Lets start at the beginning. Why are our “guts” so important? And why is all of this information coming to surface just recently? Where was all this “support your gut” health information in nursing school?! Or any nutritional information and the importance of eating nourishing foods not only for your physical health, but for your mental health as well. The importance of establishing and maintaining optimal gut health is absolutely vital to help prevent disease in the future, help heal illness in the past, and feel amazing in the present.
Your gut is made up of a billions and billions of bacteria, both good and bad, that reside all along your gastrointestinal tract. Likely, your gut flora is “imbalanced”, meaning way too many bad bacteria (let’s call them Oscar the Grouch) and less good bacteria (the Fonzy’s). Fonzy was not a part of my time or anything but on the show Friends, Fonzy was clearly portrayed to be an overly happy, obsessively smiling, joyful human, and someone who clearly irritated Phoebe while she was getting ready to birth triplets. So yeah, we want less Oscar the Grouch’s snacking on cookies (how fitting) and we want more Fonzy’s in our guts.
If that made any sense to you, congratulations, you get me. So in order to establish a healthy balance of these two fictional characters, we need to feed the good guys with prebiotics, and stop feeding the bad guys with sugar, which has become inherently high in our society today. Probiotics need to eat prebiotics in order to stay alive and thrive, and keep your gut healthy and happy.
What foods contain prebiotics? Well, mainly foods high in fibre (such as flax seed and wheat if tolerated), and more specifically, foods high in inulin. Inulin is a soluble dietary fibre that is non-digestible. It passes through the small intestine and begins the fermentation process in the large intestine, where it turns into that Fonzy character mentioned above (good bacteria). Foods high in inulin contain onions, garlic, asparagus, and leeks-all great soup ingredients if you ask me! Dandelion root and chicory root are also great sources of prebiotics. If you are a nutrivore like me, then you will love dandelion tea with some fresh squeezed lemon.
As noted earlier, it is very important to limit the number of sugars you are eating. By consuming sugar, you are feeding the bad bacteria, causing these microbes to proliferate. This may contribute to indigestion, bloating, and cravings as well as increase the risk for chronic illnesses connected to the immune system such as allergies and autoimmune conditions. Um, that doesn’t sound too great to me! Now I do realise completely changing your eating habits to snacking on veggies and hummus instead of sugar bombs labelled as “health foods” is not going to happen overnight. Of course I realise this, if I didn’t, I wouldn’t need to do what I do now. But this information exists in efforts to provide education and create awareness of your current food choices and empower you to change your habits, leading to healthier and thus happier lives.
Okay so we’ve talked about establishing good gut flora, and I didn’t even have to mention feces transplants, so you’re welcome. The next thing important for maintaining a healthy gut is ensuring the gut is sealed. Closed, glued, nothin’s getting through, etc. Your digestive system is essentially a long pipe beginning at your mouth, stretching downwards and winding around in the tummy, and out through the shoot into the toilet.
I remember in holistic nutrition school, my instructor described your digestion system as essentially a system “outside” of your body, because other than a few nutrients and vitamins here and there, nothing should actually go inside of your body. Which is not the case these days, as many people are experiencing symptoms of systemic inflammation and food intolerances. This is where the term “leaky gut” comes from.
If your gut is perforated, undigested food particles, and bad bacteria can actually slip through the cracks, set off the immune system, create hormonal disturbances and blood sugar imbalances, and ultimately wreak havoc throughout the body. Seems like a good enough reason why they should be replacing sugar packets with collagen packets at your local coffee shop. Or in hospitals, schools, any place really that promotes health and wellness.
In other words, we have this pipe, and anything that goes into your mouth, good or bad, will interact with the rest of your body. It’s that simple. If you have a leaky gut, these interactions will be far more intimate. Enough that some undigested particles get through the walls of the intestinal lining, interact with your bloodstream, setting off aforementioned immune response. Ladies and gents, systemic inflammation is born! This accounts for the skyrocketing rates of autoimmune diseases present today.
Why there is zero nutritional education given in the hospital is truly mind boggling. As a nurse, I see the food that patients are fed while staying in the hospital. It hurts my heart. This is why I’ve chosen the path of preaching holistic health, and hoping through my social media platforms I can begin to change the way people view food and its relation to optimal health. I don’t have much, if any, control of what my patients eat in the hospital. But, I take every opportunity to educate them so that when they are discharged from the hospital, they can make their own changes based on the knowledge I provided. People experiencing symptoms directly related to nutritional inadequacies are often treated with medications (nothing wrong with that especially during an acute phase) but what about education? There isn’t much information provided (and the information provided is shit anyways and yes let’s keep feeding diabetics with sugar, okay here’s an oatmeal cookie made out of margarine). Rant over. I must sound like an idiot because the recent documentary “What the Health” actually states that sugar is in NO WAY related to diabetes, so just throw me a donut and shut me up.
Okay that escalated quickly and I apologize. Here are just a few supplements and food products you can start taking to support your gut, like today.
Take a Probiotic. The more strains the better, ensure it has Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium. Ultimate Flora, Align, and Natural Factors are great brands to start out with. I usually switch brands everytime I finish a bottle.
Consume Probiotics Foods. Saurkraut, kimchi, kombucha, gut shots, kefir, yogurt. There are many to choose from and they are everywhere. Thank you to mainstream media and millennials there is no shortage of kombucha companies starting up. Head into your local health food store and stock up!
Have some Collagen. Collagen is also becoming popular, (Hallelujah) and should be easy to find in your community. Vital Proteins and Organika are my favourite companies. Collagen helps repair the intestinal lining and heals gut inflammation. You can add collagen to your morning coffee or tea, or add into a smoothie!
Drink Bone Broth. Seriously it’s like the Universe is trying to make it easy for us to heal our guts. Companies are popping up everywhere to make this easy for you, so you don’t have to boil bones in your kitchen for 48 hours, (although I prefer to). Bone broth is rich in collagen and the amino acids glutamine, glycine, and proline, all which help seal the gut and reduce intestinal inflammation. If you don’t like the taste of bone broth, try steaming your veggies in it or adding it to stirfrys to enhance flavour. Vegan options are also available (but not as beneficial).
Supplement with L-Glutamine. As mentioned above, glutamine is an amino acid important for growth and repair of your intestinal lining. Supplementing with L-glutamine powder is recommended for healing the gut and also can help repair ulcers.
Take Digestive Enzymes. These guys help digest your proteins, fats, and carbs so there is less irritation along the intestinal tract, and your body can continue healing. You don’t need to supplement with enzymes forever, but they are important during the gut healing process.
So there you have it! Just a few of these changes can make a major impact on your mental health, physical health, and overall well-being. If that doesn’t motivate you, then I don’t know what will! I am just here to supple you with all of the knowledge I have learned through my years studying nutrition and psychiatry. But YOU have the power to reclaim your health. What are you waiting for?
Cheers *holds up a beet flavoured gut shot*
The Holistic Blonde <3