some of the best food for gut health illustration

Need to Restore Gut Health?

Are you on a mission to restore gut health? 

You’re not the only one. In fact, 60 to 70 million people are afflicted with digestive health issues in America. Since Dr. Google can only offer so much insight, it’s best to head straight to the best-educated sources. 

Where Google’s health wisdom ends, nutrition specialists pick up. That includes specialists like Caitlin Self, a functional dietician and nutritionist who guides clients through a whole-body approach to nutrition, health, and wellness. That all starts with maintaining and restoring gut health, she says. 

Below, the New Jersey-based nutritionist shares her thoughts on the importance of gut health overall.

Ready for some tips on fixing an unhealthy gut? Read on.

Caitlin Self photo against a brick wall

Please share a brief intro about yourself and what it means to be a functional nutritionist. 

I am the nutritionist and blogger behind Frugal Nutrition, where I post recipes and tips for getting real food on the table for you and your family. As a functional nutritionist, I look for the root cause of conditions behind common health ailments and work primarily with those who are struggling with gut health. Functional nutrition means looking at the root cause of dysfunction, rather than trying to cover up the symptoms with short-term band-aid fixes.

How is good “gut health” defined in the nutrition world? 

Typically you'll see functional nutritionists going through a series of questions to identify the status of your gut health. 

We look at a few main things:

  • Your stools
  • Gastrointestinal symptoms
  • Skin health 

We want you to be having regular bowel movements (1-3 per day), that are formed and easy to pass (no diarrhea!). We also want everyone to know that just because something is common or happens regularly — like bloating after a bowl of pasta — that doesn't mean it's actually normal or how your body should respond to food! 

And, when it comes to skin, your skin is a reflection of your gut, so if you're experiencing acne, eczema, etc., there's a good chance there's something going on with the gut!

What are the symptoms of someone with poor gut health? 

The first most common symptoms include: 

  • Gas 
  • Bloating
  • Diarrhea
  • Acid reflux
  • Constipation

But since the gut is so crucial to the body, nearly any symptom can be related to what's going on in your gut!

How do you recommend individuals get their gut health back on track?

Clinically, we usually recommend starting by identifying what's causing inflammation — usually processed foods, excess sugar, and gluten are some of the top offenders. Once these are removed, you want to make sure you're digesting your food — usually by adding in bitter foods and increasing your stomach acid. We also want to rebalance your microflora, so taking in probiotics (like fermented foods) and prebiotics (high-fiber foods) can be a big, helpful part of this!

What are some of the best gut health foods out there you recommend folks consume?

Usually, I recommend bitter foods like dandelion greens and arugula, as well as low-sugar, high-prebiotic and probiotic foods like fermented foods. 

For bitter greens, in an ideal situation, you would eat them raw, but you can still get some benefits from consuming them cooked. It's not usually realistic to consumer bitter foods before a meal. But, if you can have a few bites of arugula while cooking or before the meal, you may experience even more benefits.

My favorite way to prepare dandelion greens is in a bitter greens pestobut you can also just chop it up and add it to smoothies, soups, salads, and vegetable sautés! They're quite bitter, so start with just a few leaves at a time. 

Apple Cider Vinegar is a favorite among our customers. What are some of the gut health benefits of using ACV?

One of the most common issues I uncover with clients in my practice is low stomach acid! Apple cider vinegar can help to improve the acidity of your stomach acid to help activate your digestive enzymes so you can actually digest your food.

What easy tips do you have for how to improve gut health naturally?

The most important thing you can do for your gut health is to cut back on processed foods, sugar, and alcohol. After that, switching over to a “real food” diet most of the time is going to help with long-term gut improvements! If you're sure you don't have any infections, adding in gut-supportive foods like apple cider vinegar and kraut can help balance your microflora and improve gas, bloating, and normalize bowel movements.

Anything else you’d like to add about gut health? 

Gut health IS health! If your gut is not healthy, you increase your risk for all-cause mortality. Improve your gut and you will automatically improve your health!

What questions do you have about how to restore gut health? Let us know in the comments below! Your question may be featured in our next Q-and-A with a nutritionist! 

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