If you’ve opened this letter hoping to discover the latest organic cleaning solutions for that dusty attic, then you may want to take a pause. While I’m all for the emotional and physical benefits of a spacial cleanse, that’s not what I’m here to teach you.
This month, I want to give your system a spring cleaning if you will. An easily digestible blueprint that identifies the foods and bacteria that are having an effect on your overall being – including weight fluctuations, bloating and stomach complications, anxiety, and fatigue conditions – and how to navigate the signs that your gut is due for a sweeping.
As we’re about to learn, just like your body, the gut requires the right balance to stay healthy and optimized. In fact, leading researchers and practitioners consider the gut as our second brain. That’s why when it’s out of whack, the symptoms are too.
So let’s start cleaning. My gut tells me we all could use it.
This month, we’re breaking down the latest in innovative discoveries in gut health. As nutritionists and scientists collide in their research – we foresee the digestive system will become as large of a topic as heart health and cancer study. Hippocrates — the ancient Greek father of medicine — once said that “all diseases begin in the gut.” In many ways, he was right. Your gut is your first line of defense, and if it isn’t working optimally, you’re more prone to disease. To get us started, here is what you should know right now.
If you have ever wondered, “what are we?” you may be surprised to learn that the human body is composed of trillions of cells, only of which 10% are human.
Outnumbering cells by 10 to 1, the human body hosts trillions of microorganisms (very tiny living things) which make up what is called our microbiome. Some of these microbes provide functions that are extremely important for our survival — and because of this dependence, experts are beginning to consider we are more a ‘super-organism’ than simply human.
What if we could live a germ-free life outside the bubble? You may be thinking these microbes (which include bacteria), are bad for us. But they are essential, and some even hypothesize that it is impossible to live without them. If so, we’d only survive a couple of days.
The biggest groups of bacteria reside in our gut – and the health of your gut microbiota and the nutrition you feed it directly effects your immunity, brain structure, and mood/ behavior. In one study, depleting the gut microbiome changed the expression of 90 genes in the brain.
The digestive tract is technically outside of your body.
Yes — from your mouth to your anus, the tract is technically considered outside of your body because it is open to the external environment at each end. You could imagine that It acts like a very advanced filter, breaking down all the specific nutrients to easily absorbable forms all while eliminating any pathogens and toxins in the process.
70% of your immune system is in your gut.
The digestive system is the seat of our immune system. When studying disease, scientists have discovered that there is a shift in the ecology of your gut bacteria — and a change in the balance and diversity of specific microbial species. It is important to note that there isn’t one specific species of bacteria to push blame on. The health and diversity of the community is affected in its entirety – and only then do things go awry.
Digestive issues and insufficiencies contribute to a wide range of health issues, some chronic and life-changing, including migraine headaches, depression, asthma, diabetes, heart disease, arthritis, autoimmune illness, autism, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, multiple sclerosis, and more.
There is much we still don’t know, but the study continues: the Human Microbiome Project catalogs the microbiome communities in people with different diseases, but the heavy lifting is in deciphering the data, which scientists predict may take some time.There is much we still don’t know, but the study continues: the Human Microbiome Project catalogs the microbiome communities in people with different diseases, but the heavy lifting is in deciphering the data, which scientists predict may take some time.
Meet your second brain: your gut.
A fascinating fact: the gut is the only organ system that can perform its functions without the oversight of the brain. It doesn’t wait for your brain’s influence or instruction to do its job; it acts in solitary. No other part of your body – not even your mighty heart – can pull that off.
If the vagus nerve, which connects the brain to the digestive system was cut, digestion would still function normally — a system called the enteric nervous system (ENS).
Our second brains in our gut may not be able to think or have reason, but a ton of evidence suggests that the health of your digestive system can influence your mood.
80-90% of seratonin, the “happiness hormone”, is made in the gut.
The enteric nervous system – which is comprised of a network of millions of neurons in the lining of our gut – goes far beyond just processing the food we eat.
The bulk of the neurotransmitter serotonin is created in the digestive system. We need it to stabilize our mood and regulate social behavior, appetite and digestion, sleep, memory, and sexual desire and function. But too much of if may not be good.
Sometimes regarded as a “mental illness” of the second brain, irritable bowel syndrome arises from too much serotonin production in the gut. For decades, researchers thought that anxiety and depression caused gut issues and disorders like IBS, but it is most likely the other way around.
