7 SIMPLE STEPS FOR MAINTAINING HEALTHY GUT BALANCE
It seems like nowadays information about the mind-gut connection is everywhere. You've probably heard a lot of buzzwords around this such as "microbiome", "gut health" and "healthy gut bacteria", and we covered this area of study almost every week during our 1-year curriculum at IIN.
We are fortunate to live in a time when there is a proliferation of science and research around the mind-gut connection. An unhealthy balance of gut bacteria can lend itself to a host of physiological symptoms such as gas, bloating, constipation and other digestive issues. But modern medicine has discovered an inextricable link between imbalance in the human microbiome and mood imbalances, hormonal imbalances, sleep disorders, fatigue, joint pain, and many other chronic conditions.
Maintaining a healthy population of good gut bacteria can actually eliminate the symptoms for many of the chronic conditions listed above. Conversely, it's important not to foster the bad gut bacteria that lead to so many modern mind-body complications. In addition to keeping gut flora happy, it's also extremely important to eat a diet that keeps the gut LINING in good shape.
When eating a diet of the wrong foods - mostly processed foods in this category - the body doesn't recognize those food particles as actual good, but as an invading foreign body. And as with any foreign body in the human body, white blood cells are dispersed to the area to fight off these invaders (in this case chemicals and processed food particles), and the resulting carnage in the white blood vessels' fight is small tears in the intestine which leads to a condition known as "leaky gut syndrome" because then toxins which are usually cleared during the digestive process are LEAKED into the body, and released into skin and joint tissues. This ultimately results in inflammation throughout the body which manifests as joint pain, eczema, acne, and even Alzheimer's - which science is now linking to chronic inflammation of cells and vessels in the brain.
OK, this was probably a LOT of information and you're like, get to the point PLEASE! Just tell me what to do here, what to eat and what not to eat. Fortunately, it's relatively simple and you can easily maintain a healthy colony of gut bacteria and a healthy gut lining by following the steps below. I recommend that you incorporate these steps 1 week at a time. Within 2 months you'll have 7 new healthy habits and a colony of happy thriving good gut bacteria!
#1 - Take a high-quality probiotic DAILY. Do your homework and make sure you're not taking just any drugstore probiotic. Trust me when I say it's worth the spend to purchase a probiotic that will survive the trip all of the way through the intestinal tract, so that you're actually reaping the benefits. I recommend a trip to Whole Foods where they have specialized employees in the supplements section who can point you in the direction of a probiotic that's best suited for your needs. I personally recommend Love Bug Probiotics. I take Here's the Skinny, Yeast is a Beast, and Colds Suck every morning on an empty stomach with room-temperature water as soon as I wake up. You can use my code 'REFORMATION10' for 10% off your first order!
#2 - Eliminate processed foods from the diet. Now, technically even bagged spinach is processed, but I mean anything with a list of ingredients that you can't pronounce. Processed snack foods are easy-to-identify culprits, but even some so-called healthy foods like breads, cereals, granola bars, and salad dressings are full of sugars and chemicals that bad gut bacteria thrive on. And because these bad bugs send signals to your brain, the more you eat processed foods, the more these bugs dominate, and they send signals to your brain to eat more! It is NOT your fault that you crave salty cheese chips and M&Ms. Big food corporations take advantage of this science and develop these foods with the intention of getting you addicted to them! Learn to read labels. If you are purchasing something not grown in nature, make sure the list of ingredients is about 5, a maximum of 10, and make sure they are all recognizable to you.
