I’m excited to let you know this post is a little different than the usual Family As We Go post. One huge part of our blog is that it is a family blog, so Justin once in a while is going to write a few articles. Today is his first one! He is the researcher of the two of us, and has put together a lot of informative facts about WHY we hold gut health so highly in our diet. This post is longer than the usual, but I hope you enjoy all he has to say. The info is sectioned off in four different areas of gut health: a clean palate, real probiotics (not store bought), fiber, and poop(!). All of them are important factors of gut health, but if you are interested in one more than another you can find each section numbered. Enjoy! <3 Bree
You might have noticed that gut health has recently become a popular topic in terms of health and just overall well-being. With with the advent of any popular health craze comes a gamut of products that will ‘support’ it. Head to your local health store and you will find countless types and brands of probiotics, kefirs, kombuchas, etc., that claim to keep your gut happy.
So what makes your gut health so important? And do we need to
rely on store-bought products for optimal gut health? Today we’re going to look beyond the standard and stock image of what a ‘healthy gut’ is to real gut health.
What IS the “gut”?
Let’s take a step back to the area of the body we are talking about: the intestinal tract found in the sacrum. That’s an odd term for your pelvic area isn’t it? This is a Latin term (like most medical terms) that comes to us from the Latin phrase os sacrum meaning ‘sacred bone’ or holy bone. What’s interesting is that both the Romans and Greeks called this bone or section of the body the holy bone. The Greeks used the term hieron osteon. It is amazing to think that even centuries ago we as humans knew something was important and special about this area. Today science now backs up the important connection between our two brains; the one in our head and the one in our gut. Check out this research in Scientific American:
‘While our “second” brain cannot compose a symphony or paint a masterpiece the way the brain in our skull can, it does perform an important role in managing the workings of our inner tube. The network of neurons in the gut is as plentiful and complex as the network of neurons in our spinal cord…’
This second brain (the one in your gut) is key to dealing with the insurmountable number of microbes that live in the gut. Just like out in the real world where ecosystems are in a constant state of survival the same is true for our gut’s microbes. So properly responding to them and supporting them is important. This means things you do every day — from diet to your emotions to exercise — is influencing your gut in positive or negative ways.
So real gut health is not just about the probiotics you are ingesting (though that is very important). It’s about overall health. So let’s break that down into the parts we have found to be useful.
Number ONE: A Clean Palate
First, let’s talk about a clean palate. For those of you who have already undergone dietary changes in healthy ways you may have found that certain foods or so called “foods” are no longer desirable to you or when you have them again, are no longer palatable. For me, being a huge candy fan growing up, I just can’t eat the standard American candy anymore. It is pretty unappealing to me. In fact a lot of that kind of food will upset my gut, I can feel it. This is because your palate changes based on your diet. Just like cleansing your palate during a meal to not have tastes and flavors affect the next thing you eat, an unclean dietary palate can effect what foods you think you want to eat or crave. You know the term you are what you eat? Yep, your body can become essentially numb to how off your diet is. I can’t tell you how different I feel now than I did seven years ago
. The difference is obvious now but over time was not as obvious. If your intestinal tract is inflamed from a poor diet you may not be able to hear your body’s cues that something isn’t working. So the first step to a healthy gut is taking certain foods out of your diet so that you can cleanse your system of them.
How to cleanse a palate? It can be pretty simple:
For one week try the following
1- No sugar, like of any kind (no processed sugar, honey, maple syrup, and even limit your fruit intake to only low-glycemic fruits).
2-no grains, including the gluten free ones…it’s just one week!
3-stay light on dairy; if you can go no dairy for the week then do it.
5- avoid juices (veggie juices are okay), alcohol, and caffeine. Try to stick with herbal tea and water.
4-eat fresh veggies, meats, nuts, high quality oils; go light on fruits, light on dairy.