Food can make you depressed.
Nutrition can play an extremely important role in the seriousness and length of time of depression. Researchers are finding that certain foods could be connected to depression, and that some types of diets can lower your risk of becoming depressed. For years, those with ‘chemical imbalances’ were prescribed chemicals as treatment – which overlooked the possibility that the brain may have needed proper nutrients instead.
Poor diet is dangerous not just for your physical health, but your mental health too. It is common knowledge that the food we eat should contain nutrients the body uses to perform its everyday duties. But processed foods today changed things, as they are often altered with additives and stripped of essential vitamins and minerals.
Scientists are now discovering that people whose diets are high in processed foods and low in whole and natural foods are missing out on these vital nutrients. This begs the question: are some forms of depression caused by simple nutritional deficiencies?
The hidden link: processed foods and disease.
Processed foods not only lack vital nutrients our bodies need, but can be treated like foreign contaminants by our digestive system, causing inflammation in the lining of our GI tract, the exact place where food is absorbed. Your gut may not recognize what you’ve eaten as food, which instead interprets the presence of foods like high-fructose corn syrup or artificial ingredients as “intruders” or “attackers”.
This sets off an unnecessary inflammatory response in which our bodies fight these foods as if they were an infection. If you consume processed foods regularly, it can create a lot of stress on your body over time.
Refined sugar, which is processed from sugar cane or sugar beets, is added to many of the packaged foods in our grocery stores today. It comes in many forms — which it can be tough to distinguish on food labels. Surprisingly, sugar can go by at least 61 different names, including sucrose and high-fructose corn syrup, as well as barley malt, dextrose, maltose and rice syrup, among others.
Refined sugar is implicated in many diseases, including obesity, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, heart disease. cognitive decline and some cancers.
It’s not just what we eat.
Stress may be just as harmful to our bodies as an unhealthy diet. Stress shows up as physical evidence by causing changes to the gut microbiome, specifically in female mice, according to a recent study. Although this study was limited to mice, there may be serious implications with humans.
A healthy gut can be anti-aging.
Scientists were shocked to find that a healthy 90 year old’s gut was almost indistinguishable from a 30 year olds. A recent study showed parallels were drawn between overall health and the microbes in the intestine of extremely healthy older adults and those over 50 years younger. Even though they are unaware of the cause or affect, researchers observed and concluded that diversity is key in your gut: and if maintained, it can be a biomarker of healthy aging.
Bone broth a healing food, and the benefits are numerous and extensive. There is a reason why chicken soup is prescribed by doctors and mothers around the world when you’re feeling sick.
It’s high in collagen, proline, glycine and glutamine, amongst other healing compounds, which boosts your immune system, reducing inflammation and joint pain, and is necessary for maintaining and repairing the lining of the gastrointestinal tract. Research is proving it has the potential to heal disorders like allergies, asthma and arthritis.
In NYC: Trade in your coffee for a cup of the famous Brodo’s bone broth — a kiosk that serves 11 varieties of this super nutritious ‘hot beverage’ (owner Marco Canora, stresses it’s not soup!) at shops in the West and East Villages. Or,find the recipe online.
Apple cider vinegar is derived from fermented apple juice. It’s another ‘old world’ remedy for digestive problems.
It aids digestion by increasing stomach acid; helping you to better break down food and absorb more nutrients in the foods you eat. Apple cider vinegar is packed with raw enzymes and beneficial bacteria that help to stimulate the digestive juices, assist the absorption of nutrients, and control the growth of harmful yeast and bacteria in the stomach and throughout the body. It is a useful remedy for indigestion, bloating, gas and even heartburn.
Opt for organic, raw, and unpasteurized – it contains the mother load of enzymes, proteins, and probiotics.
Mix with water, don’t drink it straight – and have it in moderation. Some nutritionists suggest having no more than 2 tablespoons a day, as vinegar is an acid and can wear away your tooth enamel and affect your esophagus. Eating it may be better: consider drizzling over a salad in place of your dressing.
These include cauliflower, cabbage, garden cress, bok choy, broccoli, brussel sprouts and similar green leaf vegetables. Cruciferous vegetables work to deduce inflammation and helps remove harmful pathogens from the gastrointestinal tract.
