Best Foods for Gut Health, Lifestyle Habits, and Nutritional Supplements
We at Zuma Nutrition are often asked where one should start to get their health on track. Our response is typically to focus on restoring the health of the gut through the process of detoxification, recolonization, and repairing the gut lining. Our team have spent about four decades developing our line of Gut Health Supplements to support your journey to better gut health. Once our gut is functioning optimally, our overall health also improves, as the digestive system is responsible for processing all the food we consume and converting into nutrients that the body depends on. Improving the health of the gut leads to:
- Improved nutrient absorption from food and supplements
- Improved neurotransmitter balance
- More Energy
- Better Mood
Due to the vital importance of gut health and how it affects our overall health, longevity and well being, our team has put together a guide on how to improve gut health using diet, lifestyle and targeted nutritional supplements developed in house by our Zuma Nutrition team. These formulas were developed by our team over 40 years of practicing in the medical field working directly with patients. Most people know about the importance of gut health, but not many people actually know how to improve gut health. It is our hope that this guide will provide the information needed to get started on healing the gut. So, please enjoy this guide and feel free to reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org for any specific questions.
What is Gut Health?
Simply put, gut health refers to the physical state and physiologic function of the many parts of the gastrointestinal tract (GI tract). The GI tract is made of several hollow organs and several solid organs. The hollow organs of the GI tract are the mouth, esophagus, stomach, small intestine, large intestine, and anus. The liver, pancreas, and gallbladder are the solid organs of the digestive system.
How to Improve Gut Health
A healthy gut contributes to a strong immune system, heart health, brain health, improved mood, healthy sleep, and effective digestion, and fighting diseases. Poor gut health can lead to a range of illnesses, including digestive issues, malnutrition, joint issues, blood sugar diseases, autoimmune disorders, and much more.
The gut also plays a major role in our mood and sense of well-being. Serotonin, often called “the happy chemical” is a hormone that regulates mood, happiness, and anxiety. Although serotonin is well known as a brain neurotransmitter, it is estimated that 90 percent of the body's serotonin is made in the digestive tract. Being such an important part of our overall health and well-being, it is no wonder that gut health is becoming such a trending topic.
One of the key factors to a healthy gut is having a good amount of healthy gut bacteria. Research on gut health recommends that we maintain an ideal ratio of 90% good bacteria to 10% bad bacteria. Unfortunately, the average person today has the complete opposite ratio of 10% good bacteria to 90% bad bacteria. As a result, many people struggle with intestinal parasites, fungus, candida, bacterial overgrowth, leaky gut and a variety of other digestive issues. A recent survey revealed that 72% of Americans are dealing with digestive issues—that’s nearly 240 million people in the US alone!
With such an alarming amount of people suffering from digestive issues, and with an increasing understanding of the gut’s role in our overall health, we at Zuma Nutrition are here to guide you on a journey to better gut health! Here are our top 9 tips from our experts:
Tip #1: Diet
If you were wondering how to improve gut health naturally, nutrition plays the key role. Naturally, diet plays an essential role in gut health and is the most important factor to consider when seeking to improve gut health. Diet itself is a very complex and controversial topic these days, however there are certain key foods that have been proven to benefit gut health.
Best foods for gut health:
- Fermented foods. Fermented foods are rich in probiotics, beneficial bacteria that can help to improve your gut microbiome. Examples of fermented foods include sauerkraut, kimchi, tempeh, miso, and rejuvelac to name a few.
- Prebiotic foods. Prebiotics are types of dietary fiber that feed the friendly bacteria in your gut. This helps the gut bacteria produce nutrients for your colon cells and leads to a healthier digestive system. Examples of prebiotic foods include dandelion greens, garlic, onions, asparagus, bananas, oats, and apples.
- Raw foods. Raw foods are essentially fresh foods that have not been frozen or cooked. The benefit of raw foods (sometimes referred to as living foods) is that they are rich in enzymes that help the body digest and absorb nutrients from food. Heating or freezing foods destroys these beneficial enzymes, so make sure to include plenty of fresh foods in your diet as well. Note: avoid eating cruciferous vegetables raw as they are difficult to digest unless cooked or marinated properly. These include broccoli, kale, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts.
