When your stomach is fine, you never think about it – but when you don’t, it’s hard to think about anything else. The group of microorganisms that live in and make up your gastrointestinal tract play a role in almost every aspect of your health, from preventing chronic disease to maintaining your immune system. So it’s no wonder that you feel lousy when things get out of hand.
But what exactly is your gut feeling? And is it possible to improve your gut health? Here is everything you need to know.
What is the intestine?
The human intestine is much more complex than even experts once realized – it comprises a multitude of internal organs that are involved in the digestive process to absorb nutrients from food and excrete waste, explains Rushabh Modi, MD, a certified physician in both internal medicine and Gastroenterology and Hepatology and Assistant Professor of Clinical Medicine at USC’s Keck School of Medicine. “Typically, this refers to the mouth, esophagus, stomach, small intestine, and colon, with the pancreas and liver being crucial as supporting organs that help make digestive enzymes,” he says.
How your gut keeps your body healthy
In addition to absorbing and transporting nutrients to all tissues in the body, the intestine is critical to maintaining fluid and salt levels and eliminating waste, explains Dr. Modes. “Many vital nutrients and vitamins such as B12 and iron have special transporters that only exist in the intestine,” he adds. Iron, for example, needs stomach acid to be absorbed effectively – and B12 also needs certain receptors in the stomach and middle intestines to be absorbed. “These nutrients are difficult to obtain in any other way and they are essential for normal physiological function,” adds Dr. Modes added.
The gut is also one of the body’s most important disease control systems. “The acid in the stomach kills the bacteria and viruses that can inadvertently be ingested through food, and the digestive tract is an important way of introducing antigens to boost immune function and protection in the body,” says Christine Lee, MD . Gastroenterologist at the Cleveland Clinic. “The digestive tract also digests the foods ingested and extracts the essential nutrients that the body can absorb for vital use.”
New research has even uncovered a link between poor gut health and several neurological diseases such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, autism, and depression. One such study from the Université de Genève found that people with Alzheimer’s have different types of bacteria in their gut than those who do not have the disease.
8 signs your gut is suffering
If your gut is unhealthy, you are likely to have one or more of the following symptoms, even if it’s mild or rare:
- Acid reflux
- Changes in stool
- Inexplicable weight loss
“Since food digestion and waste production are the two most important functions of the intestine, if there are problems in these areas, the intestine can often be the cause of the problem,” explains Dr. Modes. Acid reflux and heartburn have also been linked to the gut, although you may feel the pain further from the core of the problem. Flatulence is also becoming more common, so Dr. Modi notes that patients view them as almost a normal reaction to eating certain foods.
If you experience unexplained weight loss despite eating regular meals, it may indicate that your body is unable to digest or absorb the nutrients in the foods you eat and that there is a problem in your digestive system, according to Dr. Lee.
How to improve your gut health
The good news is that there are simple steps you can take to support your gut health. Here are some of the strategies doctors recommend.
Eat a wide variety of healthy foods
A diet made up of several different food types can result in a more diverse microbiome made up of more types, according to a report published in the journal Molecular Metabolism. This, explains Dr. Lee, strengthens our microbiome and increases its resilience.
The best foods for gut health are fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds, and whole grains, especially those with the highest fiber content that help your digestive tract function properly. According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, women should aim for 25 grams of fiber per day and men 38 grams per day.
And cut down on unhealthy foods. “The more fat, fat, and salt you eat, the worse your gut health gets,” said Scott David Lippe, MD, chief of gastroenterology at Bergen Regional Medical Center in Paramus, NJ and assistant professor of medicine at Rutgers Medical School. This is especially important to keep in mind at dinner, as restaurants tend to consume salt, fat, and fat because they taste good.
Try to leave out dairy products
If you experience gas, gas, or loose bowel movements after drinking milk or eating cheese, you may be lactose intolerant. “This affects many adults, especially those who have no Northern European ancestry,” says Dr. Lip. “A quick and easy test is to drink a glass of regular milk – if you feel unwell, you are lactose intolerant.” If you are not ready to give up dairy products, you can also try taking lactose tablets before consuming dairy foods take.