Raw vs. cooked: if you have a thyroid issue such as hypothyroidism, some vegetables may be better digested when cooked, specifically kale and broccoli: they contain a high amount of goitrogens, which can decrease the uptake of iodine by the thyroid.
Sulforaphane, an incredible compound that can help with almost any chronic disease, can be found in cruciferous veggies. More nutritious that the mature broccoli — broccoli sprouts
Sulforaphane can only be produced when the sprouts are ‘damaged’ (so chew them!).
Whole Foods in NYC started selling packaged broccoli sprouts from East Hampton, NY.
Or grow your own with this kit on Amazon!
Among the more notable probiotic-rich foods, however buyers beware: many go-to grocery store brands load their products with added sugar, artificial sweeteners, and artificial flavors. Read your labels! If you have to Google an ingredient, then it’s likely not good for you.
Pasteurization kills bacteria, so most dairy add the bacteria strains after. Pickles and other fermented foods can be pasteurized, too. Look for labels that read “raw”. Brands aren’t required to tell you the specific bacteria strains or amounts in their products.
Chicory root contains a prebiotic that is high in inulin. Inulin is a soluble plant fiber that is great for the gut. You can use chicory root fiber in place of sugar and flour in recipes. It can also serve as a caffeine-free replacement for coffee.
Sunchokes may as well be renamed as the superstars of intestinal health. They boast some of the highest amounts of inulin, which is shown to increase the friendly bacteria in the gut, maybe even more than chicory root. Unlike regular artichokes, you can eat them raw or cooked.
Add these to your salad or fresh juice. They serve as another great source of inulin, a prebiotic fiber, and are a great liver detoxifier too.
Including kimchi and sauerkraut, which are fermented and made from types of cabbage. And the American staple: the pickle, and other pickled vegetables.
If vinegar is involved – in the case with sauerkraut, it likely doesn’t include live bacteria as vinegar can prohibit bacteria growth.
Heating Probiotic-rich foods can easily destroy the live beneficial bacteria in a product. So don’t toast that sourdough bread!
Garlic is nature’s antibiotic. This tasty antimicrobial herb is linked to various health benefits. Garlic can act as a prebiotic, or a food source for our healthy gut bacteria. However, those with IBS might want to avoid too much garlic, as it is also high in fructans, a type of carbohydrate that some have difficulty digesting.
Onions are a versatile vegetable and also a great prebiotic, with antioxidant and anticancer properties.
Natto (fermented soybeans, popular in Japan), kvass (opt for the beet), soft aged raw cheese including cheddar, gouda, parmesan, and swiss and cottage cheese, tempeh, salt water brine-cured green olives, miso, dark chocolate (has both probiotic and prebiotics), green peas, beer and wine, and sourdough bread.
And thanks to modern science, many food manufacturers add probiotics to foods. Look out for those in honey, dark chocolate, almonds and whey protein.
Acacia gum, leeks, asparagus, barley, konjac root (elephant root), cocoa, burdock root (popular in Japan), flaxseeds, yacon root, jicama root, wheat bran, seaweed. Apples are shown to decrease the bad bacteria in the gut. Whole oats increase healthy bacteria while improving blood sugar.
Resistant starch functions like soluble, fermentable fiber and helps nourish the friendly bacteria in your gut. Some foods that are high in resistant starch are: steel-cut oats (which are also high in protein and fiber), wild rice (which is more nutrient-dense than white rice), navy beans, potatoes and unripe, green bananas. FUN FACT: Cooling oats or potatoes before you consume them significantly increases their resistant starch content.
OPT FOR ORGANIC: In Canada and the U.S., food labeled organic means the animals were given organic feed and didn’t receive any type of antibiotic, vaccine, or GMOs.
WILD-CAUGHT FATTY FISH: Fatty fishes are super nutritious, containing a lot of beneficial omega-3s that are key to maintaining optimal health, supporting brain and neural development. Some fish to put on your shopping list: wild caught Alaskan salmon, Atlantic or Pacific Albacore tuna, and sardines.
Larger fish have tendency to have higher levels of mercury, since more time has allowed for the chemical to accumulate in their bodies. Be careful with grouper, chilean sea bass and swordfish.