- Fiber. Fiber, fiber and more fiber—we need up to 60 grams a day. Fiber provides the lubrication the colon requires to function properly. Imagine a sponge that quadruples its size once wet, that's what fiber does once in the digestive tract without being absorbed. Fiber falls into two categories: soluble and insoluble.
The soluble fiber serves many functions, which include providing a conducive environment for friendly bacteria, slowing the absorption rate of sugars, lowering serum cholesterol levels, and binding to heavy metals dumped by the bloodstream into the colon. Examples of soluble fiber foods would be apples, prunes, figs, raspberries, carrots, oat bran, kidney beans, lima beans or (supplemental) psyllium husks.
The insoluble fiber is the complement to the soluble, by increasing bulk in the waste, preventing impacted bowel pockets (diverticuli), reducing the length of time waste stays in the body and absorbing bile acid released during digestion. Examples of insoluble fiber are brown rice, quinoa, millet rice, whole wheat, raw spinach, brussel sprouts and flaxseed. Fiber can make the difference between waste sitting in your system for up to three days or more, or 18-24 hours. Meats (red), chicken, fish, eggs and cheese have no fiber content, so the digestive tract has to work extremely hard to process them. Without fiber, these foods are going to stay in your system a long time.
- Water. Water is essential for life. The human body is roughly 70% water, and it requires water to carry out its many processes. Make sure you drink at least 8 glasses (64 oz) of high quality water each day (ideally not tap or bottled water). However, be sure to drink no more than 8 oz with meals, as too much water can dilute hydrochloric acid (HCL) and cause indigestion.
Just as there are beneficial foods to include in your diet, there are also certain foods that are best left out of your diet if you wish to improve gut health.
Foods to avoid:
- Processed Foods. When food is heavily processed, not only is it often combined with chemicals, added sugars and oils, preservatives and artificial fillers, but processed foods are completely lacking in digestive enzymes. Enzymes are required to help break down the food we consume. In their natural state, most foods are abundant with enzymes. However, enzymes are sensitive to their environment, and when overly cooked, frozen, or processed, enzymes are destroyed, and as a result, the bioavailability of food drops significantly.
- Oxidized Oils. Oil oxidation is an undesirable series of chemical reactions that degrades the quality of an oil. Oxidation eventually produces rancidity in oil, which can have negative effects on the body if consumed. A number of studies have shown that oxidized oils can cause damage to brain cells, lead to inflammation, and increase the risk of diabetes and cardiovascular disease. To avoid consuming oxidized oils, only cook with high-heat oils and avoid consuming packaged foods with added vegetable oils.
- Non-organic Produce. All produce was naturally organically grown, as organic simply means that the food is grown without the use of synthetic pesticides, bioengineered genes (GMOs), and chemical fertilizers. Though pesticides have temporarily helped farmers deal with pest issues, they have also degraded the health of the soil, decreased the quality of food, and have introduced toxic chemicals into delicate ecosystems. Consuming foods grown with pesticides can lead to a number of health issues, as most of these pesticides are highly toxic to humans.
- Cooked Spinach. While raw spinach is excellent and full of nutrients, cooked spinach releases an enzyme that attacks the stomach lining.
- Melons. Melons have unique enzymes that do not mix well with other foods. Always eat melons by themselves.
- Corn or corn flour products (especially chips). Corn is very difficult to digest. There is a reason the Europeans only feed corn to livestock—they have the stomach for it. Much of the corn in the United States today is GMO anyway.
- Peanuts. Apart from being extremely hard to digest, peanuts have a mold (Aspergillis flavis) that attacks the stomach lining. This mold, which is also found on corn products, produces a powerful carcinogen, aflatoxin, a known cancer causing agent.
- High FODMAP foods. If you’d like to go the extra mile in assessing your food's digestibility, consider looking into FODMAP, an acronym for "Fermentable Oligo-, Di-, Mono-saccharides And Polyols". High FODMAP foods are short chain carbohydrates that are poorly absorbed in the small intestine, and are prone to absorb water and ferment in the colon. Most people can digest these foods, however those suffering from digestive issues could benefit from reducing them from their diet.
