By Alejandro Junger, MD
Harper Collins (2013)
Reviewed by Holly R. Layer, RD
Clean Gut—part memoir, part diet, and part theory—offers mind and body healing by starting with the gut. The author writes in a conversational tone from his own journey from poor health, including poor food choices, depression, sleeplessness, allergies, GI issues, and hemorrhoids, to ‘true’ health by healing his gut. Dr. Junger shares with readers his three ‘ah-hah’ moments: his finding of meditation and integrative medicine, his realization of ‘global toxicity’ and the importance of detoxing, and his calling as a functional medicine practitioner and the development of his Clean program.
Clean Gut asserts that the root cause of disease, both minor ailments and chronic conditions, is gut dysfunction. Dr. Junger calls the gut the ‘second brain’ and a ‘spiritual and emotional GPS,’ providing information on how our brains and GI tract are linked through the nervous system, hence our term ‘gut feeling.’
Dr. Junger posits various reasons an unhealthy gut can lead to illness, such as depletion of good bacteria through antibiotic use or a poor diet, disruption of our intestinal walls and poor absorption, and improper immune and nervous system responses. Additionally, he traces specific diseases, such as heart disease, cancer, back pain and even infertility, to specific ailments stemming from an unhealthy gut. He says, “periodic gut repair is the best preventive medicine of all.”
Synopsis of Diet Plan:
Clean Gut’s diet plan is based on the four R’s of functional medicine: Remove (ex. toxins, hormones), Replace (ex. vitamins, nutrients), Reinoculate (ex. probiotics), and Repair (ex. intestinal mucosa). The diet is made up of two ‘stages’ in which dieters practice the four R’s and then undergo a ‘reintroduction’ period to identify triggers.
Stage 1 lasts for 21 days and focuses on easily digestible and low-sugar foods, as well as recommended supplements, the ’80-20’ plate rule (80% greens and vegetables, 20% protein and fat, stop when 80% full) and ‘mindful combinations’ of foods. The ‘forbidden list’ includes gluten, dairy, alcohol, caffeine, potatoes, corn and fruit (other than berries). The daily protocol includes water with lemon, a shake, when to take supplements and even a walk.
Stage 2 is a 7-day reintroduction period designed to identify trigger foods. Dr. Junger recommends keeping a journal and offers a schedule of foods to reintroduce and when, as well as an ‘advanced’ reintroduction of additional foods and those to on which to reduce dependency (processed sugar, caffeine and alcohol).
Nutritional Pros and Cons:
Junger’s two-stage diet plan includes eating real food, avoiding known potential irritants and monitoring outcomes during a reintroduction period. The ‘Don’t Eat’ food list contains many items that anyone with IBS-like symptoms will recognize from other elimination diets, but the avoidance of almost all fruit must be noted. Junger eliminates all fruit (with the exception of berries, lemons and limes) during Stage 1, which may prove difficult for many readers and could be unnecessary. The ’80-20’ rule helps readers with portion size and feelings of satiety, both of which promote health regardless of diet.
However, the number and variety of recommended supplements may be unnecessary or turn some readers off to the diet entirely. While he does include a ‘sample day’ schedule for supplements, it still may be overwhelming to some.
While Dr. Junger’s claims about gut dysfunction and the benefits of healing the gut may be a bit over-reaching, his diet plan can promote gut health overall and may be beneficial for those with IBS, gastroparesis or other GI-related issues. Clean Gut promotes eating real food (with some restrictions during the first phase) and the eating plan is easy to understand without calorie-counting or restricting calories. Written without a sense of fear but one of hope, Clean Gut may over-promise, especially for those with true medical conditions. He also provides basic information on the parts of GI tract, as well as sections designed to help readers navigate life during and after Stage 1 and 2, such as ‘Guiding Principles for Living Clean for Life,’ which includes ‘upgrades’ to healthy diets with a ‘try this’ example, and ‘Move and Chill,’ which promotes exercise and stress reduction.
Clean Gut features 60 pages of recipes of varying difficulty.