In the past several decades, general practitioners are seeing an increased trend in abdominal pain. Meanwhile patients are wrestling with confusion about diet, lifestyle, and how they impact abdominal symptoms. Questions such as: “Should I try Paleo? Gluten free? Keto?” are common. In this age of information, people are understandably confused after learning about or trying the latest fad diet in a valiant effort to eliminate discomfort. 

Each person is unique, and so is the way our guts behave. These differences are based on a plethora of factors including the microbiome, trauma history, access to foods, and etc. With the plethora of research on the gut microbiome and its relationship to medical illnesses, nourishing the microcosm that resides in our gut is important. 

In this article, I will highlight ways to optimize the gut to maximum function and minimize discomfort, no matter what type of body you have! For more specific details, consult with your Integrative Family Medicine primary medical provider for a personalized gut healing protocol. Keep in mind that our team includes a health coach and nutritionist, and a multidisciplinary approach to your health is often beneficial.

Elimination Diets 

Elimination diets can provide people with a wealth of information when done properly. Oftentimes, individuals will eliminate certain foods but not introduce them in a manner that allows them to determine what may be contributing to symptoms. The Whole30 is one popular, branded elimination diet; alternatively, your healthcare provider can work with you to provide a personalized elimination protocol. A protocol can look like eliminating multiple foods at once or one at a time. In the most simple instance, a food diary can reveal whether certain foods in one’s diet are problematic. Other times, elimination for 30 days with introduction of one food at a time (over several days) can usually elicit symptoms with a specific food. 

What are the most common foods that can wreak havoc on the body? Dairy, gluten, soy, eggs, and peanuts. Sixty-eight percent of the world has lactose malabsorption. One percent of the population in the US is diagnosed with celiac, and 6% of the population has non-celiac gluten sensitivities. 

An elimination diet is a great opportunity to practice mindfulness in how and what you eat as you work to shift your eating pattern to see what foods are triggers. Noticing if you have attachments to certain foods, cravings, and changes in symptoms can all provide valuable information. The introduction phase is also very informative as you see how your body responds when you reintroduce foods. 

One caution I always share with patients is to seek medical support first if you have an eating disorder or if elimination of certain foods might trigger a mental health disorder such as anxiety or depression. Orthorexia is another condition that is closely associated with nutrition. I recommend talking with a medical provider or nutritionist before beginning an elimination diet if you have this condition. The elimination diet is meant to serve as a tool to provide data regarding how your body responds to certain foods. The ultimate goal is to eat a diversity of foods with a variety of nutrients, minerals, and flavors. 

Each quarter, our health coach, Ariana Figueroa, runs a community health challenge which incorporates an elimination challenge with group involvement through daily emails and weekly virtual check-ins. The support group aspect helps people feel part of a community and, thus,  recognize they are not alone in this process.

Probiotics

We already discussed the wonderful microcosm that is our digestive tract. How do we fuel and cultivate the healthy microbiome? Eating a variety of fruits, vegetables, and increasing fiber content keeps it healthy. Psyllium fiber can provide 10 grams of fiber in 1 tbsp., depending on the brand. Fermented foods like kimchi, sauerkraut, and other fermented veggies can serve as a nice snack that also contribute to the health and diversity of the microbiome. Growing your own vegetables, if possible, can be another way to keep the diversity of the microbiome alive. Incorporating high fiber foods—flax seeds, psyllium fiber, whole grains, and berries—can also fuel the health of the gut microbiome. 

Listen to your Gut Intuition

Our bodies give us lots of information regarding our health. Listening to the body’s intuition can provide insights into what is working well and what is not. Due to the common on-the-go convenience foods available and non-stop lifestyles make them tempting, we can easily lose that intuition until we have either pain or changes in stool. These are both signs that something in the gut is not functioning well. 

Better yet, combine intuition with mindfulness! Small changes—like eating without distractions, sitting down to eat, and chewing foods slowly—can make a big difference in improving our digestive health. Making conscious choices in the foods that we eat (choosing whole, organic foods) can also make a profound difference. 

Summary

  • Eat whole foods, organic if you can. Refer to the Environmental Working Group (EWG) list for the most important ones.
  • Mindfully chew your food
  • Eat probiotic rich foods (choose this over probiotic supplements, unless guided by a medical provider). 
  • Consider a food diary for 1 week to see if certain foods may be causing symptoms
  • Consider an elimination diet with a slow introduction period *Under the advisement of your medical provider 
  • Ask your medical provider for a more specific gut health protocol or additional testing recommendations 
  • Consider working with a health coach and nutritionist to create a personalized nutrition and lifestyle plan that works for your body

I hope you enjoy this journey to a healthier you.