After this week-long cleanse introduce foods into your diet slowly. What you want to see is how you react to them, with a clean palate your body can more accurately tell you what is going on, or rather you can hear your body better. So for breakfast try eating just eggs and toast. Feel good? No different? Bad? What you are trying to do is isolate foods that don’t give you energy and feel like there are (do you mean aren’t digesting well?) digesting well. I really do not do well with grains of any kind. I eat rice and sprouted grain bread but I do so sparingly. You may find other foods that you feel the same way about. You may be surprised to find that after cleaning your palate foods you used to eat don’t work well with you. It’s not an allergic reaction, it’s your body telling you either: a. you do not need this nutrition at the moment or b. what is this nonsense you are giving me?! I have found that avocados, though I love them, do not work well in my system. I can eat some avocado and a few hours later I feel like it’s still in my gut just sitting there. We have avocado trees so I have tried the freshest and ripest avocados I could get and still the same result. So I watch how often I eat them (basically, I don’t eat them). What I have found though are foods that I love that I digest well. Those become part of my diet and those will positively affect my gut health.
You may even find for yourself that you need a more intensive palate cleanse. I recommend you take a look at the GAPS diet. This one, from our perspective, is a great “temporary” diet to reestablish gut health and also cleanse the palate. But it can be a big shift for someone not used to doing a lot of food preparation on their own.
Number TWO: Good Probiotics
The all popular probiotic. The national center for complimentary and integrative health refers to probiotics as, “…live microorganisms that are intended to have health benefits. Products sold as probiotics include foods (such as yogurt), dietary supplements, and products that are not used orally, such as skin creams.” They are great for your system and they should be a part of your diet. For us that means a diet rich in probiotic foods, not supplements. Listen, supplements are great and sometimes necessary, we love being able to get pasture-raised beef gelatin, or coral calcium (though I don’t consider those supplements because they retain some “whole food” nature to them). But real health comes from the whole foods that we have today.
What you should get into is fermenting foods. You can literally ferment anything, just ask Sandor Katz author of The Art of Fermentation. This is a book my wife and I highly recommend on fermentation. Try some stuff out and find what fermented food you like. We love sauerkraut and kombucha, and not everyone does so try something else. Again, you can literally ferment just about anything in the plant and animal kingdom. Fermentation not only gives us the probiotics we need to aid our healthy gut but they also preserve food for us through their production of alcohol or lactic acid, as well as help us predigest the food before we eat it. (Check out some research on gut health benefits right here).
Some people have argued one of the benefits of supplemental probiotics is more variety. When in reality, eating a variety of probiotic foods will give your body a larger amount of bacterial variety and a supplement may not even give you what you need. Making probiotics is not exactly a natural process either. First you ferment and grow the bacteria on a sugar (usually molasses) and then it is put into a centrifuge. By using intense spinning the bacteria is separated from the food it was eating. Finally the bacteria is freeze-dried and the remaining moisture is taken out. All done in the nice lab setting so its all sterile. Without prebioitic fiber or digestive enzymes these bacteria will be in poor condition. Even with the two above, once the jar is open the oxygen and moisture in the air will negatively affect the bacteria. I feel like the supplement is a novel idea but it’s so easily replaceable with real living food.
Also a large reason to not take a supplemental probiotic is the fact that they are manufactured as a proprietary strain. Dr. Mercola did some great research on fermented foods versus a pill and found that:
“Fermented foods not only give you a wider variety of beneficial bacteria, they also give you far more of them, so it’s a much more cost effective alternative. Here’s a case in point: It’s unusual to find a probiotic supplement containing more than 10 billion colony-forming units. But when my team actually tested fermented vegetables produced by probiotic starter cultures, they had 10 trillion colony-forming units of bacteria. Literally, one serving of vegetables was equal to an entire bottle of a high potency probiotic!” Mercola
Sandor Katz also refers to healthy bacteria as “coevolutionary partners because they are highly adaptable and mutable.” Art of Fermentation, p. 3. We have found time and again that bacteria are not stable but able to adapt to almost any environment(when referring to our bodies, they are by no means invincible). “Our bodies are a global marketplace where bacteria trade genes” that to me is an amazing fact that means for me, the probiotics I put in my system I would rather have been naturally occurring from the food I eat then the products I buy. Again, supplements can have their place and should but this is some great food for thought. They may be beneficial at the start but eventually you can get that healthy system, you really don’t need the supplement anymore.
