If you’ve been hearing a lot about “taking care of your gut”, it has more to do with the inside of your abdomen than the paunch many Americans may be worried about losing before bikini season. Your gut, or biologically speaking, intestines, are the home to millions of strains of bacteria known collectively as microbiota or the gut microbiome. And just like snowflakes, everyone’s gut microbiota is uniquely different.
The bacteria in our guts is responsible for metabolizing nutrients from food, acting as a protective barrier against infections in the intestine and making fat-soluble vitamin K, which is needed to help make proteins that help clot blood. In addition, researchers are just scratching the surface about how the microbiome may impact health conditions such as arthritis, heart disease and cancer. 1
There are several factors that influence your gut microbiota including age, diet, genes, environment and medications, in particular antibiotics, which can significantly alter gut bacteria. Of these factors, diet may be the most controllable.
Microbes thrive on various components of food such as fiber. Some microbes make compounds that seems to keep us healthier, while others produce substances that may worsen our health. For example, a scientific study found a link between pediatric obesity and antibiotic use early in life. Research has shown that in mice, a diet high in fat increases gut permeability and raises gut absorption of endotoxins that foster weight gain, inflammation, obesity and diabetes. 2
Our gut microbiota is very complex and it’s difficult for scientists to identify which bacteria would be the most beneficial in preventing disease. According to Dr. Hohmann, who works in infectious diseases division at Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital, a few dietary tweaks may make a big difference, though gut microbiota change slowly over time and not overnight. She suggests adding the following foods to our diets:
- Fermented foods that contain natural probiotics include miso, yogurt, kefir and kimchi. Sauerkraut and pickles are also fermented, but may need to be limited in those with high blood pressure due to high sodium content.
- High fiber, complex carbohydrates such as beans, lentils, whole grain breads, cereals and grains such as barley, bran, bulgur, farrow and quinoa. The more variety of plant-based foods, the more diverse our bacteria become. 3
While it may be tempting to take an over the counter pro-biotic and call it a day, scientists suggest that probiotics do not typically change the gut microbiota on a permanent basis. Research indicates that a few strains of probiotics have been found to modify the gut, but once they’re stopped, the gut microbiome may reverse back to its previous state. Probiotics may be useful in treating loose stool related to antibiotic use, but for the most part, the data of their effectiveness is not very convincing. 4
Until research proves otherwise, our best bet for a healthy gut is to eat a high fiber, plant-based diet with fewer servings of high fat animal foods, salt and refined carbohydrates. This will not only improve the inside of our guts, but may also give us a more flattering gut on the outside.
- Kei E Fujimura, Nicole A Slusher, Michael D Cabana, and Susan V Lynch, PhD Role of the gut microbiota in defining human health. Expert Rev Anti Infect Ther. 2010 Apr; 8(4): 435–454.
- Cani P. et. al. Diabetes 2008; 57: 147-81.
- Mary Ellen Sanders. How do we know something called “Probiotic” is really a probiotic? A guideline for consumers and health care professionals. Functional Food Reviews 2009: 1; 3-12.
