Nutrition, Hydration & the Microbiome
By Amanda Kondra, DNM RCRT Cl.H
There is no one-size-fits-all way of eating. Developing a healthy relationship with food while developing a healthy relationship with yourself will lead toward a more sustainable way of living. Restrictive diets have their place when medically necessary but fad diets are not a sustainable or enjoyable way of eating long-term. If you find yourself uncontrollably eating certain foods, especially that are high in carbohydrates or fat, it's important to stop and consider why you're drawn to these foods. When we are feeling low or stressed, these emotions can stimulate the desire for foods that are high in carbohydrates and fats as these foods stimulate the release of endorphins. These endorphins are naturally tranquilizing to the system, and act as a short term painkiller for our emotional pain. It's not difficult to understand why some people have an urge to eat beyond what is necessary, as we've all experienced emotions or situations that have left us feeling empty. The ingestion of food for many can become a way to self-soothe or self-medicate. There are many therapeutic ways to deal with emotions and stress, such as creating art, journaling, exercising, meditating or speaking to a trusted person, that will have a longer lasting effect. Good hydration is important for our nervous health, along with consuming regular meals and snacks. What messages do we send to our nervous system and body when we don't take the time to fuel and hydrate it consistently? Drinking 67% of your weight in ounces of pure water daily is a good way to determine your ideal water intake. When in doubt, drinking 8 cups of water per day is sufficient. Small doses of water throughout the day is better than large doses. Good hydration has many benefits but especially positive effects on our nervous, eliminatory, digestive and integumentary systems. Consuming 25-30 grams of fiber daily is beneficial for elimination. Eating regular nutritious meals and snacks can encourage blood sugar stabilization. Going long periods without food can cause drops in blood glucose levels that leave us feeling irritable and reaching for foods that offer a sugar spike. For optimal health follow the 80/20 rule, 80% of your food being for fuel/nutrition and 20% for pleasure. This may feel too restrictive or not restrictive enough for some people. Working slowly up or down to this ratio can encourage a more satisfying and sustainable way of eating long term. Focus on filling your plate with a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables, legumes and whole grains, rather than on calorie counting or serving sizes. The encouragement of these foods can be especially good for weight control and the prevention of diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. Regular consumption of animal products, processed foods and vegetable fats can pose serious health risks and should be limited. The plant kingdom provides great sources of protein and calcium, once only associated with dairy and meat. The most healthy sources of calcium are legumes and green leafy vegetables. Small servings of nuts and seeds each day can also have health promoting effects through the addition of omega-3 fatty acids, especially found in walnuts, flax seeds, hemp seeds, and chia seeds. Blue-green algae such as Spirulina has a fair amount of omega-3 fatty acids and protein present and is highly nutritious. Eating fatty fish 1 to 2 times weekly can also boost omega-3 fatty acids or you may consider supplementing with a quality fish oil daily. Including culinary herbs such as fresh ginger and turmeric root, basil, cinnamon, garlic and rosemary can add flavor and offer health benefits through the abundant phytonutrients present. Supporting the Microbiome There is a lot of research showcasing the importance of promoting good bacteria in our body, especially for our intestinal microbiome. Microbes help with digestion, metabolism, manufacturing vitamins, and producing neurochemicals. They interact with our hormones and nervous system, are integral to our immune system and are anti-infective. Our intestines house a large portion of our endocrine and immune cells and through a gut-brain connection these microbes could impact our mood and behaviour. The seeding of the human microbiome begins at birth with exposure to mother's vaginal and gut bacteria (unless C-section), skin bacteria through skin-to-skin contact, and breast bacteria through breastfeeding. Human milk oligosaccharides in breast milk are special sugars that feed these acquired microbes. These bacteria quickly colonize the infant gut, crowd out pathogens and train the infant immune system! Limiting antibiotics and chlorinated water while encouraging the consumption of fermented foods (food-strain probiotic source), and fibrous foods that bacteria feed off of (prebiotics) like raw chicory root, raw dandelion greens, raw garlic, raw leeks, raw onions and raw bananas can ensure happy intestinal health. Diversity in the foods we eat and our exercise routines can have a positive impact on bacteria diversity. Choosing a human-strain probiotic with multiple strains of bacteria can also encourage the microbiome for those suffering from digestive, hormonal or immune issues or those who recently came off of a course of antibiotics. As you adjust to healthier food choices your intestinal bacteria will adjust to the foods you're eating and will increase desire for these foods. All severe changes in diet can impact the bacterial system so it is always recommended to make any changes slowly and gently to prevent intestinal upset. References: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/12034132/ https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/7669835/ https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2908954/#R90 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4560866/ https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3662288/ https://www.nccih.nih.gov/health/tips/things-to-know-about-omega-fatty-acids Mayer, Emeran. The Mind-Gut Connection: How the Hidden Conversation Within Our Bodies Impacts Our Mood, Our Choices, and Our Overall Health. HarperWave, 2016.