Consider a probiotic
These tiny little microorganisms aid your metabolism and help rebalance your microbiota, says Douglas A. Drossman, MD, gastroenterologist and Professor Emeritus of Medicine and Psychiatry, UNC Division of Gastroenterology at the UNC School of Medicine. He recommends taking them when you have symptoms of an unhealthy bowel; however, there can be no other benefit. In fact, there isn’t a lot of research to prove the benefits of probiotics for the gut.
For example, a review published in Therapeutic Advances in Gastroenterology found that probiotics positively affect the gut microbiota of people with certain diseases, such as Alzheimer’s and diabetes, but do little to improve the gut microbiota of healthy people. “If you are taking antibiotics or have diarrhea, taking probiotics can be very helpful,” adds Dr. Lip. However, he recommends trying to get your fair share of probiotic-rich foods like yogurt, sauerkraut, and kimchi first.
Include more prebiotics in your diet
“Prebiotics are not bacteria, they are foods that good bacteria like to eat,” explains Dr. Milstein. “We have to feed the good bacteria and starve the bad bacteria.” He recommends eating foods rich in bacteria such as walnuts, berries, bananas, flax seeds, legumes, artichokes, onions, garlic, chicory, dandelion greens, asparagus, leeks and whole grain products. “The diet is personalized, but putting some fruits and vegetables and fiber on our plate with every meal helps keep gut and brain health,” adds Dr. Milstein added.
Monitor your vitamin D levels
Recent research in Nature Communications has examined the relationship between gut bacteria and vitamin D levels and found that deficiency in the nutrient plays a key role in increasing the risk of certain diseases, including inflammatory bowel disease, cardiovascular disease and cancer, plays. Any form of disruption of the GI barrier, according to Dr. Drossman commonly referred to as “leaky gut,” which can increase a person’s risk of developing infectious, inflammatory, and functional GI diseases such as ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease. “Most people with leaky gut have very low levels of vitamin D and very low levels of the two most important omega-3 fatty acids – EPA and DHA,” he says. He recommends that most people consume at least 5,000 IU (125 µg) of vitamin D3 daily and consume sufficient fish oil (or the vegan equivalent) of 1,000 mg DHA per day. Be sure to talk to your doctor before taking any supplements.
Manage your stress level
Stress not only puts a strain on your mental health, but also on your physical well-being. Chronic high stress can, according to Dr. Drossman directly affect your gut health. While removing stressors from your life isn’t always possible, stress management strategies like diaphragmatic breathing, meditation, or yoga can help, says Dr. Drossman. “It’s also a smart idea to see a psychologist to see if brain and gut therapies (cognitive behavioral therapy, hypnosis, mindfulness) can be used,” he adds.
Get a good night’s sleep every night
When you don’t get enough sleep, your whole body is affected, including your intestines. In fact, new research shows how closely your gut microbiome and the quality of your sleep really are. A study by Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, Florida found that poor sleep, for reasons as yet unknown, can negatively affect your gut microbiome, which can then manifest itself in a variety of other health problems, including autoimmune diseases and mental illnesses. The National Sleep Foundation recommends that adults get between 7 and 9 hours of sleep each night.
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New Study Claims The MIND Diet Can Help Prevent This Common Aging Problem
By now, if you are looking to live a long, healthy life, you probably have a sense of how different foods affect your body. For example, you may even have noticed which breakfast items make you feel drowsy all day compared to those that give you the energy boost you need in the morning.
Scientists continue to research how what we eat affects not only our bodies but our minds as well. This is why the MIND diet is of particular interest – it combines elements of the Mediterranean diet with those of the DASH diet to create a nutritional plan that will promote your cognitive health. New research shows that This diet can help older adults fight dementia, even if they have physical signs associated with Alzheimer’s disease.