#3 - Watch your sugar intake. You know what gut bacteria love more than sugar? MORE sugar. And like the chemicals found in processed food, if you eat a diet high in refined carbohydrates (like white flour) and sugar, the bad gut bacteria basically throw a rage in your gut and invite your brain and they start partying together and they don't want that party to stop. Sugar is so addictive and - again - if you are addicted to sugar and can't stop eating it it's not your fault! The science behind sugar addiction isn't new, but until recently it was considered fringe science. And processed food manufacturers have perfected the art of sneaking sugar into foods where you least suspect it so that you become addicted to their products. Sodas are making us fat, but so are allegedly healthy foods like pasta sauces, salad dressings, breakfast cereals, and even juice cleanses. This again is where putting the practice of label reading in place is a mandatory. The best thing to do is to make everything at home, even sauces. But you would have to put your career, family and social life on hold to make everything at home. Instead, carve out your grocery shopping when you have time to compare labels, and buy the option that has the least amount of sugar. Ideally NO sugar. It may take a while for your palette to adjust, but once you eliminate sugar from the foods that you eat, when you do eat it, food will taste TOO sweet! I swear by this! And don't be fooled by products that contain honey, maple syrup or other "natural" sweeteners.There are many products in the market like Rebel, Perfect Bar, and Pop & Bottle that market themselves as health foods and that are actually exploding with sugars! As far as your body and brain are concerned even natural sweeteners SUGAR and it doesn't matter if it's organic, gluten-free, non-GMO, or all of the above. Limit alcohol consumption also which breaks down in the body as - you guessed it - sugar! If you're looking for a sugar alternative, my favorite is Lakanto which comes in granulated, brown and syrup form.
#4 - Eat sweet root vegetables and 70%-90% dark chocolate. I'm not going to lie, giving up sugar is not easy because it's as addictive ad nicotine and other drugs. When a sugar craving strikes, reach for some roasted sweet potatoes, or carrots, or both! During the process of adjusting your palette, roast up these two sweet root vegetables on Sundays, and keep them on hand at home and at work to eat when cravings strike. They are just slightly sweet enough that the brain gets its fix, but molecularly don't contain sugar, so you're not going to be feeding the bad gut bacteria. And because - let's be real - no one is giving up dessert entirely here, low-sugar dark chocolate is also just enough sweet to kill cravings, and tastes super indulgent. You're also getting antioxidants when consuming a high-quality non-GMO dark chocolate, so it's a double win! My personal favorites are Lindt 90% and Eating Evolved. Don't you love that I'm actually mandating that you eat chocolate! EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. Just eat it in moderation. When I was in Peru, I bought several bars of this ChocoMuseo chocolate and their cacao nibs.
#5 - Eat probiotic fermented foods. Does that sound gross? I hope not because fermented foods are DELICIOUS and good gut bacteria thrive on them! Gone are the days when you were limited to kimchi and cabbage kraut although both of those taste amazing IMHO. But food brands have caught on to consumer demand for fermented vegetables as part of their wellness plans and now there are a wealth of options in the market. It's very easy to incorporate fermented vegetables into your diet, just add a big scoop on top of or next to whatever else you're eating for lunch and dinner! My favorite brands are Wildbrine and Farmhouse Culture (their kraut krisp snacks are TDF!) and both of them offer several different options, all of which are delicious. Kombucha is also a refreshing, delicious, and more portable than kimchi, and good gut bacteria love it. Just make sure to read labels, buy as low-sugar as possible, and only drink 1/2 a bottle per day (most bottles are 2 servings). My two personal favorite brands are Health-Aid and GTS due to their quality and low sugar content.
#6 - Eat PRE-biotics. What's that you say? Yes, you need a probiotic daily, but you also need pre-biotics. Probiotics are for existing good gut bacteria, but you also need to build your colony of good gut bacteria so that you have a thriving community of microscopic health helpers. Prebiotic foods include oats (make sure they are gluten-free like Bob's Red Mill), green bananas, low-sugar fruits (like strawberries and citrus), non-starchy vegetables, and aromatics (leeks, garlic, onions). Incorporate these foods into every meal to make sure you're crowding out junk food and also building up a strong army of good gut bacteria!
#7 - Add collagen peptides into your diet. Peptides are short chain amino acids naturally derived from collagen protein. These natural peptides are highly bio-available, digestible and soluble in cold water. The intake of collagen ensures the cohesion, elasticity and regeneration of skin, hair, tendon, cartilage, bones, and joints, AND builds a strong gut lining in the intestines. I've been taking Vital Proteins Collagen Peptides daily now for about 3 months and have found a noticeable difference in hair thickness, nail strength, a reduction in joint pain, and I don't crave sugar in the afternoon! I use the standard peptides (like in this blue tub), and they also have these packs which I never travel without, and which I also keep at my office. Collagen peptides are tasteless and odorless, so you can easily incorporate them into coffee, tea, smoothies, soups, yogurt, really anything! This is a photo of a smoothie bowl I made today that incorporates collagen peptides. The Vital Proteins Collagen Beauty Greens are also transformative, both for gut health and beautiful skin!