Gut HealthWhat even is gut health? Why should I care? I didn’t initially know much more about my gut health than “it’s down in my tummy,” before embarking on this article, but our village expert, Cristina Chalk-Rizk, PA, is a big advocate of gut health. She is a physician assistant and health advocate with Zija International. According to her page on Zija, “The health of your gut (digestive system) is key to overall well-being. Your gut is responsible for the breakdown of food (metabolism) into nutrients that are used for cellular function and signaling. A healthy gut promotes healthy elimination. Outside of digestion and elimination, most people fail to see the full impact of a healthy gut.” 

Rizk has given us 5 steps to make changes to our gut health. These are simple changes, but that doesn’t mean they will seem easy at first. The important thing is to remember to make changes where you can! I’ve heard that focusing on shopping around the perimeter of the grocery store is key (think: where are produce, dairy, and meats located?). Avoid the inside aisles as they are usually where the processed foods live. How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. How do you make these changes to your lifestyle that should be primarily plant-based? One step at a time.

Remember to keep it simple.

1. Work to eliminate the bad where you can, like cutting back/eliminating processed foods, refined foods, packaged foods, and those high in sugar. Refined sugars wreak havoc on our gut. 80% of our immune system resides in our gut. When it’s preoccupied clearing the junk, it can’t work on fighting viruses that cause infections. Something to keep in mind with Halloween a couple of weeks away!

Do this, not that: Buy oats, nuts, and fruit to add to your oatmeal. Don’t buy the premade stuff in the box. Using an instapot can help to make a large quantity of oatmeal fast. I love oatmeal with golden raisins and pecans. Need more flavor? Consider adding honey, not sugar. 

2. Put the good stuff in through real, whole foods. Get fresh, local when possible, fruits and vegetables. Avoid hormones and antibiotics in your meats. Think this way: Each time a grain is made into something else, it’s processed. Each time a vegetable is turned into something else, it’s processed. The Cheetos we love in our house? Yea. The highest form of processed. I’ll consider it a major win if we can get rid of those. Fresh fruits and vegetables provide healthy plant fibers that support the prebiotic component (this is kind of like the good soil in the garden), says Rizk!  

Do this, not that: Buy ingredients, not packaged foods. Buy local, not imported foods. Not sure where to start? Try one of our local farmer’s markets or one of our local farmers. We love Oakatee River Produce and Whippoorwill Farms. Bonus: Both are family-run, with mamas at the helm! 

3. Drink plenty of clean, filtered water. According to Zija, “Readily available tap water can contain small molecules, heavy metals, bacterial components, foreign and suspended particles, and harmful toxins and contaminants that can have adverse health effects.” You can purchase water filters that range in price from affordable (depending on your budget) to pricey. We’ve all heard of Brita water systems, which are in the 2-digit price range. Our dear friend has a Berkey system that sits on her counter that she loves and it’s around $200.  Rizk uses Zija’s Morclēr’s unique six-stage water filtration and purifying system which combines the power of reverse osmosis with Moringa’s cleansing properties to deliver clean, pure water ($500).

Do this, not that: Substitute water for your normal sugary drinks.  Enhance with a slice of fruit for an added bonus!  My husband cut sweet tea and sodas out of his diet and has lost more than 20 pounds. He’s also noticed that he doesn’t have acid reflux anymore!

4. Be aware of your environment and adjust where you can (medication, supplements, acidity in your daily coffee, etc). What is your daily routine? How many cups of caffeine do you consume? Do you immediately reach for a pill when you have a headache? 

Do this, not that: Try purchasing and consuming coffee with lower acid content. Use essential oils instead of ibuprofen. Speak with your physician regarding your prescriptions. Can anything be changed with diet? Are you taking a probiotic? Consider eating plain, Greek yogurt and enhancing with fresh fruit for sweetness. Yogurt contains live cultures, the easiest way to get probiotics to work in our systems.

5. Maintain other things like sleep, exercise, and decreasing stress. Are you out of balance like so many moms and dads we know? What can you do that is truly for self-care? 

Do this, not that: Take the stairs. Park farther away. Take the clock out of your bedroom so you’re not bothered by the light or distracted by what time it is when you wake in the middle of the night. And Lord knows we shouldn’t be picking up and using our phones in the middle of the night! It disrupts the brain so much. 

And for a good gut reset while working on these: Zija’s Gut Health Bundle. Rizk reminds us that she is passionate about sharing simple, all-natural, plant-based solutions for better health and wellness.  Because Healthy Shouldn't be Hard!


Kate Vermilyea is a higher education administrator who has become a full-time homeschooling mother of three living in Beaufort. She is the content curator for ParenthoodIQ.

Cristina Chalk-Rizk is a local mom of three, physician assistant, health advocate with Zija International, and is passionate about sharing simple, natural solutions to keep you and your family healthy.  To shop for the mentioned Zija products, go to