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The study, published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, examined data from 569 deaths. Researchers at Rush University Medical Center compared their performance on cognitive tests taken late in their life with information about their diet, as well as their autopsy reports after death. The researchers found that people who followed the MIND diet did better on cognitive tests. even when their brains showed the physical signs – plaques and tangles – that are typical of Alzheimer’s disease.
This suggests that the MIND diet could play a role in helping older adults maintain their sanity even when their body is working against them.
“This study suggests that our food choices can strengthen resilience to cognitive decline with age, even when the physical signs of Alzheimer’s disease are in the brain,” said Maggie Moon, MS, RD, bestselling author of The MIND Diet Eat this, not that! in an interview. “This is especially important because drugs don’t work, at least not right now. Even if they removed some of the plaques from the brain, they couldn’t reduce or slow down cognitive decline.”
The story goes on
The name MIND Diet is not just a statement of the intended benefits of the diet, but also an acronym. It stands for Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay. Researchers suggest that The more people stick to this diet, the lower their risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Recommended foods for this diet are “leafy greens, a variety of vegetables, whole grains, olive oil, nuts, beans, berries, poultry, fish, and wine in moderation,” says Moon.
“There are also a number of food recommendations that you should limit in your diet,” says Julie Andrews, MS, RDN, CD, FAND, author of The Brain Health Cookbook: MIND Diet Recipes to Prevent Disease and Enhance Cognitive Power. “These foods include fried foods, processed and red meats, full-fat dairy products, and sweets and pastries. These foods can still be included in your diet – say if cheese is your favorite food, however, it is recommended that you cut them down and focus more on the superfoods of the MIND diet. “
The researchers behind this study also point to previous studies that suggest the foods in the MIND diet are high in antioxidants, have anti-inflammatory properties, and have been linked to protecting people’s cognitive health.
To learn more about how to choose foods to keep you spicy, check out these 10 Best Foods to Boost Brain Power. Then don’t forget to sign up for our newsletter!
Are Restaurants Exacerbating the Obesity Epidemic?
Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, almost the entire discussion about health in the restaurant sector has revolved around one topic: how to protect guests and staff from the virus. Yet another health concern has largely been overlooked: How restaurants are putting Americans’ health at risk by selling dishes that are high in calories, fat, added sugar, and sodium, but low in essential fiber. And during a pandemic where obesity and other pre-existing conditions were risk factors for serious illness, this discussion couldn’t be more relevant.
It is common knowledge that fast foods sold by chains like McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s, and the like have poor nutritional profiles. But the starters, main courses, and desserts sold in full-service restaurants aren’t much better.
This was made clear in a study by the Friedman School of Nutrition published last year. It was found that around 70% of the meals in fast food restaurants were of “poor quality” and only 30% were even of “medium” quality. In full-service restaurants, 47% of meals were medium quality and 52% were poor quality.
Perhaps most notably, less than 0.1% of the meals consumed at these restaurants met the American Heart Association’s definition of “ideal quality”; saturated fat and sodium.
Franchise outlets – fast food and others – have tried to balance their menu offerings a little. Burger King offers a garden salad, for example. But more common are offerings – like a triple cheeseburger with bacon and pretzel sold by Wendy’s – that are high in calories, saturated fat, cholesterol, and sodium.
Beyond the nutritional profile
Another problem area is the portion sizes in restaurants. While the cheesecake factory’s monster servings may seem like an outlier, the CDC reports that the average serving of a hamburger and french fry in a restaurant is about three times what it was in the 1950s.
Similarly, the authors of a 2019 study analyzed the menus of 10 popular fast food chains in the United States from 1986 to 2016. They found that the number of calories and serving size (in grams) of the main dishes increased by 12% and 25%, respectively. ; Desserts had increased 46% and 37%, respectively; and the calorie count on side orders was up 21%.
This double dose of large servings and unhealthy food helped the adult obesity rate in the United States soar from 15% in 1980 to over 42%. Weight gain is of particular concern as obesity and related conditions such as diabetes and high blood pressure have been linked to an increased risk of COVID-19 complications and mortality.