Tip #2: Develop Healthy Eating Habits
Equally important as what we are eating is how we are eating. Many digestive issues stem from poor eating habits. To really remedy the health of our gut, we need to change our relationship to food and begin eating in ways that promote healthy digestion.
Healthy eating habits to adopt:
- Chew your food! You’ve heard it a million times before, but chewing your food is an essential part of the digestive process. Chewing food breaks it down and combines it with digestive enzymes produced by saliva. This prepares it to be properly digested once it enters the stomach. If this process is skipped or poorly performed it creates more work for the stomach and can easily lead to indigestion.
- Combine food properly. Many people are unaware that different foods digest differently. When food is poorly combined, it causes indigestion and reduces the bioavailability of foods. To improve digestion, follow proper food-combining protocols. While food combining is a vast subject, the following are the parameters you need to be aware of to improve digestion: Proteins mix best with vegetables. Starches also combine well with vegetables. However, proteins and starches do not combine well together. Sweet fruits (bananas, dates, figs, etc.) mix well with sub-acid fruits (pears, plums, apples, grapes, etc.), but not with acid fruits (pineapple, oranges, grapefruits, lemons, etc.). Sub-acid and acid fruits mix but you need to limit the number of different types. (food mixing article)
- Eat at regular meal times. Consuming meals and snacks on a regular schedule can help keep the digestive system in top shape. When we don’t eat at consistent times each day, it can cause the stomach to overwork resulting in bloating and indigestion. Eating on a schedule allows for proper digestion of food, which will result in having a good, comfortable feeling in the gut. The key is to allow a minimum of 3 to 4 hours between meals in order to allow the stomach to properly digest its contents. By setting specific times for breakfast, lunch, and dinner and sitting down to eat them at the same time each day, your body knows exactly when it’s time to eat, which will help prevent overeating and improve digestive health.
- Eat when you are relaxed. It turns out that eating while distracted, stressed, or on the go isn’t good for digestion—who knew! Our autonomic nervous system has two basic states: sympathetic (known as the fight-or-flight response) and parasympathetic (known as the rest-and-digest response). When we are stressed, excited or anxious, the sympathetic nervous system is engaged and the body is ready to move. When we are relaxed, the parasympathetic nervous system is active and the body is in a much more receptive state. It is crucial for digestive health that we eat in a calm and relaxed way, otherwise we may inhibit our digestion. One way to do this is to eat mindfully, and to take a few deep breaths before eating. Saying a prayer of gratitude before eating can also help you to relax and enjoy your meal more.
Tip #3: Lower The Body’s Toxic Load
Our toxic load refers to the accumulation of toxins and chemicals in our bodies that we ingest from a variety of sources, including the environment, the food we eat, the water we drink, and the personal care and household products we use. Each person has a different toxic load based on the amount of toxins accumulated in their body. The goal of detoxification is to eliminate toxins from the body and to reduce our toxic load, improving our health in the process.
Reducing one’s toxic load begins first and foremost with avoiding the sources of toxicity in the first place, whether that is certain foods, drinks, household products, environments, etc. When the body is no longer bombarded by toxins it can focus on eliminating the toxins that have already been accumulated in the body. We can also support this detoxification process through certain foods, herbs and supplements.
Fulvic acid is an amazing ally for this purpose. Fulvic acid is a powerful chelator, which means it is capable of binding to and breaking down toxins and metals that enter the body. Studies have found that humic acids have ion-selective electrodes that can be used for attracting heavy metals then making them water soluble, which makes the body capable of easily eliminating them.
Detoxification is a popular topic these days, and for good reason, as we are constantly exposed to environmental toxins that have a negative influence on our health. However, detoxification is something that must be done properly and with care, or else we run the risk of actually harming our health instead of improving it. Check out some of our other articles to learn more about detoxification and the most common sources of toxicity in 2020.
Tip #4: Eliminate Parasites
Parasites are one of the most damaging, overlooked, and widespread health issues that many of us face today. There is a huge misconception that parasites only exist in third-world countries with poor sanitation. In reality, parasites are some of the most abundant creatures on earth, and a pest to nearly all animals, as a parasite is characterized by its need to live off of the nutrients of its host.
