We partnered with Maria Zamarripa, MS, RD, who specializes in functional nutrition at FoodFarmacistRD.com, to guide us through the importance of gut health.
In this three-part series, Maria will be providing an in-depth review of all things gut health. In this first installment, Maria will provide step-by-step information and actionable tips to help you support your gut, making whole-body health and wellness actually achievable.
Why is Gut Health Important?
We have trillions of bacteria living in our gut. Most of these bacteria are beneficial, some are neutral and a few of them are harmful. The bacteria in our gut are collectively known as the gut microbiome, which affects everything from our brain health to food cravings to metabolism. Gut health impacts the functioning of your main organs too.
Gut Health and Brain Health.
Your gut can affect your brain (and vice versa) thanks to the gut-brain connection. In fact, the gut is often referred to as your “second brain.” Some new studies have found that improving gut health may even improve symptoms of anxiety and depression (1, 2).
Gut Health and the Immune System.
Over 70 percent of the cells in your immune system is located in the gut (3) and an imbalance of bacteria, or inflammation in the digestive tract, may cause even small imbalances in your immune health, like a cold. Improving your gut health can ultimately strengthen your immune system.
Gut Health and Skin Health.
If you are unable to properly digest or absorb nutrients in your food (for various reasons), you may be lacking in important skin nutrients such as Vitamins A, C, and zinc. Additionally, modifying your gut bacteria may improve symptoms of pesky skin conditions, like acne, dermatitis or psoriasis (4).
Using the 3-R Process to Support Gut Health
When explaining gut health, I use a simplified method called the “3-R process.” This process involves:
Removing stressors from the gut
Replacing these stressors with wholesome foods and nutrients and
Rebalancing your gut bacteria and overall lifestyle to maintain optimal health.
In the first part of this three-part series, we will be discussing the first step in the 3-R process: Remove.
Step 1 of 3: Remove Stressors to the Gut
Imagine that you stepped on a piece of glass. Ouch! You will most likely experience bleeding, pain and some swelling. In a general sense, which option makes more sense to fix the pain and swelling in your foot? Wrapping your foot with the glass shard in a bandage OR removing the piece of glass? Removing the piece of glass will likely be much more beneficial in the long term! The same concept can be applied to optimizing gut health. The first step in building a healthy gut is removing food and lifestyle habits that may be stressing it out in the first place. Let’s review five of the most common stressors to the gut.
Gut Stressor #1: Refined Grains
Refined grains lack fiber and many other important nutrients needed for optimal gut health, but by removing or reducing sources of refined grains from your daily diet, some people may find that they feel better overall in their health.
Gut Stressor #2: Artificial Sweeteners
Artificial sweeteners are calorie-free chemicals that provide intense sweetness. Artificial sweeteners may decrease beneficial bacteria and/or increase the number of harmful bacteria in the gut (5). These sweeteners may also overstimulate your sugar taste receptors and actually reduce your taste preferences for less sweet, real food flavors like fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds. Some common artificial sweeteners may show up as things like aspartame, neotame, saccharin, sucralose, xylitol, and mannitol.
Tip: Swap out artificial sweeteners for these smart sweeteners instead - in moderation, of course!.
Gut Stressor #3: Excessive Alcohol
Keep alcohol intake to a minimum and enjoy in moderation—which is one drink for women and two drinks for men. You’ll thank me in the morning!
Gut Stressor #4: Food Sensitivities
Some common food sensitivities include corn, dairy, gluten, and soy. Fortunately, food sensitivities are usually not permanent, and some people find they may tolerate small amounts of these foods after repairing the gut.
Gut Stressor #5: Stress
Engage in stress-lowering activities often. These can include:Deep breathing, journaling, light stretching, meditating, reading, taking an Epsom salt bath,walking, and yoga. Sometimes reducing stress also includes delegating tasks and asking for help with work projects, disconnecting from social media for a while and taking a vacation.
Start With Small, Simple Habits
In functional medicine, we now understand the gut has an enormous impact on our overall health and we have begun to treat the root cause of illness and heal the body from the inside out. With that being said, it can be challenging to achieve true healing unless you optimize your gut health with both food and lifestyle changes, but all you need to do is start small. Instead of choosing your daily diet soda, substitute it with a glass of water with lemon. Instead of choosing a dessert with refined grains and potential food sensitivities, enjoy one with whole-food ingredients like our Brownie Mix.
Small changes make a big impact over time and it’s important to remember that change won’t happen overnight. Stay tuned for part two of the gut health series, where I will explain the second step of the 3-R process in healing your gut: Replace!