The developing gastronomic landscape
Rising obesity rates are set against the backdrop of two major changes in the US hospitality landscape.
The first is the dramatic expansion of access to food outside the home. From 1977 to 2012, the number of food operations in the US rose 77%, according to the US Department of Agriculture. More recently, the number of “quick service” establishments has increased from around 150,000 in 2007 to nearly 200,000 last year.
The effects of increased restaurant density were shown by the authors of a 2015 paper. They showed a strong association between rising obesity rates and an increase in the number of restaurants per capita in a state.
The second change in the dining landscape is that people are eating out a lot more than they used to be. In 1962, groceries consumed outside of the home accounted for 27% of the total American grocery budget. By 2017 it was over 50%.
These trends, coupled with the troubling nutritional profile of the foods served by restaurants, explain the poor state of the average American diet. Most American adults and children do not consume the recommended daily amounts of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes while consuming more than the recommended amounts of added sugar, sodium, and processed meat.
These nutritional patterns are correlated with negative health outcomes. In 2012, more than 45% of U.S. deaths from diabetes, heart disease, and stroke were associated with sub-optimal diets, according to a JAMA study. This diet is defined as being low in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains and high in sodium, processed meats, and sugar-sweetened beverages.
What needs to be changed
There are no easy answers to encourage Americans to develop healthier eating habits, but one step is to eat out less often and cook healthy food at home more often. Researchers at Johns Hopkins University found that people who cook for themselves eat 12% less sugar, 6% fewer calories, and 6% less fat.
As delivery services make restaurant meals more accessible than ever, there is an urgent need for all food businesses to improve the health profile of their food. That means more low-fat and low-sodium offers with a high nutrient density. It also means smaller portions.
COVID-19 has highlighted the vulnerability of those facing diet-related health challenges. Restaurants should take the lead in helping Americans overcome these challenges and help them achieve better health.
Vanita Rahman, MD, is the Clinical Director at Barnard Medical Center, the Clinical Lecturer in Medicine at the George Washington University School of Medicine, and the author of Simply Plant Based. Matthew Rees is the editor of the Food and Health Facts newsletter, a senior fellow at the Tuck School of Business in Dartmouth, and a former White House speechwriter.
Is free school lunch really free? Our kids are paying with their health
When I heard about the USDA’s free “healthy and nutritious” school meals, I felt a lump in the pit of my stomach. These lunches are far from free. In fact, our children will pay the metabolic debts they accumulate (with interest) for the rest of their lives.
Big food doesn’t care about our health.
The “free” lunch program comes to collect
Chronic illnesses like type 2 diabetes, obesity, heart disease, cancer, infertility, autoimmune diseases, dementia and mental health problems are on the rise – and this is no accident. It is the result of decades of destructive nutritional advice promoted by the USDA and supported by a variety of stakeholders focused solely on financial gain. These diseases are a harbinger of metabolic global warming, and they are far too widespread to continue to be ignored. But the truth is, these storms brewed a long time ago, 10 to 15 years before they presented themselves as a chronic disease. Now the damage is done.
The food pyramid is just big business
The original “food pyramid,” developed nearly 20 years ago, had major flaws, but some positive properties. Fruits and vegetables were at the bottom, suggesting they should be consumed more regularly. Proteins were up next, with whole grains and foods high in calcium on top. The dairy and bread industry was quick to respond and campaigned for lawmakers to protect their profit margins, which led to our current ineffective and destructive policies.
And yes, the USDA tried a healthier model with the launch of MyPlate in 2011, Emphasis on portion control and a more appropriate distribution of the different food groups. But that still misses the point, because at the end of the day it’s not just what’s in the food that counts, but what was done with it.
Is Ultra-Processed Food Really Food?
Food is defined as a material, consisting essentially of proteins, carbohydrates and fat, that serves to sustain an organism’s body, including its growth, repair, vital processes and energy production. But what about processed foods? The likely processed foods you find in these “free” lunches have a ton of things to do with them before they hit the lunch table: added sugar for palatability, natural fiber removed to extend shelf life, emulsifiers, preservatives and more. This doesn’t even include synthetic fertilizers, pesticides and factory farming.