In humans, parasites that live inside us use up our vitamins, proteins and other nutrients, depriving us of optimal nutrition. Not only do they steal nutrients from our body, they also eliminate waste inside us, releasing their toxic bacteria and viruses. Parasites are most commonly found in the colon, however, any part of the body is vulnerable to infestation: the lungs, liver, brain, blood, muscles, joints, skin, etc.
Humans are hosts to nearly 300 species of parasitic worms and over 70 species of protozoa, some derived from our primate ancestors and some acquired from animals we have domesticated or come in contact with during our relatively short history on Earth.
To eliminate parasites from the body requires us to do a parasite detox. This involves avoiding the foods and habits that create a gut environment supportive of parasites, including anti-parasitic herbs in our diet, using herbal formulas that kill parasites, and flushing out the parasites and built up waste that they thrive on through drinking a lot of fluids and cleansing the colon.
As complex as the subject of parasites is, cleansing them from your body is simple (but not necessarily easy). The most effective and primary treatment for parasitic infection involves the careful and consistent use of three important herbs: wormwood, clove, and green black walnut hulls. These herbs kill the parasites in their egg, larvae, and adult stages.
Our parasite detox formula is a high-grade concentration of these three anti-parasitic herbs extracted in organic cane alcohol, making for a very therapeutic and effective formula. The combination of these three herbs helps support the body’s effective detoxification of both the egg and the adult stages of 100 different internal parasites, including amoebas, giardia, many worms, and liver flukes.
Tip #5: Get Rid of Fungus
Fungal infections are common throughout much of the natural world. In humans, fungal infections occur when an invading fungus takes over an area of the body and is too much for the immune system to handle.
Fungi can live in the air, soil, water, and plants. There are also some fungi that live naturally in the human body. Like many microbes, there are helpful fungi and harmful fungi. When harmful fungi invade the body, they can be difficult to kill, as they can survive in the environment and re-infect the person trying to get better.
Invasive candidiasis is a common infection caused by a yeast (a type of fungus) called Candida. Unlike Candida infections in the mouth and throat (also called “thrush”) or vaginal “yeast infections,” invasive candidiasis is a serious infection that can affect the blood, heart, brain, eyes, bones, and other parts of the body.
One of the most effective herbs for eliminating fungal infections in the body is Pau d’Arco (featured in our Liver Detox tonic), a species of Tabebuia tree that grows in Central and South America. Research suggests that Pau d’Arco extract has antibacterial and antifungal properties. While the exact mechanism remains unknown, Pau d’Arco is thought to inhibit the processes bacteria and fungi need to produce oxygen and energy.
Tip #6: Detox the Liver
Detoxification is mainly carried out by the liver, as everything that we consume is first filtered through the liver. The liver performs over 500 tasks, with the neutralization and detoxification of toxic substances being one of its primary roles. Unfortunately, the liver may become overwhelmed if our toxic load is too high. This can lead to improper liver function, which can result in a number of negative health effects such as high blood pressure/high cholesterol, low energy, poor metabolism and digestion, and excess weight gain among other ailments.
For this reason, one of the greatest ways to support the body’s detoxification and to improve the body’s health is to focus on detoxifying and restoring the health of the liver. This can be done with certain dietary and lifestyle factors, as well as through utilizing herbal remedies for liver detoxification such as our Liver Detox Tonic.
The Zuma Nutrition Liver Detox Tonic was created to support and enhance liver health and function through the therapeutic dosage of key herbs that have a synergistic effect and function as a potent and effective liver detoxification formula. All of the herbs used in our formula are either biodynamic, organic, or wildcrafted, and are always sustainably sourced.
The most important factor for any form of detoxification, however, is to avoid toxic substances in the first place. It is not possible to truly detox if we keep “re-toxing,” so do your best to educate yourself on what you consume, and avoid substances that are filled with toxic chemicals and preservatives or grown with pesticides and genetically modified ingredients.
Tip #7: Improve the Gut Microbiome
The gut microbiome is receiving a lot of attention these days, and for good reason. The gut microbiome refers to the community of bacteria that live inside the gut. What kind of bacteria live in the gut, and how many, makes a huge difference in your overall health.
