In our first installment, we partnered with Maria Zamarripa, MS, RD, who specializes in functional nutrition at FoodFarmacistRD.com, to guide us through the importance of gut health. Maria provided step-by-step information and actionable tips to help us support our gut, making whole-body health and wellness actually achievable. Now, in part two, Maria explains the second step in her “3-R process” - replacing stressors with nutritious foods.
Elimination diets usually focus on certain foods we must remove from our diets. As we learned in part one, this often plays a role in healing the gut, but eliminating stressors isn’t the only step to consider when embarking on an elimination diet. In fact, I may argue that step two, replacement, is the most important part of the “3-R process.”
Step 2 of 3: Replace Stressors with Healing Foods and Positive Lifestyle Habits
After we remove gut stressors, we need to replace them with food and lifestyle habits that promote the growth of friendly gut bacteria in order to reach optimal gut health. Here are some of the top foods and lifestyle habits for healing and optimal gut health.
Add More Fiber
Fiber is a nondigestible carbohydrate that provides numerous benefits to the gut as it travels through your digestive tract. Fiber feeds your friendly gut bacteria and promotes regular bowel movements (a key component to gut health and toxin removal). In order to support the growth and diversity of our gut microbiome, it’s crucial to eat enough fiber every day.
Looking for a few high-fiber foods to enjoy during the day? Try some of these (2, 3):
½ cup chickpeas: 8 grams
½ cup artichoke: 8 grams
½ medium avocado: 7 grams
1 pear: 5.5 grams
1 cup broccoli: 5 grams
1-ounce pumpkin seeds: 5 grams
1 cup Brussels sprouts: 4 grams
1 tbsp. chia seeds: 4 grams
½ cup raspberries: 4 grams
1-ounce almonds: 3.5 grams
Did you know? Simple Mills Sprouted Seed Crackers offer 3 grams of fiber per serving. Pass us a box, please!
#2 Eat Prebiotics
You have likely heard of probiotics, which are live bacteria found in fermented foods like kefir, kombucha, and yogurt. Lesser known but arguably just as important are prebiotics. Prebiotics are not bacteria, but rather food for our good bacteria to eat. They are a specific type of fiber that feeds the good bacteria and allows them to thrive. We need sources of prebiotics in order to keep the gut environment full of beneficial bacteria and diverse strains of friendly bugs. For optimal gut health, aim to eat at least one prebiotic-containing food per day.
Examples of prebiotic foods include: Apples, Artichokes, Asparagus,Bananas,Cassava, Chicory,Garlic,Ground Flaxseeds,Leeks,Oats, and Onions. Looking for a delicious and simple way to enjoy some prebiotics? Stock up on Almond Flour Crackers and Pizza Dough Mix, which include cassava flour and ground flax. Talk about a two for one!
#3 Incorporate Polyphenols
Polyphenols are a group of compounds found in plants. In the body, polyphenols act as a type of antioxidant, which fights off chemicals in the body. Most polyphenols travel through the digestive tract unabsorbed until reaching the large intestine. Once there, the gut bacteria break them down for absorption. In a sense, gut bacteria and the polyphenols in food have a mutually-beneficial relationship as the gut bacteria help breakdown and absorb the polyphenols, while the polyphenols help the friendly gut bacteria thrive (4). In fact, polyphenols can actually slow or enhance the growth of specific bacteria in your gut. In this way, polyphenols almost act like a prebiotic. Some foods that deliver an abundance of polyphenols include (5): Almonds, Berries,Black Elderberry, Black Olives,Cloves, Coffee,Dark Chocolate,Flax Seed,Hazelnuts,Peppermint, and Sweet Cherries.
#4 Practice Mindful Eating
Many of us are guilty of eating too quickly. Whether we are working at our desks, in the car driving or running out the door, life gets busy. n order for our gut to properly digest, transport and absorb nutrients, we must do our part to set our gut up for success. Mindful eating is eating with intention (when you’re hungry) as well as eating with attention (noticing all five senses with minimal distractions). Mindful eating may promote a healthy weight, limit cravings and reduce binge-eating behaviors (6, 7).
Here are a few tips to eat more mindfully:
1.Properly chew your food. It sounds silly, but most of us don’t chew our food enough before swallowing.
2. Take at least 20 minutes to eat your meal. When chewing carefully and slowly, you enjoy your food more and help your digestive tract absorb vital nutrients, so slow down.
3. Eliminate distractions. Try to step away from cell phones, computers and televisions for dedicated meal time with family and friends.
The second step of the “3-R process”, replace, is the fun step because it’s all about what we can add to our diet and lifestyle. Foods rich in fiber, prebiotics, and polyphenols all play a role in healing the gut, feeding our friendly bacteria and achieving true health from within. Have fun trying new foods and try to make your diet as colorful and fresh as possible and don’t forget to slow down and enjoy it. Mindful eating not only fosters optimal digestion but also encourages social connection and a healthier relationship with food.
Stay tuned for the last article of our gut health series, where I will explain the third step of the 3-R process in healing your gut - rebalancing.