Let’s talk about sugar
Sugar is cleverly hidden on food labels; often disguised as corn syrup, brown sugar, honey, dextrose, and fructose. Pizza, bread, pasta, pretzels, goldfish crackers, yogurt, applesauce, and granola bars are all loaded with hidden sugar. Added sugar not only displaces nutritionally superior foods in the diet and inhibits energy production, but can also remove nutrients from other foods consumed and from the body’s stores. From the definition of food above, it turns out that neither ultra-processed food nor sugar is actually food.
Professor Efrat Monsonego Ornan of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem recently published an article in which he argued that ultra-processed foods actually stunt growth by inhibiting skeletal growth and the deposition of calcium in the bones, and by shortening the overall bones. The hidden sugars in our diet are sabotaging our bodies and fueling our national chronic health crisis.
These findings only add to what we already know: Highly processed foods can lead to cancer because they essentially hijack the metabolic program necessary for normal growth. Other facts to keep in mind: 74 percent of the foods in a grocery store have added sugar (fructose), and 67 percent of the sugar in their diets comes from highly processed foods, including school lunches and sugary breakfast items like fruit loops and orange juice.
Predator food and lack of nutritional education
Unfortunately, nobody teaches proper nutrition in schools – not before college, not during college, not even in medical school. In fact, talking about food has become just as explosive as politics or religion. As a result, kids with metabolic debt become bloated and don’t even realize it until they’re in their 20s and 30s. The food industry is hunting the nutritionally uneducated. It’s just like charging a credit card – you’re using seemingly invisible money … until you get the bill. Metabolic debt (which is essentially insulin resistance) is similar – highly processed foods cause invisible stress in children until they are diagnosed with diabetes or another equally dire condition 15 years later.
Insulin resistance explained
Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas that is responsible for transporting glucose into cells after a meal. Over time, with frequent and excessive consumption of sugar and refined carbohydrates, the cells can no longer absorb glucose efficiently, so this sugar level builds up in the blood. When this happens, the pancreas pumps out more insulin to lower glucose. However, the cells no longer respond to insulin (insulin resistance), which leads to increased insulin and glucose levels. Insulin resistance is a major cause of the metabolic syndrome that precedes the development of most chronic diseases. Still not convinced: Studies have shown that one in three Americans has this silent blood sugar problem.
Proper nutrition for all population groups
Many argue that free lunch is all some families can afford; But you don’t have to shop at Whole Foods to find delicious and nutritious products for your family. In fact, national chains like The Dollar Store, Walmart, and Aldi have options far superior to the current free school lunches, like canned coconut milk, beans, tuna bags, and frozen proteins like chicken and meat.
We’re not helping our children by offering free lunch when the food is currently being served in schools across the country. One could even argue that we are poisoning them.
As the world’s richest nation, are sugary foods the best we can offer our school children – our future leaders? My children’s lunch menu is full of things that sound delicious but in no way support their growth or health. “Fueling” our kids with laden BBQ fries, mini corn dogs, nacho bites, and cheeseburgers while waiting for this diet to prepare them for a full day of study and activity is making them fail – today and 15 years from now . I am not ready to settle down. We must stop adjusting our children to diabetes and other chronic diseases. We need to advocate for more nutritious foods that help focus, as well as mental and metabolic health. Only then can we call it “free”, but until we change the offer in these lunches we just add their “tab”.
David Rambo is the Chairman and CEO of Simplex Health with over 20 years of experience in the health and wellness industry.
Dr. Avi Gurwitz is Chair of the Pediatrics Department, Head of General / Emergency Pediatrics and Medical Director of Pediatric UrgiCare at Redeemer Health. He is also the pediatric emergency room at St. Mary’s Medical Center and chief medical officer at Simplex Health, a medical nutrition group.
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