Gut bacteria play several important roles in our health, such as communicating with the immune system and producing certain vitamins. Gut bacteria can also affect how different foods are digested and produce chemicals that help make you feel full.
Research on gut health recommends that we maintain an ideal ratio of 90% good bacteria to 10% bad bacteria. Unfortunately, the average person today has the complete opposite ratio of 10% good bacteria to 90% bad bacteria. To remedy this, it is recommended to include more fermented foods in your diet, and to take a high quality probiotic. Our Zuma Nutrition Multi-Strain Probiotic was formulated to help restore the optimal balance of good and bad bacteria in the microbiome. Our formula features 30 billion CFUs and eight unique strains of beneficial bacteria that go on to produce the hundreds of species that colonize the upper and lower gastrointestinal tract.
Good gut flora stave away pathogens, help your body break down fiber and complex sugars, help your body produce essential vitamin K, folic acid, and vitamin B, regulate bowel movements, decrease inflammation, moderate immune health, and of course support a healthy metabolism.
Tip #8: Reduce Bloating and Indigestion
Due to poor diet, eating habits, lifestyle, and a lack of education around nutrition and health, many, many people suffer from indigestion at almost every meal. This ranges from mild bloating and gas to serious stomach pains and an inability to process food into bioavailable nutrients.
There is a huge misconception that simply because we eat high quality foods that we are actually getting the proper nutritional benefit from those foods. It all depends on whether or not we can digest those foods. Unfortunately, digestion is often inhibited by poor eating habits, stress, improper food combining, chemicals in food, or from a deficiency of enzymes, thereby, preventing nutrients from being broken down and absorbed into the bloodstream.
Thankfully, there are ways of improving digestion, and one of the most effective ways of doing this is to supplement with digestive enzymes that can enhance your body’s ability to break down and absorb nutrients from food. With better nutrient absorption, your body can more effectively assimilate nutrients from food for tissue growth and repair, allowing you the health and nutrition needed to perform at your best.
Every person is born with a unique enzyme potential—an amount of enzymes the body can produce and use in its lifetime—and years of eating foods lacking in enzymes can lead to an enzyme deficiency. Cooked foods and processed foods often deactivate or remove the enzymes in the food which can stress the body. Because of this, it is important to include a lot of fresh, uncooked plant foods in our diet, for they are rich in natural enzymes that have not been made inactive from drastic changes in temperature. It is also helpful to supplement with digestive enzymes to support and improve the digestive process, helping to ensure that you get the maximum amount of nutrient absorption from your food.
Zuma Nutrition's digestive enzyme formula contains a broad spectrum of digestive enzymes including 14 different enzymes to aid in the digestion and assimilation of sugars, grains, fats, carbohydrates and proteins.
There are many beneficial supplements that can help, but what are the best supplements for gut health? We have already recommended some of the best supplements for gut health in this article, and we don’t want to overwhelm you, but here are some other supplements to consider as well.
Fulvic Acid & Trace Minerals: Fulvic acid is a naturally occurring compound found in soils, compost, and marine sediments, and is one of the most healing and longevity enhancing compounds found in nature. Being one of nature’s most powerful chelators, fulvic acid is capable of binding to and breaking down unwanted toxins and metals that enter into the body. Studies show that fulvic acid also improves cellular function, is a powerful antioxidant, has antimicrobial and neuroprotective properties, and is strongly anti-inflammatory.
Trace minerals are essential for the health and proper functioning of nearly all body processes, including the digestive process. Unfortunately, modern farming practices have depleted many of these essential minerals from the soil. As a result, food has become less nutritious, and mineral deficiency much more common. It is highly recommended to supplement with trace minerals to make up for this mineral deficiency in our food.
Collagen Precursor: Collagen supplements are growing in popularity as people begin to discover the amazing benefits of collagen for skin, joint, bone, tissue, and gut health. Unfortunately, there is also a lot of misunderstanding about what collagen is and how it is produced by the body. Collagen is the most abundant protein throughout the human body. It offers support and strength to cell structures including: bones, gut lining, vascular system, connective tissue, hair, skin, nails—the list is endless. As collagen is responsible for building much of the body’s tissues, it can also help to rebuild and restore damaged gut lining.
