Why is gut health so important?
It’s almost back to school time! Besides shopping for school supplies my next thoughts are: germs, sports and focus. I am not talking only about our kiddos. As parents we need to be on top of our game too!
Learn how to improve your digestion, boost your immune system, promote brain health and get ready for school!
Your gut acts as the frontline of your immune system and the processes in your gut influences your central nervous system, brain and even your mood!
So, what is the gut and gut microbiome?
The gut refers to the place where your food is digested, metabolized and absorbed and provide the body with energy. The process of breaking down food creates compounds that either help support health or lead to inflammation, increasing the risk for disease.
The gut microbiome, the bacteria, fungi and viruses living in your gut, have a huge impact on your immune system, your appetite, allergies, metabolism, headaches, anxiety, bloating, gas, fatigue and your mood. In other words, the bacteria living in your gut have a huge impact on the way you feel and play a key role in your mood.
How to keep your gut bacteria happy?
The types of food you eat and how you take care of your body impact not only your gut health but your overall health as well. Both probiotics and prebiotics help support gut health in different ways.
You have probably heard about these terms before so let’s look at them closely what they are.
Probiotics are the good bacteria living in your gut. You have both good and bad bacteria in your body and a good balance is necessary for a healthy gut.
Benefits of Probiotics:
· Improves digestion
· Reduces inflammation
· Lowers blood sugar
· Improves the immune system
· Promotes healthy skin
· Boosts mental health and memory
· Play a key role in how you think and feel
Probiotics can be found in cultured and fermented foods:
Pickles, Sauerkraut, Kombucha, Yoghurt, Kefir, Tempeh, Miso, Kimchi
Cool Tip: Some kids love pickles and kimchi but for those who don’t, try yoghurt. My boys love to finish their day with a cup of yoghurt. We also refill our kombucha jar every week at the farmer’s market (check out my post on Instagram) and sip it throughout the week. We love to try out different flavors.
Fun Fact: Most pickles in the supermarket are “dead pickles”, as dr. Andrew Weil calls them, because they have been pickled with vinegar. These pickles are not fermented and do not contain probiotic activity.
Have you ever made fermented pickles or sauerkraut? You might be intimidated by it, but it’s super simple. I learned these recipes from Liz Lipski, author of Digestive Wellness for Children.
Half Sour Dill Pickles
5-8 small pickling cucumbers
1 quart filtered or spring water
1-2 garlic cloves, chopped
1-2 tsp dill seed
¼ cup fresh dill
2 tbs sea salt
Optional spices: coriander, cumin, red pepper flakes, mustard seed, caraway.
Soak the cucumbers in ice water for one hour to enliven them. Place garlic, dill and optional spices in the bottom of a quart jar. Add the cucumbers, placing them tightly. Dissolve the salt in water and pour over the cucumbers making sure they are completely covered. Leave an inch of space between the top of the water and the top of the jar and cover loosely with a kitchen towel or cheesecloth (if using cheesecloth, secure it with a rubber band). Leave the jar on the counter in a cool place for 3-7 days. Check daily. The liquid will begin to get cloudy and slightly bubbly. Try one. If not done, leave them for couple more days. When pickles reach desired taste, cover and refrigerate.
1 purple or green cabbage thinly sliced
1 tbs of caraway seed
Thinly slice the cabbage (I like to use my food processor), adding salt to each batch as you place them in a large bowl. Massage the cabbage and salt with your hands for 5-10 minutes until it becomes limp and moist. Tightly pack the cabbage into canning jars by tamping down with your fist (or use a smaller jar). Add any extra cabbage liquid from the bowl into the jars. Weigh the cabbage down by placing a small jar filled with rocks, marbles or water on top of your mixture.
Cover the jar with a kitchen towel or cheesecloth using a rubber band to keep it in place.
For the first 24 hours press the cabbage down occasionally. After 24 hours your cabbage should be submerged in its liquid. If not, mix 1 tsp salt and 1 cup of water and add enough to cover the cabbage completely.
Let the cabbage ferment for 3-14 days at room temperature. Check it daily for desired taste. Any layer of bubbles or foam can be skimmed off during fermentation or after it’s done. If you see mold, remove it immediately. Store in the refrigerator and enjoy!
Prebiotics are specific forms of dietary fiber that feeds the good bacteria or probiotics.
Every time you eat, you are feeding the good or the bad bacteria in your gut. Unfortunately, our modern diet, filled with processed food, is too often feeding the bad guys, and starving the good guys. The bad bacteria feeds on sugar and unhealthy fats (yes, junk food) and all the good bacteria needs is fiber. Most of us literally starve the good bacteria that would help digest our food and thrive.
Benefits of Prebiotics:
· Improves digestion
· Nourished “good” bacteria
· Reduces inflammation
· Lowers risk for weight gain, obesity and cardiovascular disease
· Improves cholesterol levels
· Supports immune function
· Improves hormonal balance
Where can I find them?
The good news is that prebiotics occur naturally in food so you can get them from your diet. The best prebiotic foods:
Fruits: Berries, Peaches, Nectarines, Grapefruit, Watermelon, Bananas
Vegetables: Green Leafy Vegetables, Dandelion greens, Asparagus, Artichokes, Jicama, Onion, Garlic, Chicory,
Legumes: Beans and Lentils
Whole grains: Oats
Nuts and Seeds: Cashews, Flaxseed, Hemp seeds, Pistachios
One of my favorite morning drinks, Dandiblend, combines both Dandelion roots and chicory. Last year I replaced my coffee with this instant herbal beverage. It tastes just like coffee and has the benefits of dandelion which is a highly nutritious plant, loaded with vitamins, minerals and fiber.
Cool tip: You can easily incorporate fiber in your diet. My children start their day with a glass of water and some fruit every morning. They nibble on the fruit while I prepare their breakfast. They also drink a small glass of spinach and blueberry smoothie with flax seed (recipe in my blog “Did you know July is National Blueberry month?”). So they get a good amount of fiber and vitamins, also their digestion and immune system are ready for the day.
Fun Fact: Probiotic-containing fermented vegetables are often made from prebiotic foods. Double bonus!
Let’s start feeding our probiotic bacteria with prebiotic foods for a healthy gut! Our body, our gut, our brain and our mood will thank us for it. What a great way to get the school year started!
Let me know how your fermented pickles or sauerkraut turned out!
I have never used jicama. Do you have a favorite recipe with jicama that you would like to share with me? I would love to try it out.