-like thingys called villi. They stand up and enable the small intestine to absorb nutrients from food and pass them into the bloodstream.
Visually, imagine the wall of your intestines with little jellyfish-like fingers sticking up, or like a forest of sea anemones waving in the flow of a tide pool.
Functionally, these little dudes are like the gateway from gut to blood. When working properly, they allow the appropriate amounts and types of nutrients to enter your bloodstream, and they also trap less-than-digested food and attack it with enzymes to continue the digestion process. (source)
They should behave like Weeble Wobbles as food passes them by – never falling down.
If your gut is damaged and you’re experiencing “leaky gut” symptoms like abdominal bloating 1-2 hours after eating, less than one bowel movement per day, diarrhea or constipation, yeast infections, bad breath or strong body odors, increased pulse after eating, (source) or have determined you are sensitive to a certain food or group of foods, it’s likely that those villi have been more or less knocked over.
The food moving through your gut damaged them, and all your infantry, your first line of defense between your food and your body, are all lying down on the job.
The gateway is open.
Partially digested food and the wrong kinds of particles are sneaking on through into your bloodstream, where they can wreak havoc with your immune system and cholesterol levels.
In order to get them healthy again – these villi – you need to stop knocking them over, to stop sending foods through the tubes that will “scratch up your paint job” so to speak.
So You Wanna Heal Your Gut?
This doesn’t mean you have to go on a water-only diet.
But it does mean you have to cut out certain foods and emphasize others, just like you’d put a bandage on a scrape on your knee and not crawl around on the floor for a few days.
Just like you quit wearing the new shoes that gave you a blister until your blister heals up. You don’t stop wearing any shoes, you just give your heel a rest from the offensive ones.
Now that I’ve used five thousand analogies, I hope you have a pretty solid mental picture of what’s going on in your gut.
The “scratchy foods” from which your gut needs a break are possibly slightly different for everyone, but common culprits include:
- all grains
- sugar, especially processed white sugar
- nightshades: peppers, tomatoes, potatoes
Rather than experiment one by one to see which one(s) is/are your trigger(s), it’s typically easier to cut them all out, completely heal your gut, then reintroduce foods one at a time to see if there are any remaining sensitivities.
At the same time, consuming particularly healing foods like the following is helpful:
- bone broth,
- well-cooked vegetables (non-starchy)
- well-cooked meats
- butter and coconut oil
- fermented foods like yogurt, kimchi, sauerkraut, and kombucha
I often tell people that healing the gut is a lot like reverting to being a baby – you hardly eat anything and then add gentle, soft things one food at a time (except that most babies eat grains first…unless they’re following a more traditional baby diet. My last baby’s first foods were bone broth, soft-cooked eggs, and avocados – perfect gut-healing foods).
It literally allows your gut to start over.
I can’t tell you how many doctors have told me that skin issues like eczema likely aren’t related to food. Dr Shiela Kilbane is convinced otherwise. In this interview I talked to her about how she became convinced, and how eliminating one food can make a HUGE difference for eczema.
Dr. Kilbane’s amazing course will help you do “root cause” detective work with your kids and figure out how to systematically get them through “common childhood illnesses” like constipation, asthma, bedwetting, recurrent ear infections, eczema and other skin rashes. Find out more here.
Programs and Resources to Heal Your Gut
I’m guessing just about every adult in America (and most kids too!) would benefit from some gut-healing protocols. But you don’t have to do this alone or make things up as you go along.
There are a few different diet programs formulated specifically to give guts a rest or heal them, some that are meant to be temporary until you heal and others that people with chronic diseases may need to follow forever.
Some recommended strategies, like the GAPS diet, may take over a year to complete. Many others that I’ve been looked at are only 3-4 weeks, very doable.
The three main gut healing diets are:
- GAPS (Gut and Psychology Syndrome) Diet
- SCD Diet
- Maker’s Diet
Primal and Paleo diets also often achieve the same results but aren’t quite as medically based or targeted at disease, necessarily.
