It's already 5 months into our Journey to Healthy Eating Challenge. Last month brought us a focus on fiber, something that a vast number of people following the typical western diet are just not getting enough of.
Before we explore May’s healthy eating challenge, let me reflect a bit on April’s nutrition goal:
I love high fiber foods, or more specifically, I love foods that keep me feeling satisfied for longer. There’s nothing worse that being hungry 30 minutes after finishing a meal. Gone are the days that I enjoy a bowl of low fiber, “puffed air” cereal. Who has time for a grumbly stomach just minutes after leaving the house in the morning?
Not only am I a fan of feeling satisfied after a meal but I also really enjoy the taste of higher fiber foods. Whole grain bread and brown rice have such a great flavour compared to their more refined counterparts. That’s not to say I don’t enjoy a fresh baked loaf of french bread or a crispy white baguette because I do, but overall I find the higher fiber versions to much more satisfying on a day to day basis.
One trick I find helpful in attaining my daily fiber goals is to load up on veggies at lunch and dinner. Specifically, I like to make half my plate veggies and be sure to include a few vegetarian meals each week which, by the way, were challenges for January and February, respectively. See what I did there? Many aspects of healthy eating are interrelated - eating more fruits, veggies and vegetarian meals has the added benefit of increasing our fiber intake.
Now onto May’s challenge…
May Challenge: Feed Your Gut
Feed your gut? Aren’t we feeding our gut by just eating? Well, yes and no.
All that we eat does pass through our digestive system but that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about choosing foods that promote the growth of healthy bacteria in our large intestine, or colon. And, what’s interesting is that this healthy eating challenge is also related to the previous month’s nutrition goal of focusing on our fiber intake. You see, those good little bacteria in our gut, collectively known as our microbiome, ferment some of the fiber we eat into substrates (like short chain fatty acids) that are, in turn, used by the cells of our colon and beyond.
Truth be told, there is still a lot about the microbiome that remains unknown. We are constantly learning about the gut’s connection to the rest of our body. Studies on the microbiome, the specific bacteria which make it up, and its function on health remain ongoing.
Here are just a few of the things we know, or sort of know, about our microbiome:
- The microbiome can influence gut metabolism and and digestion.
- There are about 100 trillion bacteria in our large intestine.
- The bacteria present in our colon could be from 300-1000 different species (although most belong to 30-40 different species).
- Bacteria in our gut may play a role in our immunity by strengthening our immune system.
- The bacteria of our gut produce our main source of vitamin K.
- The microbiome may influence diabetes-related complications.
- Dysbiosis of the gut microbiome may be related to irritable bowel disease, inflammatory bowel disease, and neurological disorders.
- The microbiome can be influenced by taking probiotics supplements.
- Probiotics can help with reducing C. difficile associated diarrhea.
- Fecal transplants from healthy donors have the potential to improve insulin sensitivity, treat c.difficile related diarrhea, and reduce symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease and irritable bowel disease,
- The microbiome in healthy weight individuals is different than that of obese individuals.
There are two ways in which you can promote a healthy microbiome - either by feed your gut these friendly bacteria (or probiotics) directly or by feeding the bacteria already present in your colon. By choosing probiotic-rich foods (or by taking probiotic supplements) and by ensuring your diet contains foods that feed the those same bacteria, you can promote a healthy microbiome.
Foods which contain probiotics:
- Yogurt with “live, active (probiotic) cultures”
- Check the ingredients list for bacterial cultures such as Lactobacillus rhamnosus, L. casei, L. acidophilus, and Bifidobacterium lactis.
- Kefir - a milk-based cultured by bacteria and yeast (find this in the dairy aisle).
- Sauerkraut - enjoy with sausages, on sandwiches or as a side dish.
- Miso - use this fermented soybean paste in soups or sauces.
- Tempeh - this fermented soy product is rich in probiotics, B12, and protein.
- Kimchi - this famous spicy Korean dish is a great source of friendly bacteria.
- Kombucha - sip this fermented tea to get a dose of probiotics.
- Homemade fermented vegetables - try your hand at fermenting vegetables like this.
Foods which feed the bacteria (or prebiotics):
- Vegetables: garlic, onions, leeks, jicama, asparagus, and Jerusalem artichoke, shallots, beetroot, green peas, chicory root and savoy cabbage.
- Fruits: apples, bananas, watermelon, grapefruit, peaches and nectarines.
- Grains: oats, barley, wheat bread and wheat bran.
- Legumes: chickpeas, lentils, kidney beans and soybeans.
- Nuts: cashews and pistachios.
ALREADY DOING THIS CHALLENGE? TRY THE BONUS CHALLENGE.
Are you already feeding your gut sources of healthy bacteria and prebiotics? Have you tried to make your own probiotic-rich foods yet? Why not try making your own fermented veggies? Need some inspiration? Check out these resources for making your own fermented veggies or pickles. Or perhaps, try making some homemade yogurt? And if you are feeling super adventurous, how about trying to make your own kombucha?
ARE YOU FOLLOWING ALONG WITH THIS CHALLENGE? MAKE SURE TO CHECK BACK ON THE BLOG AND FACEBOOK PAGE ALL MONTH LONG FOR CHALLENGE RELATED ARTICLES AND TIPS.
REMEMBER TO TAG YOUR PHOTOS ON SOCIAL MEDIA WITH #JOURNEYTOHEALTHYEATING.
Stay tuned for next month’s Challenge!