Back in September I started having some digestive issues that seemed to appear out of nowhere, with no known cause. It was frustrating, and confusing, especially considering how much my gut health improved when I started eating a paleo diet. As a result. I spent the last few months seeing doctors, nutritional therapists and doing research of my own to learn how to improve digestion with a paleo diet.
My issues started as random side pain and pressure, and eventually progressed into occasional constipation and bloating so severe there were nights I looked pregnant.
These digestive issues were truly confusing, and to be honest, I’m still not completely sure what caused them. My best theory, discovered with the help of a nutritional therapy practitioner and naturopath, is that I was eating a bit too low carb for my body, and that my hormones were a bit out of whack.
But while the cause may still be a bit of a mystery, I’ve been feeling great for the last couple of months, and seem to have turned a corner in my gut health. So today I’m sharing the lessons I learned, and the tools, practices, superfoods and supplements I used to improve digestion with a paleo diet.
10 tips to improve digestion with a paleo diet
Don’t be afraid of carbs. When I first started a paleo diet, I was doing it to lose weight. As a result, I was eating very low carb. I didn’t eat much fruit and sweet potatoes were an occasional indulgence. But once I had lost the weight and reached a weight I wanted to maintain, I didn’t add carbs back in. The fact is, our bodies need carbs, especially if you’re female. The nutritional therapy practitioner that I saw in December had me track my food for a week and, after reviewing my diet, suggested I add in more potatoes, plantains and even white rice. I’ve been eating higher carb for a few months now and thing it’s had a huge improvement on my digestion and energy levels (plus I haven’t gained any weight!).
Take a probiotic. Even if you’re eating well and focusing on getting good carbs, fat and protein, you may still need additional gut health support. Most of us didn’t grow up focusing on gut health, so we’ve got a lot of making up to do! Taking a probiotic can be an important step to improve digestion with a paleo diet, and a huge help when it comes to ensuring our gut flora (that good bacteria in our intestines that keep things running smoothly) are up to snuff. I take a probiotic once a day, and have seen amazing results. This one from Prescript Assist is a great choice!
Eat probiotic rich foods. In addition to taking a probiotic supplement, it’s important to work on improving your gut health by eating probiotic rich foods. These include organic, raw sauerkraut, kombucha (fermented tea) and kefir, among others. Click on the links in the prior sentence for some of my favorite brands that I eat and drink on a regular basis. These have been life-savers during my work to improve digestion with a paleo diet.
Balance your hormones. When I was having digestive issues, my naturopath suggested that my issues could be hormonal. My constipation seemed to be cyclical, happening twice a month, for about a week at a time. While I’m still not sure whether this was really the issue, I started taking a supplement to help my body better balance hormones on its own and my digestion has been better in the months since I started taking this daily. I take Vital Nutrients Hormonal Balance, which is made entirely of natural, real food ingredients and B vitamins. If you’re still struggling after focusing on your gut health, this might be something to try!
Try a magnesium supplement. Magnesium is an incredibly important mineral that SO MANY people are not getting enough of, particularly in our highly processed food world. Magnesium is vital for bone health, digestion and other important body functions. And while foods like nuts, seeds, leafy greens and avocado are great sources of magnesium, a food’s magnesium content depends greatly on the soil it’s grown in. America’s factory farming industry has depleted the minerals in much of our soil, so even if you eat those foods you likely aren’t getting as much magnesium as you think. Magnesium draws water into your bowels, making stools softer and easier to pass. It also helps relax your muscles, easing any tension in your intestinal wall. I like to mix this powdered variety into water before bed.
Add in collagen peptides/gelatin. Collagen peptides and gelatin powder are fantastic additions to any diet to boost skin health, joint health and- BONUS – digestion! The amino acids found in collagen peptides and gelatin can help improve gut health and help heal issues like leaky gut, which can cause not only digestion distress but inflammation throughout your body. The amino acids in collagen also help increase stomach acid, which is a vital piece of good digestion. I blend two scoops of Vital Proteins collagen peptides into my green smoothies, and also blend it into my coffee (which is amazing and makes it into a foamy latte!).
Drink bone broth. Bone broth is basically a wonder drink. It’s a natural source of collagen and gelatin, which, as mentioned above, are incredibly helpful for healing your intestinal wall and improving issues like leaky gut. Bone broth is also filled with minerals that are key for overall health, and a cup a day definitely keeps the (GI) doc away. To ensure you’re getting as much collagen/gelatin from your broth, I suggest using bones like beef knuckles and chicken feet, which are rich in collagen. Cook the broth for a LONG time, to ensure you get everything out of those bones. I like this recipe for making broth.
Start your day with a gut-healing tonic. I like the word tonic, don’t you? It makes me feel like I’m running an old-fashioned apothecary. Anyway, I digress. I’ve gotten in the habit of drinking the same thing every morning: 8 oz. water, 1 tbsp apple cider vinegar, a bunch of fresh grated ginger and the juice of half a lemon. I’ve found this really sets me up for a day of good digestion. I drink it about 30 minutes before eating breakfast, and think it helps get my system primed to digest my first meal. You could also add collagen peptides to this cocktail, or even aloe vera juice, which is super healing for the gut.
Try herbal tea. I was never a big tea drinker, but in recent months I’ve really gotten into a few varieties from Traditional Medicinals, especially their Ginger Aid and Peppermint teas, which are made to improve digestion. I tend to drink these in the evening (they’re caffeine free!) if I’m feeling a little bloated or if I stuffed myself a little too much at dinner time. Their other varieties are great too! I drink the Echinacea tea if I ever feel a cold coming on.
Move more. There’s no doubt about it: exercise improves so many systems of our body and is so important for overall health. And this includes digestive health and gut health! This fall, when I was feeling particularly bad digestively, I didn’t work out very much (because I felt like crap!). However, I found that when I started easing back into regular workouts, starting first with some amazing yoga sequences designed to help improve digestion, I felt so much better. Even now, if I workout on a day when I’m feeling bloated, I feel so much better by the end of a workout!
*BONUS TIP* If all else fails, butter coffee. This one is by no means a digestive fix, and I’m not suggesting this actually improves gut health or will help you improve digestion with a paleo diet. However, if you’re struggling with constipation on a paleo diet, sometimes you just need immediate relief. I never recommend taking a laxative if you can avoid it, and butter coffee (coffee blended with grass-fed butter and/or coconut oil and/or ghee) is a great substitute. Laxatives are literally gut irritants – that’s how they work! Butter coffee, on the other hand, can really loosen things up…if you know what I mean, and without causing damage to your belly. Drink a cup first thing in the morning if you need a little boost, and I think you’ll find yourself heading to the bathroom in no time.
I hope these tips help you as you work to improve digestion with a paleo diet. Digestive issues can happen to the best of us, and can be so frustrating to fix. But with a little effort, and some trial-and-error to find what works best for you, I think you’ll find your digestive system improves significantly on a real food diet.