The teen years are difficult for any family. We often get in spats over semantics. I call studying, “homework”, my 13-year old doesn’t see it as “work” unless something is written and gets turned in. No family is perfect. Conflict, differences of opinion and other factors may play into issues. But there’s a silver lining. A recent study finds that families with teens that have dinner with each other are more likely to make healthy food choices, in lieu of parents and children that have problems talking or connecting emotionally. 1
The report in JAMA Network Open found that even when families had trouble juggling daily routines or were not exceptionally close to each other, more frequent family dinners were linked with more healthful eating among teens and young adults. 1
According to the lead author Kathryn Walton a doctoral student at the University of Guelph, Canada, “The big thing is that over and beyond family functioning, family meals still matter when you’re thinking about dietary intake for adolescents,”. Walton, now a research fellow at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto states several studies have evaluated the benefit of family meals. Time and time again, the have found that they lead to teens consuming more fruits and vegetables and less fast food and sugary beverages. 1
But, she said, “Critics have suggested that family dysfunction may interrupt the benefits of family meals because it may be harder for low-functioning families to organize and prepare meals or to have healthy foods available in the home . . . .” 1
Walton and her researchers reviewed data on teen and young adult children of men and women who were subjects in a large, long-term Nurse’s Health Study. The study included data on over 2700 young people aged 14 to 24 that were living with their parents in 2011. 1
Through a series of nine statements rated on a 4-point scale, family functioning was measured. The scale included: Individuals are accepted for who they are; I feel like I can talk about my problems or share a problem; I feel like I am heard in my family. 1
The researchers discovered that the more frequently teens and young adults ate dinner with their parents, the more often their overall diets contained fruits and vegetables and less fast food and sweetened beverages. The differences in healthy food intake were statistically significant despite being small. 1
The question now according to Walton is how to encourage more families to eat dinner together. She suggests that families who aren’t dining together can star with just one meal per a week and build on that success.
It may also be easier to achieve if parents don’t make dinner “a big affair”. Walton suggests using bagged salads or frozen vegetables as they’re just as healthy as fresh and simpler to prepare.
Another idea is to give teens meal prep tasks. Walton states this is really important in families that are extra busy. “Many hands make light work”. She notes there’s the extra bonus of kids learning food prep skills. 1
Dr. Mara Minguez of New York-Presbyterian in NYC, who was not involved in the study notes, “It’s really exciting to hear more evidence that eating together, along with decreasing risky behaviors and improving on mental health issues, such as depression, can also benefit overall health,”.2 One caveat to the study is that it was performed in a mostly white, highly educated population. Minguez works in NYC with many different cultures and wonders if “the findings can be generalized.” 1
Poorer families may find it more difficult to have sit down dinners as parents often work late. But they can compromise, Minguez says, by eating dinner later in the evening. “It’s just a matter of understanding why this is so important”.
“I love the idea of something simple for families to implement that has a substantial impact on health,” said Dr. Tammy Brady of Johns Hopkins Medicine in Baltimore, Maryland, who wasn’t involved in the study. We need more research in more diverse populations according to Brady, but the study shows that “the family functionality piece isn’t that important.” 1
Here are some easy ways families can dine together more frequently:
- Make dinner a priority. Set a time when everyone is home together and stick with it.
- Ask older children and teens to help with food prep.
- Keep items like eggs, beans, rice and frozen vegetables on hand for fast meals.
- Re-purpose leftovers to save time in the kitchen. One cooked chicken may make multiple meals.
- Keep cell phones and other electronics away from the table so family can focus on each other and the food.
bit.ly/2DCWQxD JAMA Network Open, online November 21, 2018.
Do you need some quick meal ideas using pantry staples, or want to know how to prevent food waste? It may surprise you that 40% of the food in the US ends up in a landfill. If you’re curious about making the most of your food dollar, join me tonight (January 10) and every Thursday until January 31 to “taste, don’t waste”. Class meets at Starfire from 6:30-7:30 PM. The fee is $60.00 for the series, payable via PayPal to email@example.com
This hour long class will teach you shopping and cooking techniques as well as ways to season food and up-cycle leftovers. Click on the link to sign up! Space is limited. Call 513-675-6780 or email firstname.lastname@example.org if interested.
Happy New Year! If you’re waking up a wee bit hungover, have you considered dry January? Sure, alcohol can be a social lubricant, but excess consumption leads to weight gain, increased risk of cancer and risk of DUI if you’re not careful. It also impacts your skin, energy level and memory.
Recent research out of the University of Susses finds that taking one month off from alcohol may have lasting effects. After taking off one month of drinking, participants in the study reduced their drinking days from 4.3 to 3.3 per week, the number of daily drinks consumed dropped from 8.6 to 7.1 and number of times being inebriated went down from 3.4 times per month to 2.1. Dry January may also help to improve your sleep and reduce spending- important gains to physical and financial health. Win win!