Number THREE: Fiber
Fiber seems like one of those topics that gets a bad rap. People are often told not to consume much fiber when dealing with a tumor or cancer. Which seems interesting since one of the main functions of fiber in the diet is to bind to foods in the system to help them pass through. So too much fiber and you may have too much movement. To little fiber and you won’t have enough. Fiber also binds to toxins in the system. Fruit pectin, for example, has been showing that it chelates (binds to) heavy metals in the system like mercury2. This means it binds to potential bad stuff in the system and pulls it out with it.
Two main camps for fiber:
Insoluble Fiber: This is fiber that really does not change at all when consumed. It keeps things moving and soft. These include grains (if your into those) which also can contain high amounts of phytic acid which can be fun to remove, vegetables & legumes, and fruits (this is where the strawberry pectin, or just fruit pectin comes in for heavy metal removal).
Soluble Fiber: This can absorb water and it’s the fiber that makes you feel fuller longer. Our favorite soluble fiber would be the chia seed3. It’s packed with so much goodness and it’s so fun to eat or drink. I make a tapioca-like pudding with them; Bree has found that grinding them into a flour makes for great moist baking.
Making sure fiber is a part of your diet is very important. The typical American diet does not have enough of either soluble or insoluble in it. This article about the growth of diabetes in native Americans is interesting Ancient poop and modern diabetes. It shows how high fiber diets were a common practice, at least, for early native Americans and the diet change brought about by the Europeans had a very negative effect on their system. This would likely be due in part to epigenetic (learned genetics) traits from different diets. If you have no idea what epigenetics are look here. But it is also likely the Viking diet was high in fiber4 and also the African diet, which, according to Dr. Price, showed more health traits than the European counterparts living there, and which was attested largely to healthy fiber intake5.When it comes to fiber we are believers in natural occurrences of it. Look for foods that contain fiber, not dietary fibers in tubes at the store.
Number FOUR: Everything Comes Down to Poo
The final stage of good gut health is, you guessed it, your stool. I am surprised how much of a taboo topic this is. The amount of info you can learn about your body from bowel movements can be so helpful for you and your family’s health journey. Yet as a culture we do not talk about it because its not ‘polite.’ Guess what? It’s not taboo. Learning about basic stool health can be so helpful for anyone. Check out this article from the science of eating. Did you know that you should have anywhere from 1-3 bowel movements a day? Or that the color of your stool may be a sign of poor liver function? What you are looking for in the ideal bowel movement is a dark brown color, semi solid and coils nicely. That is the basic ‘good poop’ (yeah I said it, poop). And now here is a short list to go over the next time you go number 2:
lumpy or hard: low fiber or dehydrated
watery or no solid: too much bad bacteria and/or low nutrition
floats in water: malabsortion of fats, basically this means poor nutrient absorption in the small intestine look here. also can be caused by splashing stool
Yellow: could mean gall bladder issues
Light color: could mean ineffective bile flow, but also could indicate liver disease and other issues related to the liver and bile. If it is happening all the time tell your doctor.
Very dark in color: could mean internal bleeding, though it can also be cause by intake of vitamins high in iron or a cause of bismuth subsalicylate found indifferent medications and even pepto1
Last part to talk about is the smell. Yeah, it should smell. Not horrendously of course but it be odorous. If yours does not smell and that’s an all-the-time thing, that’s not something to brag about but should be looked into. Likewise extremely smelly can also mean something is amiss.
There is also a lot of research showing how our gut health affects our mental state, which to me is fascinating but another topic in and of itself. All this gut health can also be a great help to prevention of lots of conditions and diseases.
For Bree and me, having gone this route for a healthy gut has given us better and more consistent bowel movements, the joys of fermentation, and a better overall physical and mental health. A lot of parents we know have run into constipation with their babies and we can say Cedric has yet to ever have any issues with his bowel movements (more like he poops at least 3 times a day!). For myself, working around children all the time and coworkers who can get sick, I can say I rarely get sick, or if I do the amount of time I am unwell is much less and severe as others around me. These are just little things that we have found have changed for us since being gut-healthconscious.
Let us know what you think? Anything here surprise you? Or reinforce ideas? Give you something new to try?