When your body is functioning at its best, it's like a finely tuned orchestra—every organ and system work in perfect harmony. But when one small aspect is off-balance, such as your gut health, it can lead to a ton of subtle issues that are hard to trace to the root cause. "Seventy-five million Americans suffer silently from gut distress on a daily basis," Vincent Pedre, MD, author of Happy Gut, tells MyDomaine. "Most people don't consider this to be abnormal because they're numb to the symptoms."
Meet the Expert
An internist in NYC, Vincent Pedre, MD is also the author of Happy Gut: The Cleansing Program to Help you Lose Weight, Gain Energy, and Eliminate Pain. He received his medical degree from University of Miami Miller School of Medicine.
Beyond abdominal pain and constipation, he cautions that there is a host of subtle symptoms that could indicate you have a gut issue. "Fatigue, mental fog, and allergic conditions like an allergy, asthma, or skin rashes are all related to poor gut health," he says. "You have to find the root cause, dig deep, and look under the hood. The gut is the foundation of our health—you have to start there."
Concerned your gut health might be out of whack? We grilled Pedre to find out how to actually know if you have an issue, and, more importantly, what to do about it. If you're ready for a gut-cleanse diet, skip to the end for his one-day meal plan.
Fatigue, mental fog, and allergic conditions like an allergy, asthma, or skin rashes are all related to poor gut health.
How do you know if you need to do a gut cleanse?
The one typical candidate is anyone who has been on an antibiotic in their lifetime. Any single dose of antibiotic wipes our gut flora and takes six to 12 months for your body to bounce back. One of the most commonly prescribed antibiotics, Cipro, which is given for UTIs, changes your gut flora for as long as 12 months. It takes a year for your body to recover! Any woman who takes antibiotics and needs anti-fungal medication afterward tells me that her base foundation is already compromised.
Is bloating ever normal?
Bloating has become "normal" for a lot of people, but it could actually be a sign that something is wrong. A lot of people aren't aware that they could be suffering from low stomach acid. Your digestive power is decreased when you can't break down protein and fats—they sit in your stomach like a red brick and make you inflated.
Bloating could also mean you're suffering from some form of microbial overgrowth in the small bowel. SIBO, or small intestinal bacterial overgrowth, is when you have too many bacteria growing in the small intestine. It can make you bloated 30 to 60 minutes after the meal. Depending on where the bloating happens and at what time, we can gain clues about your gut health.
Bloating has become "normal" for a lot of people, but it could actually be a sign that something is wrong.
Which foods do you avoid eating because they're bad for gut health?
There are three main food categories I'd avoid to keep my gut functioning at its best:
1. Wheat and gluten: Gluten is a very hydrophilic molecule, meaning it attracts water and is a binder. It becomes this big mass, which, for a lot of women can lead to constipation and slow down digestion. It's just a big no-no for a happy gut.
2. Fried foods: They're a big problem. Usually, they're fried in flour, which means you're ingesting gluten too. It's a double-whammy.
3. Spicy foods: I'm not talking about spices. I mean excessively spicy foods like habanero peppers or curry. These hot foods can irritate the gut lining and cause issues.
How does our morning routine impact digestion? What ritual do you follow?
When you sleep, your digestive system is in maintenance mode, so going and immediately eating food without preparing the stomach in some way is like jumping into a cold bath.
I like to have a slice of lemon with hot water to wake up my digestive system first thing. The lemon has acidity so it helps stimulate stomach acid production, and it also wakes up the liver and prepares your body to secrete bile. I usually sip on hot water and lemon as I prepare for work or before I get into the shower. It's a ritual I follow before I even have breakfast, to encourage me to slow down.
What are the best dishes to order when dining out if you're trying to do a gut cleanse?
My safe bet when I eat out is going to a Greek restaurant. The menu is always packed with dishes that are easy on digestion, like salads, grilled vegetables, and grilled or baked meats. Fish is a good option because it's not as difficult as a steak or filet mignon to digest, and I tend to look out for anything with anti-inflammatory ginger, prebiotic scallions, or immune-boosting shitake mushrooms.