GRASS-FED MEAT: is rich in anti-inflammatory omega-3 essential fatty acids and minerals, including iron. It is important that the meat is pasture-raised. Factory farmed animals are often fed corn and grains, which are high in pro-inflammatory omega-6s. Imbalance of the omega-3 and omega-6 ratios is a major contributor to system wide inflammation, which can damage the gut lining and lower immunity.
PASTURE-RAISED POULTRY: Has less iron than beef or pork, but is leaner and contains high amounts of protein: turkey is in the lead, followed by duck, and lastly, chicken. With conventional poultry, you run the risk of consuming hormones, antibiotics, ammonia and bad bacteria. Opt for pasture-raised organic poultry and eggs and be aware that the term “free-range” simply means the animals have access to outdoors, but weren’t raised there (its anyones guess how often they are let out).
GLUTEN & GRAINS
Gluten intolerance has risen over the years, but why? The protein gluten has been a part of our diets ever since we first started cultivating grains, starting as early as 8800 BCE. The truth lies in the fact that modern wheat is very different than what we consumed thousands of years ago. It is different in many ways – the way we grow it, the way we process it and the way we eat it. And gluten could be only a portion of the issue.
White flour was one of the first ever processed foods, paving a way to tons of other shelf-stable, affordable, grocery store packaged goods that are produced far away from where they are consumed. It is the base of the American diet and in many of staple foods we consume today. Industrial milling strips the grains of its vital nutrients, removing parts of the wheat kernel (bran, germ, shorts, and red dog mill streams) that are most nutrient-dense in proteins, vitamins, lipids and minerals. Aside from not being as nutritious as it once was, the structure of the gluten protein in wheat has changed in modern times due to cross-breeding grains.
Researchers have found that eating gluten is directly related to diseases of the gut like leaky gut, which can cause inflammation and intestinal permeability. Other grains, even gluten-free ones, contain phytic acid, which can also cause inflammation as it is difficult for the gut to breakdown and digest. If you want to clean out your gut – give it a break by avoiding gluten, and only eat other gluten-free grains in moderation.
REFINED SUGARS/ARTIFICIAL SWEETNERS
Sugar feeds yeast, and yeast can overpower the bad bacteria in the gut. Just as the good bacteria prefer prebiotics as their food, the bad bacteria prefer sugar. If you have a sweet tooth and have trouble avoiding sugar completely opt for natural sweeteners like honey, dates, coconut sugar, or stevia.
REFINED VEGETABLE OILS
(Sunflower, Safflower, Canola, Soybean)
Fairly new to the food world, these highly processed oils were introduced in the early 1900s. Vegetable oils such as sunflower, safflower, canola (rapeseed), corn oil and soybean oils are high sources of pro-inflammatory omega-6 fatty acids, which are harmful in excess. As mentioned earlier in this newsletter, it is very important to keep a higher ratio of omega-3s to omega-6s in your diet. In addition to causing inflammation, many industrial chemicals and highly toxic solvents are used in the production process. Trace levels of trans fats have been found in processed oils too.
In short, vegetable oils should be avoided to reduce systemic inflammation and damage to the intestinal lining. Trade them in for coconut oil, grass-fed butter, ghee, extra virgin olive oil or avocado oil.
Quality of food matters: when possible, buy organic, local, pasture-raised, grass-fed, non-gmo whole foods.
You are what you eat. Avoid processed foods and refined sugars and oils. Check food labels for hidden harmful ingredients and added sugars.
Variety is key – eat a well-balanced diet from each food group daily. By eating a variety you are getting a range of different types of key nutrients from different foods in each group.
Control what is on your plate by cooking it yourself (versus eating out).
Join Tracy Anderson’s Online Studio Premium membership and gain access to new workouts, recipes and tips. Here’s one of our favorite recipes this month from Chef Elaina Love. Looking for more? Sign up!
ABOUT CHEF ELAINA LOVE
Elaina Love is a leading nutritionist and author of 3 raw vegan recipe books, speaker, and internationally renowned chef with over 20 years of experience. Elaina is the founder and director of Pure Joy Culinary Academy, a cut- ting-edge plant-based culinary arts, and nutrition school.
Elaina’s low glycemic, grain-free, full-flavored holistic recipes, and gourmet dishes have shaped the vegan food industry. She has coached and inspired hundreds of aspiring chefs and individuals who want to change their life, both in person and through her online programs.