SalmonBerry

Happy Gut, Happy You

In Mindfulness, Nutrition on July 11, 2013 at 12:27 am
gooey chocolate cookie

Gooey, chocolatey, sugar bomb.

Gloomy weather, stressful relationships, lack of sleep, can all affect our sense of well-being and kick sugar cravings into high gear. Mindlessly giving in on just a few occasions only intensifies our cravings and the vicious cycle begins. Why do we turn to sugar when we are feeling anxious and stressed? Perhaps conditioning – for some, sweets are associated with reward or comfort. Or perhaps it’s physiology – adequate amounts of carbohydrates allow for increased seratonin production, aka the “feel-good hormone”.

What does this have to do with your gut? Well, it turns out the GI tract produces 95% of our body’s seratonin! Taking care of our gut allows GI cells to produce all the seratonin we need. In turn, we will be less likely to turn to sugar when we’re sad, lonely, anxious, and stressed.chocolate bars

In a another post, I discussed beneficial foods for our gut – fiber and fermented foods. The question begs: “Are there foods that are harmful to gut health?” Yup, and I’m sure you’ve guessed it…Sugar! Sugar provides fuel for certain gut bacteria to proliferate far beyond what is healthy leading to a bacterial imbalance. So, even if we consume adequate fiber, we won’t have enough beneficial bacteria to fuel our GI cells. They’ve been outcompeted by other, less-helpful bacteria due to sugar-induced overgrowth.

What are the consequences of GI cells not getting the fuel they need? At the very least, you will have gas and bloating or, worse, suffer from anxiety and depression.

packaged veggies

Pre-washed and chopped veggies. High in fiber. The fuel our GI cells need.

Our gut is often referred to as the “second brain” because it has its own complex nervous system and is highly influenced by our thoughts and psychological stress. Most of us know this on an intuitive (and experiential) level and certainly Traditional Chinese Medicine and other healing traditions have recognized this for generations. Finally, western medicine has acknowledged the huge role our gut plays in our immune, endocrine, and nervous systems. Recent research has shown that tweaking the balance between beneficial and disease-causing bacteria in an animal’s gut alters brain chemistry leading it to become more bold or more anxious. Alternately, even mild stress can tip the microbial balance in the gut, making us more vulnerable to infectious disease.

What is sugar? It is a carbohydrate of which there are 2 general categories: indigestible (fiber) and digestible (everything else). Your body does not absorb fiber but your colon uses it for many healthy functions (as discussed here). Digestible carbs are those used by your body for energy – or, if you are taking in more energy than you are expending, they are stored (in your fat cells).

To balance your mood, regulate your blood sugar, and keep your gut bacteria in balance, remember these 3 things when consuming carbs/sugars:

dates

Deglet dates. Often used to sweeten desserts but loaded with vitamins, minerals, and fiber.

Limit added sugars. Most added sugars are refined carbohydrates meaning it has been stripped of other nutrients and comes in a potent package that is a shock to our bodies. Added sugars include the “natural” sugars, too. Remember, “its not the vehicle, its the payload.” Use sweeteners sparingly – even honey and dates.

Eat carbohydrates higher up on the “whole foods” chain.

What does this look like?

Brown rice -> brown rice pasta/bread -> energy bar w/ brown rice syrup

Apples -> applesauce  -> apple juice

Steel cut oats -> rolled oats -> quick oats -> instant oatmeal packet

peppers, goat cheese, bread

Red peppers with goat cheese and honey on toast. Balanced protein, fat, and carbs.

Combine carbs with fat and protein at each meal. Toss sunflower seeds and unsweetened coconut on that fruit salad. Mash avocado on whole-grain toast. Add flax oil and walnuts to your banana-berry oatmeal.

Curb your sugar cravings: easy on the salt and animal products, eat sweet vegetables (tubers and roots), choose sprouted products, eat more sour or spicy flavors, and, finally, fully chew all carbs b/c those grains, legumes, and veggies will become sweeter the longer you chew.

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  1. […] Eat plenty of fiber and fermented foods (also, avoid sugar but that’s another discussion). […]

  2. Great article. Love the photos. At first I thought the one of packaged vegetables all in a row was a picture of candy! It’s a great reminder that nature’s bounty is sweet, nourishing beauty. Thanks!

  3. […] weight issues, or other health concerns such as an imbalance in the gut microbiome affecting mood, hormones, and nutrient […]

  4. […] effort. If you are one of the few who still aren’t convinced that sugar is harmful, check out this and this and then get back to me when you’ve left the land of […]

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