On last week’s “Wellness Wednesday,” we laid the groundwork for a deeper discussion about your gut.
I’m not talking about that “spare tire” millions of American’s carry around their waist; I’m talking about the health of your intestinal track. You probably don’t even think about your gut unless you overdo it at the dinner table, but it is the centerpiece of your health, for more reasons than you might think.
If your body is like a ship, then your gut is like the boiler room where all the hard work of the engines is done. Most people know that digestion in the gut is the process of turning food into fuel and eliminating waste. Some may know that your liver breaks down your food and stores nutrients, kidneys filter garbage out of your blood stream, and your pancreas produces insulin to balance out the sugar you eat.
What most people don’t know is that their intestines also house a huge civilization of good bacteria that not only process nutrients for absorption, but also single out and destroy toxic cells, making it a major part of your immune system.
A Healthy Gut Is More Than A Tight Tummy
Our shape-obsessed culture looks at the gut as something to be shaped and molded. We use terms like “6-pack abs” to describe what we consider the ultimate human figure. The fact is, you could have tight and toned abdominal muscles and still be a mess inside, where it counts. At the risk of sounding crude, the real evidence of a healthy gut is not in your mirror…it’s in your toilet.
Let’s think about this.
If you’re constipated, your gut is in shock in one way, and if you have diarrhea, your gut is basically in shock the other way. Even if your stool is normal 100% of the time, there are a number of other health problems that serves as red flags to indicate your intestines are not performing at 100% efficiency.
The obvious tell-tale signs include feeling gassy and bloated, or in more severe cases, suffering from diseases like Irritable Bowel Syndrome, which is a horrible way to live. But even if you have all of that under control, if you’re constantly fighting a cold, the flu, or other viruses, then your colon is not doing an important part of its job.
Feed Your Gut Properly
When you eat, you’re not just feeding your body, you’re feeding (or poisoning) a vast ecosystem of living organisms that keep your body running (remember the boiler analogy?) Your choice of food is critical, but so is how quickly you eat it…even your posture can make a difference in how your body receives the nutrients.
We don’t give enough thought to this; we mindlessly rush through our meals, choosing things that taste good or make us feel full without considering the nutritional value to our bodies, and the colonies inside. This is why brain-tricking chemicals like monosodium glutamate (MSG), maltodextrin, and high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) are so insidious: they create addictive states in our brains to crave empty foods that cheat our bodies of the nutrients we need.
Last week, I quoted Michael Pollan, but it bears repeating: “The human animal is adapted to, and can thrive on, an extraordinary range of different diets, but the western diet…is not one of them.”
There are certain nutrients our bodies need to perform optimally, and our the Standard American Diet (SAD) is severely lacking in most of them: protein, healthy fats, and minerals leap to mind. But there are at least two other categories that we tend to forget about, even though our intestinal ecosystems desperately cry out for them: fermented foods and fiber. I’ve already spent some time dealing with the need for fermented foods to nourish the good bacteria in our guts, so I will refer you to those articles if you want to go deeper.
Today, I want to explore the importance of dietary fiber. As Dr. Josh Axe observed, “High fiber foods can have great health benefits but unfortunately the average person is only consuming 50% of the fiber they should be getting daily.”
Why Is Fiber So Important?
When I talk about fiber and the gut, the first thing most people think of is some elderly man eating bran flakes and prunes to ensure a comfortable time in the restroom. I want to go beyond that thinking, because it’s only a small part of the whole picture.
If you watch the evening news, chances are you’ve seen a tired old commercial for fiber supplements or high-fiber breakfast cereals. Yes, insoluble fiber adds bulk to your food and works as a type of natural laxative, thus all the marketing in that direction. If that’s all you care about with your fiber intake, I applaud you for getting that much benefit for your body, but there is more available to you.
Soluble fiber is often the basis of natural weight-loss programs because it acts like a sponge, soaking up available water and slowing down digestion, leaving you feeling satisfied longer. It can aid in moderating blood glucose levels & lowering cholesterol.
Again…good but incomplete. You need both to complete a balanced diet.
So Many Other Benefits
When your body is getting adequate amounts of both types of fiber from different sources, you will start to see it in many areas of your life:
- Improved Blood Sugar Management: Your blood sugar and insulin will stay in equilibrium longer, with fewer spikes or crashes. As a result, you may notice reduced sugar cravings and bingeing.
- Improved Heart Health: Your heart will pump more evenly and your arteries will be cleaner, allowing for better blood flow and reduced risk of heart disease, heart attack, and stroke.
- Weight Loss: Maybe not a lot, but it will be noticeable as your body manages sugar and insulin more efficiently.
- Improved Skin Health: You may noticed improvements in your skin tone and elasticity. Psyllium husk may help more yeast/fungus out of body preventing excretion through the skin.
- Improved Waste Management: Frankly, you will feel better in the restroom. A healthy balance of adequate fiber is linked to a reduction (or elimination) of diverticulitis, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, and hemorrhoids. Plus, as your body does a better job of regulating blood sugar, you will suffer fewer gallstones and kidney stones.
- Improved Immune Function: You will find yourself less susceptible to colds and viruses as the bacterial ecosystem in your colon fights more efficiently.
But I Can’t Eat Bread
Another mistake people make with fiber is only getting fiber from bread and grains, or from dietary supplements, when better sources of fiber are available inexpensively…and deliciously. Grains are directly linked with several serious chronic diseases. I’ll let this poor fellow tell you more about that:
While breads don’t affect most people this severely, I will say that you don’t have to look to bread and grains alone to provide you with dietary fiber you need. Here are a few better sources of fiber, as compiled by Dr. Axe:
1) Split peas
1 cup: 16g (64% DV)
1 cup: 15g (62% DV)
1 whole: 14g (56% DV)
1 medium: 10g (40% DV)
5) Flax seeds
1 oz: 8g (35% DV)
6) Black beans
1 cup: 14g (56% DV)
7) Brussels Sprouts
1 cup: 8g (16% DV)
1 cup: 8g (32% DV)
1 cup: 8g (32% DV)
1 cup: 5g (20% DV)
If you will add 30 to 40 grams of dietary fiber to your menu each day – especially two or three servings from this list – you will start to see significant improvement in your health on many levels, and that’s really what we want.
It’s Up To You
You can be healthier quickly, if you’re willing to make a couple of small, simple changes to the way you eat. I’ve given you the tools to change your life, but now you have to make the choice consistently to do something different. After all, if you always do what you’ve always done, you will always have what you’ve always had. And even that will start to fall apart over time.
I bet you know someone who could benefit from this article. I would encourage you to share it with them. You might be helping them change their life by choosing a new road to travel. If you have personally made these changes in your diet, I would be so grateful if you would share your results in the comments section on Facebook. Your success might be breed hope in someone else. We’re all in this together.
“At the end of your feelings is NOTHING. At the end of your principles is a PROMISE.” — Eric Thomas