Gut Health seems to be all the rage. There are yogurts actively designed to promote gut health and regulate your microbiome, to increases in whole food sales and a smarter more aware shopping experience. People are seeing their gut health as more than something to simply raise awareness about – they’re making it their lifestyle.
While we don’t have Jamie Lee Curtis as our spokesperson, here’s a couple pointers in helping you create a seven day meal plan to help regulate your gut health.
The Good, The Bad, and The Fermented
While shoppers are becoming more aware of healthier and cleaner foods, many companies have caught up with the craze as well, often leading even the most adept of shoppers astray. And while many Kombucha and probiotic-rich granola bars litter the shelves of Whole Foods, many other products you in stores are chock full of gluten and refined sugars. Unfortunately, these are the exact things that gum down our gut in the first place.
Historically the fermentation technique was used as a way of preserving foods and drinks long before the days of refrigeration. During the process of fermentation, microorganisms such as bacteria, yeast or fungi convert organic compounds – such as sugars and starch – into alcohol or acids. For example, starches and sugars in vegetables and fruits are converted to lactic acid and this lactic acid acts as a natural preservative. Fermentation can produce quite distinctive, strong, slightly sour flavors.
As we continue to talk about the benefits of these bacteria, known as probiotics (literally meaning “supporting life”), often the more acidic – the better. These acids, which have derived from sugars and starches, have enhanced beneficial bacteria beyond their original bases. As these sugars and starches ferment (“Prebiotics” – think of them as food for your probiotics), they are given time to literally culture and enhance themselves.
Good for the Gut
So let’s talk about some good foods. These are both Pro and Prebiotics – fuel for your probiotics, but also food conducive to the growth and maintenance of healthy bacteria like bifidobacteria and lactobacilli (the second one is most common when you think about Probiotic supplements).
Those healthy bacteria are measured in groupings that we call CFU’s or Colony Forming Units. which simply refers to the number of live and active microorganisms that can be found in each serving of the probiotic you are taking. We look at them in terms of billions (although you can get less than that – typically anything less than 1 Billion isn’t enough units to make a noticeable difference for most humans), and standard Over the Counter servings of CFU’s (in supplements, foods, yogurts, etc.) range from 1-10 Billion.
Like we read earlier, generally fermented foods tend to be higher in CFU’s and better probiotics than their raw or pickled counterparts (yes pickling and fermenting are different).
Foods with high CFU’s, good for your gut:
- Bone Broth
- Apple Cider Vinegar
Foods high in Prebiotics (the food for your probiotics):
- Lentils, Chickpeas, Beans
- Jerusalem Artichokes
These pungent flavors, aromatics, and seasonings usually accompany foods, rather than replace meals in their entirety. And just like anything else in life, too much of a good thing can be harmful. On top of wasting extra time on the toilet, TOO much, or over use of probiotics can strip the gut and intestines of natural, healthy bacteria – which could mean bare cells susceptible to disease and harm… and of course… a LOT of extra time on the toilet.
Things that Harm
While there are a few foods that can be harmful to the bacteria in your gut, the biggest culprit of what might affect a healthy gut are usually lifestyles and tendencies. For example, irregular sleep cycles, lack of regular physical activity, or even Antibiotic use can lead to changes or long-term alterations in gut flora.
Of course diet plays an important role, but there isn’t a singularly “bad” food. However, too much of anything can be harmful to your gut health. There’s a variety of bacteria that inhabit your intestines: Firmicutes, Bacteroidetes, Actinobacteria or Proteobacteria. The idea to create a wealth of gut flora with as wide a variety of diet and exercise as possible. Singling out a food group, or eating too much of a specific type of food can starve these bacteria, and can eliminate the diversity of the microbiome.
Things you can typically avoid to promote gut health:
- Drinking too much alcohol
- Lack of Sleep
- Lack of Physical Activity
- Refined Sugars (if you want to go the extra mile)
Keeping in mind the things you should and shouldn’t be eating, let’s look at a sample meal plan.
- Peach and Kefir Smoothie
- Kefir has 12 probiotic cultures and peaches are a good source of fiber, not only helping your digestive tract run smoothly, but also helps you feel fuller, longer.
- Kimchi Omelet
- Kimchi is an excellent fermented food, and if you want to take it step further make an egg white omelet to reduce calories.
- Power Macro Bowl
- Any mixture of quinoa, legumes, steamed kale, and root veggies are good. Like we talked about in the Omega 3 and 6 Blog, try to throw in some healthy fats like Sunflower Oil, Avocados, or even cuts of Salmon. Protein AND probiotics!
- Berry Smoothie
- Dairy Free Milk, fresh berries, spinach, ground flax seed and ginger root can be an incredible start to your day. Many people leave whole chia or flax seeds in their milk overnight to start a quick fermentation process that can be beneficial for your gut as well!
- Ultimate Gut Health Smoothie
- Dairy Free Milk, Dairy Free kefir, spinach, cinnamon, vanilla extract and aloe vera juice. This one isn’t exactly kind on the carbs, but is an EXCELLENT way to maintain healthy inflammation and keep gut flora healthy, and your intestines clean while tasting great.
Note that we stick to Dairy Free solutions, not because they’re bad, but because whey proteins can often get in the … whey (oof, that one hurt), of healthy gut flora. Branched Chain Amino Acids or BCAA’s help your gut flourish as they break down slowly in the gut and make it appear younger (yes, the gut shows age like the rest of us). Whey isn’t as rich in BCAA’s as it cultured and fermented counterparts (yogurt and kefir), and rather than dilute them, it’s best to keep these Casein’s (the name of the BCAA’s) intact.
- Grilled Salmon Salad with Miso Vinaigrette
- Miso combines soybeans and barley, then puts them through the traditional koji fermentation process to produce a salty and thick miso paste. Top it off with a spinach salad! Spinach is filled with tons of nutrients. Any dark leafy greens provide protein, iron, vitamins, and minerals. And Salmon, duh! Always Salmon!
- Grilled Eggplant with Yogurt and Mint
- Or Aubergine, if you’re feeling bougie. It really is as simple and tasty as it sounds. This really is the epitome of clean eating. Fresh herbs, fruits (yes, the eggplant is technically a fruit), and of course, fermentation! Shake it up with different seasonings and oils before grilling and try savory seasonings in your yogurt to make it closer to a crema.
- Skinless Tumeric Lemon Chicken
- Turmeric helps maintain a healthy inflammation response. Lemon is another ingredient that helps promote healthy immune response, and is packed with vitamin C, and helps with digestion.
- Hearty Lamb and Onion Soup
- With a broth base in Onions, worcestershire sauce, olive oil, and root vegetables – it’s a low fat, low salt, tasty alternative to thick, creamy soups. Barley and green beans are also great for the gut!
Remember, the final take away: always make sure you moderate your diets. Even too many probiotics can give you a leaky gut, and probiotic-centric diets can be harmful if not consumed in moderation with a wide variety of foods and nutrition. Always consult a doctor or physician before making major alterations to your diet, as well as to check on sustainability and allergies. Not every diet is right for every person.
For more info or to get better help with your meal planning ideas:
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