We have all heard the saying, “You are what you eat.” With all the processed foods and additives in today’s diet, it’s not hard to see that whatever you put in your body is exactly what you will get out of it. There is a direct correlation between our overall health and the food we eat, but let’s take an even deeper look into this and view it from within the body. Not only are we what we eat, but also what we absorb and digest. This is due to the fact that nearly 80 percent of our immune system lies within our gastrointestinal (G.I.) tract. Thus, in other words, disease and illness and even death begin here. Yikes! Sounds a little morbid, I know. The truth of the matter is even with a healthy diet you can still be on the fast track for disease if your G.I. tract has been compromised by toxins.
Research in the field of naturopathic medicine has long recognized that the health of our G.I. tract starts at infancy, and it is then that we lay the foundation for our health as an adult. Unfortunately, most of us weren’t given a proper diet since birth; therefore, we are constitutionally lacking in this area from the start. To add insult to injury, the harsh effects from environmental toxins, processed and pasteurized foods, and even the over-use of antibiotics and medications all play a major role in the health of our G.I. tract. Luckily, there are many progressive steps we can take to increase the overall well-being of our health and decrease the harmful effects of the world we live in, simultaneously.
Eat natural foods that are rich in fiber. There are two types of fiber: soluble and insoluble.
Soluble fibers attract water and form a gel-like substance, which slows down digestion. Soluble fiber delays the emptying of the stomach and makes you feel full, which helps control weight. Slower stomach emptying may also affect blood sugar levels and have a beneficial effect on insulin sensitivity, which may help control diabetes. Soluble fibers can also help lower LDL (“bad”) blood cholesterol by interfering with the absorption of dietary cholesterol.
- Sources of soluble fiber: oatmeal, oat cereal, lentils, apples, oranges, pears, oat bran, strawberries, nuts, flaxseeds, chia seeds, beans, dried peas, blueberries, psyllium, cucumbers, celery, and carrots.
Insoluble fibers are considered gut-healthy fiber because they have a laxative effect and add bulk to the stool, helping prevent constipation. These fibers do not dissolve in water, so they pass through the gastrointestinal tract relatively intact, and speed up the passage of food and waste through your digestive system. Research has shown diets that are high in fiber and low in fat may avoid various gastrointestinal difficulties and could reduce the risk of certain cancers. Insoluble fibers are mainly found in whole grains and vegetables.
- Sources of insoluble fiber: whole wheat, whole grains, wheat bran, corn bran, seeds, nuts, barley, couscous, brown rice, bulgur, zucchini, celery, broccoli, cabbage, onions, tomatoes, carrots, cucumbers, green beans, dark leafy vegetables, raisins, grapes, fruit, and root vegetable skins.
The recommended daily serving of fiber as suggested by the Institute of Medicine identifies daily fiber intake ranges for men and women by age group. Women should consume at least 30g of fiber each day through age 50, when the daily recommendation decreases to 21g. Men should take in at least 38g of fiber from their meals and snacks daily through age 50, and then 30g a day from that point forward.
Adding Probiotics to your diet is yet another way to increase the health of your G.I. tract. Probiotics come from the Greek word pro, meaning “promoting” and biotic, meaning “life” and is defined as a substance containing live microorganisms [or bacteria] that are beneficial to a person's health. It is said that we have over 500 different kinds of bacteria living in our G.I. tract. Our digestive system is normally made up of what we would call "good" bacteria and "bad" bacteria. Maintaining the correct balance between the "good" and the "bad" bacteria is necessary for optimal health. As mentioned before, things like medications, diet, and environmental factors can upset this balance.
Most food products with natural probiotics have to be fermented, at least partially. Some of these sources include: tempeh, pickles, kimchi, kombucha tea, miso soup, sauerkraut, kefir, yogurt, and microalgae—ocean based plants such as spirulina, chorella, and blue-green algae. If you have trouble getting enough natural probiotics in your diet, try a supplement. The most common probiotic bacteria come from two groups, Lactobacillus or Bifidobacterium, so look for one that has these two as the main source. There are many products on the market; therefore, do some research to find the best quality.
Doing a cleanse or detox can also increase the health of the G.I. tract by removing excess waste and harmful toxins that have accumulated in the intestines and colon. There are many benefits that come along with cleansing: increased immunity and energy, improved skin and vision, and even weight loss. In this case, the improvement in immune function will help the body ward off diseases and illness to keep you on the right track to living a long, healthy, and vibrant life.
Angela Nunez is currently an Integrative Eastern/Western medical student at South Baylo University, studying Traditional Chinese Medicine, Medical Acupuncture, Herbology, and Natural Nutrition. She developed her interests in a natural approach to medicine while experiencing the benefits of natural therapies first hand. Angela began competing as a fitness competitor in the Bikini Division of the National Physique Committee (NPC) this last year and has placed each of her showings. She has been an advocate to healthy living as a both a Personal Trainer and Yoga instructor.
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