The term 'detox' has been thrown around a lot which is usually just clever marketing. In actual fact a healthy liver does all the detoxing you need. However there are times our body needs that extra help. Detox or elimination diets explained and done in the right way can actually be life changing.
Without caring for your gut properly due to poor eating habits you may experience dysbiosis where a microbial imbalance of the bad bacteria outweigh the good bacteria.
Intestinal permeability (leaky gut syndrome) is also very common. It's a digestive condition where bacteria and toxins pass or 'leak' through the intestinal wall.
Many health issues can actually be attributed to dysbiosis or leaky gut but go undetected or sometimes get misdiagnosed as something else.
SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS OF DYSBIOSIS OR A LEAKY GUT
- You get colds or flu's often
- Experience chronic fatigue, like you've been hit by a bus despite having adequate amounts of sleep at night (8hrs plus).
- Have abdominal pain or bloating
- Deal with constipation or bowel issues
- Live with skin allergies such as eczema
- Experience brain fog
- Have trouble with your memory or have learning difficulties
- Have high blood pressure
- Notice inflammation in the body
- Have nutrient deficiencies
- Prone to unexplained changes in mood, irritable or depressive
- Deal with stubborn weight issues that have been hard to manage despite multiple diets and exercise
If you experience any one of these, it's possible you may be suffering from dysbiosis. The good news is it can be fixed but it will take a long time to build up a good microbial community in your gut again so be patient.
HOW YOU CAN FIX YOUR GUT
A combination of introducing probiotics and prebiotics to your diet as well as eliminating certain trigger foods from your meals for a controlled amount of time can get you back on your feet. So going on an elimination diet could be a good place to start to see what foods adversely affect you.
WHAT TO AVOID
Foods to temporarily eliminate include:
- Sugar - this feeds the bad bacteria in your gut and contributes to weight gain
- Processed foods - can have a high calorie intake whilst providing very little nutrient value. These foods can also have sugars in them or be laden with preservatives
- Caffeine - can increase anxiety in certain people or have detrimental affects on sleep
- Antibiotics - whilst it is great for helping us recover from sickness it not only destroys the bad bacteria but almost wipes out all the good bacteria in your gut
- Alcohol - this also destroys the good bacteria in your gut and whilst it can be consumed in moderate amounts by most people, if you are on a path to heal your gut it's best avoided all together until you reach full health again
- Common Allergens - gluten, dairy, eggs, nuts, soy, nightshades, fish/seafood (can also have high mercury content)
- Saturated and Trans Fats - found in coconut oils and coconut milks, dairy, meat and fried foods which can increase risk of hypertension and heart disease
- FODMAP foods- you may have an intolerance to these. Lactose (found in dairy), fructose (simple sugar found in fruits such as apples), fructans (gluten containing grains as well as garlic and onions), galacto-oligosaccharides (beans) and polyols (sugar alcohols like sorbitol and artificial sweenters)
- Stress - whilst nutrition plays a large role, toxic emotions can actually do just as much damage to your microbiome. So much so that any improvements in your eating habits may result in minimal positive change if you continue to experience chronic stress
WHAT YOU CAN EAT
Foods you can still enjoy whilst on this diet:
- Fruits - lime, lemon or orange citrus fruits
- Vegetables - everything except nightshades (eggplants, tomatoes, capsicum, potatoes or sweet potatoes)
- Dairy substitutes - unsweetened oat milk, rice milk or seed milks
- Grains - oats, millet, brown rice, buckwheat, quinoa, amaranth
- Proteins - red and green lentils and legumes
- Seeds - sesame, pumpkin, sunflower, hemp seeds, chia seeds and flax seeds
- Oils & Unsaturated fats - cold pressed olive oil, avocado, flax, sesame, sunflower oils
- Beverages - filtered or distilled water, matcha, herbal teas, mineral water, kombucha (in moderation), fresh juices
- Natural sweeteners - rice malt, agave nectar, maple (in moderation), dates
- Vinegars, spices & condiments - apple cider vinegar, balsamic vinegar, rice vinegar, all spices (but try to avoid large amounts of chilli or cayenne pepper), wheat free tamari, sea salt, all herbs (basil, dill, oregano, parsley, rosemary, marjoram, thyme etc. ), raw cacao, miso, mustard (without sugar or preservatives)
HOW THE ELIMINATION DIET WORKS
The premise is you go through an elimination phase for 3 weeks completely cutting out these possible trigger foods and then a re-introduction phase slowly re-introducing small amounts of these foods back into your diet one at a time.
Monitor how your body reacts. Even if you notice an intolerance, you don't necessarily have to cut them out of your diet completely (unless you have a diagnosed allergy). Your body may have a tolerance threshold level. You just need to work out how much you can tolerate. Add a little, go slow.
It's also important to keep in mind, that each class of microbes are built to handle specific functions or foods. Your gut needs time to build up the microbes specifically able to break down these types of foods, so just have the patience to allow your body the time to do this. Banishing foods you are intolerant to from your diet forever can potentially have an unfavourable knock on effect.
Think of it like this: if you injure your leg at the gym, stopping this form of exercise and resting is good for a time to allow your body to heal. Once you go back, it takes time for your body to get back to the fitness levels you once had. You need to build up the muscle and work your way up to it. You can't just jump back onto the level of heavy weights that you did pre-injury straight away. It's true that completely cutting out the gym from your life will prevent you from injury again but that's extreme and you will also miss out on the benefits of exercise.
It's the same with food. You can either completely eliminate certain foods forever or work slowly to build them back into your diet at small amounts where your gut will adjust to be able to process them at a threshold level that works for you. A good example are beans. Some people experience gas and bloating from them. Just going straight into a high fibre diet when you never ate that way will put a great deal of pressure on your gut. However, introducing them incrementally allows your body the time to create the bacteria that can break these down more easily without the discomfort. But if you choose to eliminate pulses, beans and legumes all together you will miss out on the incredible protein and fibre that some of these foods have to offer.
TOP TIPS FOR GOOD GUT HEALTH
A healthy diet is really quite simple:
- Eat less from a box and more from the earth
- Eat the rainbow
- And mostly plants (this does not mean you must become vegan)
- Have a diverse diet by eating from a variety of food sources
- Everything in moderation
- Enjoy life!
ALWAYS SEEK PROFESSIONAL ADVICE
Elimination and low FODMAP diets are extremely restrictive diets designed to be short term to help give your digestive system time to rest and heal. They are not meant to be done for extended periods of time.
Keep in mind this information is general and not specific to your situation.
If you do this, it is best handled under the guidance of your GP or a specialist in functional medicine such as a naturopath or dietitian who can do a full physical exam to work with your individual case. You may have underlying health issues that you are unaware of.
It's also important to remember no one diet fits all. Working out what foods work for you is a process and a lifestyle.
Be careful not to develop a negative association or food disorder doing this. It is purely there to jumpstart your gut health journey and give you more awareness of your body.
Understanding nutrition is key in helping us optimise our health to get the most out of life but we are not designed to be slaves to what we eat.
Anne-Sophie Rayment, Nutritional Advisor.
- W. Bulsiewicz, Fiber Fueled, (2020), Penguin Publishing Group, Australia