You may have been hearing a lot about probiotics lately, and it's for good reason: They increase the good bacteria in our bodies and reduce the bad, helping to break down food and promote proper digestion. Many of us, however, have an overgrowth of the bad, thanks to overuse of antibacterial hand soaps and antibiotics that kill the good, says microbiologist Kiran Krishnan. (In fact, he says, less than two percent of bacteria discovered are actually harmful.)
Not only that, but GMOs, which are raised with pesticides, can destroy the healthy bacteria in our bodies. "Pesticides can survive rain—they stick onto fruits and vegetables, so when we wash them in our sinks, we're not really getting rid of them," says Nicole Egenberger of Remède Naturopathics in New York City. "They're chemicals that kill insects, so when we eat them, they kill our good bacteria, too." Here, Egenberger shares how to restore your gut so you feel lighter and healthier for your wedding.
Get probiotics from a variety of sources.
Take a probiotic supplement daily, but make sure it contains a broad spectrum of bacteria strains to replenish your entire gut flora (unless you've been specifically tested to see which strains you're lacking, Egenberger says). She recommends Klair Labs probiotics. You should also, however, add fermented foods into your diet, like kimchi, sauerkraut, and kombucha, because they provide strains of bacteria you can't get in a pill. ("Probiotic supplements only contain bacteria that can tolerate oxygen," she says.)
Go sugar-free (or at least cut back).
"High fructose corn syrup, table sugar, and alcohol, which breaks down into sugar, feed pathogenic [or bad] bacteria that promote yeast infections," Egenberger says.
Try omitting nightshade vegetables from your diet.
Potatoes, tomatoes, bell peppers, and eggplant are all high in solanine, which can be toxic and cause intestinal inflammation for those who are sensitive. (If you eat nightshades and you don't experience bloating, by all means, eat tomatoes to your heart's content, but if you think you could be sensitive, try eliminating them from your diet for a few weeks to see how your body reacts.)
Balance your hormones.
"In the middle of your cycle, from about day 14 to day 28, high estrogen levels can make digestion difficult," Egenberger says. She recommends drinking milk thistle or dandelion root teas, and eating steamed broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and cauliflower, all of which help the liver metabolize and reduce estrogen.
Start your day with a detox drink.
If it seems like your food just sits in your stomach after eating, try mixing a teaspoon of apple cider vinegar with water and lemon to stimulate your stomach acid, Egenberger says. Or try hot water with lemon and anti-inflammatory drinks like turmeric and ginger teas, to help get your liver going.
Eat the right fiber.
For optimal digestion, get your fiber from fruits and vegetables—not grains, Egenberger says. "Specifically, psyllium husk is great, because it feeds the lining of the intestine. Just add a tablespoon of it to a smoothie in the morning."
Exercise, but lightly.
High stress levels (wedding-planning, anyone?) can make digestion difficult. Practice yoga or swim for about 20 minutes a day to ease stress and allow the side of the nervous system that controls digestion, the parasympathetic nervous system, to work well, Egenberger says.