100 Steps You Can Take to Heal Your Gut
I’ve taken the basic points from the following resources and made a super fast checklist for you about gut health and what things you can do, foods you can eat and avoid, while working to heal your gut:
- Heal Your Gut by Lee Holmes, Certified Holistic Health Coach
- 3 Weeks to Vitality by Mary Vance, Certified Nutrition Consultant
- Inflammation Free Zone by Amy Hager, RDN, CDE
- The Herbarium from The Herbal Academy of New England
- Trust Your Intuition by Jenni Wilson, MH
- Live Pain Free by Robin Konie, CLMA RSNT
- The Heal Your Gut Summit (link no longer available)
- Gut Thrive in 5
Here’s what you cut out to heal your gut:
- sugar (especially ANY sweeteners with fructose)
- refined grains
- processed meats
- processed foods
- starchy vegetables
- nuts and seeds
- meat raised on grains
- industrial fats
- some say most fruits too
- any potential food allergen
- all inflammatory foods
- no antibiotics
- environmental toxins (personal products and cleaning supplies, for example)
- reduce caffeine
- reduce or eliminate chocolate
You should also do a quick saliva candida test to see if you should ALSO cut fungus-promoting foods like cheeses, mushrooms, vinegar and more and add more raw garlic to your diet. Heal Your Gut, one of my sources, demonstrates:
Here’s what you add to heal your gut:
- fermented foods
- bone broth
- probiotics, daily
- healthy fats
- LOTS of water and fiber daily
- green vegetables
- sulphur-rich vegetables
- fruits should only include lemons, limes and occasional berries
- omega-3 rich foods
- possible chiropractic adjustments for constipation
- supplements with the goal of increasing glutathione
- herbs in your cooking or supplement form:
- other gut-health herbs the Herbarium recommended:
- and a few from Heal Your Gut:
Here are some habits to begin:
- Regular exercise – gentle, low intensity like walking or yoga. Interval style workout for no more than 20 minutes.
- Some excellent examples, including the importance of calming and breathing, in Live Pain Free, like this one:
- Relaxation/prayer/meditation/centering – whatever you need to reduce your stress
- Get adequate sleep – at the very least, this will make it easier for you to stay on an elimination diet because your cravings will be down and motivation and willpower up.
- You might want to do a cleansing detox by eliminating inflammatory foods and many of the things on the lists above and also doing certain detox activities:
- Detoxing your life – resolve outstanding emotional issues too!
Here’s how to get the best start with babies’ gut health:
- no antibiotics at birth
- breastfeed early
- if C-section, consider infant probiotics – even a “perfect” birth doesn’t guarantee healthy gut flora for baby
- Be patient and wait to introduce solids until at least 6 months and when baby has signs that s/he is ready for food.
- Watch carefully for sensitivities (rash around mouth, diaper rash, etc.) and remove those foods again. Often the child will be able to eat them when they’re older.
- Avoid high allergenic foods (the “top 8”).
This list is great in breadth but shallow in depth, I realize. You can only make small changes without knowing how to knit all of this together into something truly doable – but that’s what the full list resources are for.
If you want to try a grain-free or gut-healing diet, these resources might help you:
- Eating Grain-Free: all my resources and recipes, all in one place
- Grain-free Meal Plans, all recipes included, from Cara at Health, Home and Happiness
- GAPS Starter Package, including meal plans for the intro diet, the trickiest part of GAPS
- How to Bake Grain-free with Coconut Flour here at KS
- Beyond Grain and Dairy or Baking with Coconut Flour by Starlene Stewart
- Gluten-free Grain-free Baking Cookbook by Stephanie Brandt Cornais (our fav almond flour pizza crust is in this eBook)
- Gluten Free & Grain Free Breads, Batters and Doughs from Whole Lifestyle Nutrition
- Nourished Kitchen Guide to Grain-free Baking, Sweets and Treats
- GNOWFGLINS cooking eCourses, including allergy-friendly cooking
- 100 Key Steps You can Take Today to Start Healing Your Gut
Now about that gut health…
The next obvious question…”How do you know when your gut is healed?“
Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links from which I will earn a commission. See my full disclosure statement here.
Some images are from GraphicStock.com.