DR. VINCENT PEDRE'S SIMPLE ONE-DAY GUT-CLEANSE MEAL PLAN
BREAKFAST Green Smoothie With Mint and Blueberries
Pour yourself a mug of hot water with lemon juice to start the day, and then whip up one of Pedre's green smoothies. "What I love about smoothies is they are quick and easy to make, and you can put so much in a smoothie so that it is packed with nutrients. It's like you're drinking your vitamins for the day," he says.
A smoothie is an ideal way to start a gut cleanse because it doesn't weigh on your digestive system. "It's doing the work of digestion for you! By making fruit and vegetables small, it's easier for your body to absorb and break them down," he says. "In the morning, this is really helpful."
2 cups almond milk (homemade is best)
2 scoops of your favorite hypo-allergenic protein powder
1 cup blueberries
1 tbsp. of sprouted or roasted almond butter
2 cups spinach
1/2 cup mint leaves
LUNCH Grass-Fed Beef Bone Broth
Pedre recommends drinking eight ounces of bone broth each day to reap the benefits of its gut-healing properties. "Bone broth is great for so many reasons. It's mineral-dense (minerals help with cellular energy production, which is important for the gut), and it helps cleanse our body because it gives our digestive system a rest," he says. The bones also contain immune-boosting, anti-inflammatory ingredients, which are good for healing leaky gut.
This recipe yields 10 to 15 servings; batch cook it in advance on a Sunday night so that lunch for the week is sorted. "If you don't eat animal products, try making a vegetable broth with Japanese mushrooms like shitake so they give you an immune boost," he recommends.
4 pounds grass-fed beef marrow bones
3–4 pounds grass-fed beef rib or neck bones with meat (optional)
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice or apple cider vinegar
1–2 tsp. sea salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
3 stalks celery, roughly chopped
1/2 whole onion
1 bouquet garnish (4 sprigs fresh thyme, 4 sprigs fresh rosemary, and 1 bunch parsley tied with unbleached string)
Combine the marrow bones and rib bones, if using, with the lemon juice, salt, and pepper in a large pot or slow cooker. Add some filtered water as needed to cover.
Cook for at least four hours on very low heat until any meat that was still on the bones has fallen off and the marrow has dissolved. You can cook the broth for up to 24 hours on low heat or in a slow cooker on low.
DINNER Cuban Picadillo
"This is one of my favorite dishes that my grandmother made growing up," says Pedre, who has since given the original recipe a gut-friendly makeover. "I love to use bison because it's lower in fat and is a type of protein that's easy to digest."
1 1/2 pounds grass-fed ground beef, bison, or free-range ground turkey
2 tbsp. coconut oil
3 tbsp. herbes de Provence
1/2 tbsp. garlic powder
1 tbsp. thyme
1/2 tbsp. turmeric
Pinch of Himalayan sea salt
Sprinkling of cracked black pepper
1/2 cup pimento-stuffed olives
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1 lemon, juiced
Splash of white wine
Garnish of chopped parsley
In a deep, ceramic-enameled saucepan, or a 360 Cookware stainless steel saucepan, heat the coconut oil on medium heat. Add the herbes de Provence, and cook for five minutes, or until aromatic.
Add the meat, and use a wooden cooking spoon to break it up so the meat spreads out evenly through the saucepan. Add the lemon juice, and dust evenly with the dried organic garlic powder. Then cover with a lid.
Let it simmer for about five minutes, then as the meat cooks, continue breaking it up into small, round pieces using the wooden spoon. While doing this, you may add the thyme, turmeric, sea salt, and cracked pepper. Add the olives, and let it simmer for another five minutes as the meat breaks into smaller chunks.
Finally, add the white wine, and then reduce the heat to low. Cover once more, and let it cook for another 10 minutes. Let it cool and serve with a garnish of chopped parsley.
This post was originally published on April 11, 2017, and has since been updated.