In 2022, I want to focus on nourishing foods and healthy habits that we can ADD to our day vs. foods and habits we have to remove, which can lead to a very negative and restrictive mindset.
Over the month, I’ve challenged you to:
add the “Forks Down” mindful eating habit and
Continuing on the theme of adding nourishing foods and healthy habits, your challenge for the next 2 weeks is to ADD fermented foods into your diet.
Fermented foods contain beneficial bacteria or probiotics that are important for supporting a healthy gut or microbiome. Your microbiome, which is now considered the body’s largest sensory organ, is your unique collection of bacteria that you’ve acquired since birth.
A healthy gut contributes to a strong immune system, digestive health, heart health, hormone health, weight loss, but can also contribute to our mental health. Studies are showing that the gut and brain are closely connected: "often dubbed the "second brain," the enteric nervous system (ENS) found within the digestive system has been shown to have effects on our moods and brain health." (1)
The gut sends unfiltered information (molecules from our food, hormones in the blood, immune system cells etc.) directly to certain areas of the brain that control self-awareness, emotion, morality, fear, memory and motivation.
We can see examples of this connection in people with digestive issues like IBS, Crohn’s and colitis have higher incidences of anxiety and depression. Also, people with symptoms of gluten sensitivity (undigested gluten makes its way into the cells of the gut) not only show physical symptoms of bloating, gas, joint pain, and headaches, but also brain fog, poor concentration, and fatigue.
So what can we do to maintain a healthy gut?
When it comes to nutrition to support a healthy gut, it’s important to get probiotics from a variety of sources, such as fermented foods as they all contain different types of beneficial bacteria.
Fermented foods like:
Apple cider vinegar (see my recipe for Apple Cider Vinaigrette below!)
Kombucha (cold fermented drink - watch for brands with added sugar!)
Tempeh (fermented soybean cake),
Miso (fermented soy paste used in soups and dressings),
Sauerkraut (fermented cabbage),
Kimchi (spicy fermented cabbage or beets),
Plain yogurt, and
Kefir are all sources of probiotics
Prebiotic foods are important to include as they feed the good bacteria in your gut. Foods like oats, berries, apples, asparagus, garlic and legumes contain beneficial prebiotics for your gut health.
High fiber foods and resistant starches are non-digestible or resistant to digestion, which means they linger in the intestines, ferment and create more good bacteria. Examples of resistant starch are green(ish) bananas and potato starch (I like to add a tsp. of potato starch into my smoothie). High fiber foods like raw fruits and vegetables with the skin on are great for gut health and can keep you regular - win-win!
New research is emerging about postbiotics as well. "Postbiotics are the waste left behind after your body digests probiotics and prebiotics," and can reduce inflammation in the body, increase muscle endurance and could also prevent common infectious diseases like upper respiratory tract infections and acute gastroenteritis, but more clinical trials are still needed. What scientists do know: "When you eat fermented foods, then you're getting all of it. You're getting the prebiotic, the probiotic and the postbiotic. It's the super mix," Stearns added (1).
Aside from nutrition, managing stress plays an important role in gut health. Because of the gut-brain connection, how we respond to stress can affect the health of our gut. All of us are under stress, especially during the last 2 years during the pandemic. A few ways I recommend coping during stressful times:
Movement is medicine - exercise is a great way to manage stress as it releases feel-good hormones like serotonin and dopamine
As a yoga instructor, there are a few yoga poses in particular that are good for digestion:
Wind release pose - knees into chest - extend one leg out straight, pulse the other knee in towards your chest, and alternate
Seated twist - extend one leg out straight - bend and cross your other leg over, inhale to lengthen, exhale twist away from the straight leg - Repeat on the other side
Supine or lying twist - lay on your back, bend both legs, drop your legs to the right, shift your hips left, breathe into the twist - Repeat on the other side
Breathing exercises can stimulate the vagus nerve (a nerve running from the gut up to the brain), and physically calm our bodies when we’re in a state of stress.
My favourite breathing exercise is box breathing: inhale through the nose for 4 seconds, hold your breath at the top for 4 seconds, exhale for 4 seconds - repeat 4 times. It physically calms you down, but it’s also an easy way to recenter yourself by just focusing on your breathing, and pushing everything else aside for a few minutes. Taking a deep breath can bring you back to yourself.
Honey Dijon Apple Cider Vinaigrette
Health Benefits Apple Cider Vinegar: can stabilize blood sugar, lower cholesterol and high blood pressure, improve the health of the microbiome, help with weight loss, and disease prevention.
3 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
3 tbsp. organic, unpasteurized apple cider vinegar
2 tsp. honey
2 tsp. Dijon mustard
Whisk all ingredients together and serve over salad or coleslaw.
Store in the fridge.