After the age of 30 our body’s natural collagen production slows down. The body can produce its own collagen naturally, but it needs the proper nutrients to do so. Taking collagen precursors is actually the most effective way to build collagen, as the collagen molecule is too big to be effectively broken down and absorbed when consumed in its whole form. When given the right precursors, the body can build its own collagen instead of resynthesizing finished molecules. The molecular building blocks of collagen in the body are Vitamin C, L-Proline and L-Lysine. We combined these nutrients into doctor formulated daily packs (along with synergistic co enzyme B complex) that support your body’s own ability to create collagen.
Magnesium Citrate: This supplement is an osmotic laxative, which means it relaxes your bowels and pulls water into your intestines. The water helps soften and bulk up your stool, which makes it easier to pass. Magnesium citrate is relatively gentle. It shouldn't cause urgency or emergency bathroom trips, unless you take too much of it.
L-Glutamine: L-glutamine is a non-essential amino acid that is often simply called glutamine. It is produced by the body and is also found in food. L-glutamine helps to protect the mucous membrane of the esophagus and intestines. The mucous membrane blocks bacterial infiltration during digestion. L-glutamine can also boost immune cell activity in the gut, helping prevent infection and inflammation, as well as soothing the intestinal tissue. Because L-glutamine is used for energy production, it can also support the reduction of intestinal spasms.
Ginger: Ginger (Zingiber officinale) has been used for centuries as a folk remedy to soothe the GI tract. Ginger helps your gut move food through the intestine by stimulating the migrating motor complex, which is when your gut starts to move the food through your digestive system. This helps ensure that food does not sit in the GI tract and ferment, bloat or cause pain. Ginger tea is a great way to get more ginger into your diet. Simply cut a few slices of fresh ginger, pour boiling water over the top and you have the perfect ginger tea.
Butyric Acid: Butyric acid is a fatty acid that’s created when the good bacteria in your gut break down dietary fiber. It’s also found in animal fats and vegetable oils. Butyric acid provides your colon cells with about 70 percent of their total energy needs and offers numerous benefits to the GI tract including powerful anti fungal properties.
Colostrum: Colostrum is a breast fluid produced by humans, cows, and other mammals before breast milk is released. It’s very nutritious and contains high levels of antibodies, which are proteins that fight infections and bacteria. Both animal and human studies show that bovine colostrum may stimulate the growth of intestinal cells, strengthen the gut wall, and prevent intestinal permeability, a condition that causes particles from your gut to leak to the rest of your body.
Arabinogalactan: Arabinogalactan is a polysaccharide produced from the bark of the Larch tree which helps support a healthy immune and digestive system. Larch Arabinogalactan is a fibrous product which ferments in the gut. It increases gut microflora, e.g., Lactobacillus, increases short-chain fatty acid production, and minimizes ammonia production and absorption.
Our Zuma Nutrition team is currently working on a new gut health formula that will include some of these amazing nutrients, and is expected to be finished by the end of 2020.
To find all of our gentle but effective gut health supplements in one place, take a look at our Gut Health Collection.
The more we learn about health, the more we see the importance of a healthy gut, and the importance of knowing how to improve gut health naturally. All food is ultimately broken down in the gut to a simple form that can enter the bloodstream and be delivered as nutrients throughout the body, which is only possible with a healthy digestive system.
Unfortunately, many people suffer from poor gut health, and as a result, don’t digest their food properly. Poor gut health and improper absorption of nutrients can lead to a whole range of ailments. Treating the health of the gut often resolves many of these health issues, as the gut is really the root cause of our health or disease.
A healthy gut contributes to a strong immune system, heart health, brain health, improved mood, healthy sleep, and effective digestion, and it may help prevent some cancers and autoimmune diseases. Poor gut health can lead to a range of illnesses, including digestive issues, malnutrition, arthritis, diabetes, autoimmune disorders, and much more.
If you really want to take control of your health, start by focusing on the health of your gut. By following the 9 tips offered in this article, you can significantly improve your digestion and can naturally restore gut health.