To read more on this study, click on the link below. Cheers to a healthy New Year!
In the era of Click list, Instacart and Amazon delivery, I am still an old time shopper. The grocery store is a playground for food geeks like me. I like to pick out my own produce, see what’s new on the shelves, talk to the guy stocking veggies and taste samples when they’re out.
I recently provided a grocery tour for a lovely couple that had some health issues. She has Crohn’s and her husband suffered a stroke a few months ago. Their daughter-in-law bought them a tour for Christmas. What a great gift of health! I enjoyed asking them questions about how they shop and cook and what information would be most helpful. Below are some of the questions I answered for them:
What does the % Daily Value mean on a label? The % Daily Value (DV) refers to the % of nutrient in the food you are eating, compared to the amount you need for an entire day. All food labels are based on a 2000 calorie diet. If a nutrient contains 5% or less of a nutrient, it is LOW in that nutrient. If it contains 20% or more of a nutrient, it is HIGH in that nutrient. A food containing 3% of the DV for fat is low in fat. A food containing 20% of the DV for saturated fat is high in saturated fat.
How do I know a food is low fat? Low-fat foods contain 3 grams of fat or less for every 100 calories. For example, if a food has 300 calories, it should contain 9 total grams of fat or less. There are 9 calories for every gram of fat. A low-fat food contains 30% or less of calories from fat. When buying meat (beef, poultry), look for 90% lean or higher. Limit saturated and trans fat when possible. Saturated and trans fat are solid at room temperature. Low fat food: Calories: 200/serving, fat grams 6/serving. 6 x 9/200 = 54/200 = 27% fat.
What is considered a low sodium food?
A low sodium food will have 140 mg of sodium per serving or less. If a produce has 5% or less of the daily value (DV) of a nutrient, it is low in that nutrient. Anything above 20% of the DV on the food label is high sodium (most frozen meals, canned soup, sauce or beans, processed meats, etc). Individuals with hypertension, over 50 or African American are advised to consume no more than 1500 mg sodium per day,
How much fiber should I eat? Women need 25-30 grams/day and men ~38-40/day. How much should be in my breakfast (or snack) cereal? Look for 5 or more grams of fiber/serving of cereal and ideally < 5-7 grams of sugar/serving. You can blend cereals together to reduce sugar.
How much sugar should I have in my diet? Less is best! Your sugar ‘allowance’ should be no more than 10% of calories consumed. For a 2000 calorie diet, 10% is 200 calories or 50 grams of sugar/day (200/4 calories/gram = 50 grams). There is 1 tsp of sugar for every 4 grams of sugar.
How can I tell if a grain is a ‘whole’ grain’? Look for the word WHOLE in the ingredients. If it is made with refined or enriched flour, it is not whole. If the bread is white, but has a significant amount of fiber, it is likely enriched with non-whole fibers such as chicory root, cellulose, inulin or others. These types of fibers can produce more bacteria in your gut, which may lead to gas and bloating.
Should I buy organic? Organic fruits and vegetables may still have pesticides. Animals that are raised organically will not be exposed to added hormones or antibiotics and are often grass fed, VS grain fed. The produce below may be higher in pesticides, but still meets FDA standards for pesticide content. Eating more produce is more important than buying organic. Check out www.safefruitsandveggies for pesticide content
Apples Cherries Peaches Nectarines
Bell peppers Grapes (imported) Pears Spinach
Celery Lettuce Potatoes Strawberries
If you’re interested in a store tour with me or for a gift, contact me@ email@example.com
Holiday shopping and stress have already begun! While it’s easy to get caught up in the holiday hooplah, it’s important to take time for yourself. I was recently interviewed by the Family Success Consortium to provide some tips on self care this time of year. Read all their tips in the link below: