The Pros and “Pre”s of Gut Health

We all know by now that we should be eating probiotics to improve our digestion and overall gut health.  Many of us are eating yogurt, sauerkraut and kefir, and drinking Kombucha at times.  We may even be taking probiotics as a supplement on a daily basis.

Consuming probiotics is a good health habit to have, but there is also a lesser-known habit that benefits the probiotic activity we are trying to encourage in our gut: eating PREBIOTICS.  Prebiotics are a category of dietary fiber that we eat that mainly passes through the small intestine and is then utilized in the large intestine to improve our gut health and feed the probiotic “good” bacteria.  

It is important to note, that while there are many supplement options out there for pre- and probiotics, our body best utilizes these compounds from the foods that we eat.  This makes it essential to make some menu changes to our daily routine and include these foods.  Belly up to these foods!

The best and most practical prebiotic foods are:

  • Onions – raw or cooked, these are a great and tasty addition to everything we eat
  • Garlic – while raw is best and can be used in hummus or veggie salads, lightly cooking it in our recipes will also give benefits: add it at the end  of a recipe instead of sautéing first, as this will keep it more raw. 
  • Asparagus – we don’t often think of eating this raw, but it is a great addition to the veggie tray, and packs the best prebiotic punch, but lightly sautéed works, too
  • Jicama – best eaten raw, jicama sticks are readily available in the grocery store
  • Leeks – in the onion family, but with a milder, sweeter flavor, great on salads
  • Dandelion greens – chop some up in your next salad
  • Under-ripe bananas – the greener the better for prebiotic properties and more resistant starch

The best and most practical Probiotic foods are:

  • Yogurt – watch the sugar, try to eat the plain variety
  • Kefir – also watch the sugar, plain is better
  • Sauerkraut – the fermentation creates all that good probiotic bacteria we need
  • Kombucha – ditto on the fermentation benefits, and readily available bottled in several flavors
  • Apple cider vinegar – before you make a sour face, how about using it in a delicious salad dressing with healthy olive oil.

Planning to add these foods into our meals and snacks provides the factors that keep our digestion working at it’s best.

Honey Dijon dressing

1 clove garlic, minced
1 T Dijon mustard
¼ cup raw apple cider vinegar
2 T fresh lemon juice
1-2 T raw honey
½ cup extra virgin olive
Sea salt and pepper to taste

Herb Vinaigrette dressing

1 clove garlic, minced
¼ cup raw apple cider vinegar
2 T fresh lemon juice
½ cup extra virgin olive
½ tsp basil, parsley and/or oregano
Sea salt and pepper to taste

For either recipe: Place everything in a Mason jar and shake
Let stand for several hours before serving for flavors to blend

 



Go With Your Gut

Seventy percent of our immune system originates in our gut…

The New Year is always a time when we evaluate, assess and determine if there are any changes we should make.  We often vow to be healthier, but we may be overlooking the biggest factor in our immune system, our gut. Over 70% of our immune system originates in our gut and therefore, if our gut is not healthy, we won’t be healthy.  We often overlook digestive issues year after year because we think there is no easy fix.  Do we consider heart burn, reflux, or intestinal distress problems as just a part of life?  That is only true when it is occasional. When these issues recur over and over, or are even part of our daily life, this is not normal.  There are medications we can take, both over the counter and prescription, but these usually just treat symptoms, and often don’t address the underlying cause of the issue.

Food intolerances are the biggest cause of intestinal distress and we may not even realize it. Gluten and dairy are the most common offenders, but each of us is different and things such as sugar, other grains and soy can trigger discomfort or worse.  When we eat foods that we don’t tolerate, it causes inflammation in the lining of the gut.  This makes our immune system compromised and causes both our intestines and our body to react.  The inflammationcan then be carried over into other areas including illness, eczema and arthritis.

Perhaps the best way to begin to address this issue is by keeping a food log so that when we experience an issue we can determine if there is a pattern of offenders.  Simply write down everything eaten at each meal for a week or two, also making note of any incidents of indigestion, heartburn, reflux, or intestinal distress.  See if there is a pattern of foods or situations that seem to result in an issue. If we already know certain food offenders, make this the year to make a change and repair the damage in our intestines and immune system.

Try eliminating foods that may have shown up in a pattern in our log, or remove the most common offenders for 2 weeks and then try adding back only one at a time to test a food, eat a very small portion such as a couple bites 2-3 times during that day and allow 24-48 hours to see if there is any reaction. The symptoms can be bloating, indigestion, constipation, diarrhea, headache, rash, or even other things. Write down any reaction. Eliminate the food again for 3-5 days and then test it one more time. If a reaction occurs again, it is most likely that you are intolerant to that food.  This doesn’t always mean that we can never eat that food again.  After eliminating it for a longer period of time, and working to heal our gut, an occasional meal including the food(s) may be fine.

While food intolerances may not be causing digestive problems for some of us, there are other key elements that all of us can follow to keep our gut healthy.  These are explored further in other posts

  1. Drink plenty of water.
  2. Eat plenty of fruits and veggies.
  3. Avoid excessive alcohol or caffeine.
  4. Eat probiotics.
  5. Eat prebiotics.
  6. Exercise regularly.
  7. Eat the right types and amount of protein.
  8. Be creative and adventurous with meals and meal planning.

So go with your gut, listen to what it is telling you, and you will be healthier in 2018. Happy New Year!