Nutrition matters. Food is your body’s fuel. You can put in cheap, low quality fuel that gets used up quickly and makes your body break down over time. Or you can put in premium fuel that gives you lasting energy and keeps your body in peak condition. Health begins with what you’re putting into your body.
Everything comes back to the microbiome. The microbes that colonize our bodies--on our skin, in our digestive system, in our mouths, everywhere you can think of--are the driving force behind all processes in the body.
They help digest and absorb nutrients from our food, fight infection and disease, detoxify the body, moderate immune and stress responses, produce neurotransmitters, regulate sleep, and control inflammation--which affects risk for virtually every chronic disease.
The microbiome has everything to do with physical and mental health. A dysbiotic microbiome--i.e. unbalanced--has been linked to ADHD, anxiety, asthma, autism, allergies and food sensitivities, bipolar disorder, chronic fatigue, depression, diabetes and cravings for sugar and carbohydrates, obesity and weight-loss struggles, memory problems and poor concentration, chronic constipation or diarrhea, frequent colds or infections, intestinal disorders (including celiac disease, IBS, and Crohn’s disease), insomnia, painful joint inflammations and arthritis, high blood pressure, atherosclerosis, chronic yeast problems, skin problems such as acne and eczema, bad breath, gum disease, dental problems, Tourette syndrome, extreme menstrual and menopausal symptoms...need I go on? Or are you convinced of just how important these microscopic critters are to our health?
What we eat, drink, and expose ourselves to determines what microbial populations colonize in and on our bodies, so the goal is to eat foods that feed beneficial microbial populations that promote health, rather than feeding microbial populations that promote disease and degeneration.
Fortunately, taking control of what you put into your body with these simple steps will help you feed your microbiome for optimal physical and mental health.
Modern farming and food production practices have not only reduced the bioavailability of the nutrients in our food, but made many of them so processed, void of nutrients, and chemical-laden that they feed the microbial populations that make us sick overtime, while causing our health promoting microbial populations to die off. It’s why so much of our Western population is getting sick, obese, and depressed.
Many of the foods stocked on our grocery store shelves are pumped full of refined sugars, bad fats, and straight up toxic chemicals. Here’s a list of ingredients you should always avoid when you’re shopping:
These ingredients feed microbial populations that make us sick, clog up our detoxification systems, and contribute to brain fog and imbalanced hormonal activity. If we don’t educate ourselves on the products we’re putting in our bodies, all our efforts to be healthy--both mentally and physically--can be thwarted by poor and harmful nutrition.
Fats are a vital part of your diet. Your body needs fat to fuel many essential functions, including producing cells, creating sustainable energy, proper brain functioning, proper blood clotting, absorbing vitamins, and protecting vital organs. Did you know the brain is 60% fat? Fat is important.
But eating the right types of fat is also important.
There are four types of fat: trans fats, saturated fats, monounsaturated fats, and polyunsaturated fats.
Trans fats should be avoided completely; they’re found in commercially baked pastries, packaged snack foods, fried foods, and anything containing hydrogenated oils. The FDA is currently working towards completely outlawing the use of trans fats in food. No amount of trans fat is considered safe, so read labels carefully to avoid these.
Saturated fats aren’t nearly as bad as trans fats, but it’s important to eat them in moderation because they raise LDL (bad) cholesterol. Saturated fats are found in things like red meat, chicken skin, whole fat dairy products, butter, ice cream, lard, and certain oils. Most nutritionists recommend saturated fats make up no more than 10% of your daily calories. This number is flexible within certain diets, such as the ketogenic diet.
Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats are beneficial fats! Omega 3’s high in EPA, DHA, and plant-based ALA are the best types of fats for us--though EPA and DHA are much stronger sources. They are shown to prevent and reduce symptoms of ADHD, depression, and bipolar disorder; protect against memory loss and dementia; reduce the risk of stroke, heart disease, and cancer; ease arthritis, joint pain, and inflammatory skin conditions; support a healthy pregnancy; and battle fatigue, sharpen memory, and balance your mood.
The best sources of these beneficial fats are fish, algae, and eggs. Fatty cold-water fish, such as salmon, sardines, and tuna are preferable. Omega 3 supplements can also be a great source of these good fats.
Use the acronym BACON to remember sources of good fats: butter/ghee; avocado and avocado oil; coconut oil, cream, and milk; olive oil (extra virgin) and olives; nut oils.
Choosing healthy oils is another important part of getting good fats in. Try avocado oil, coconut oil, extra virgin olive oil, grapeseed oil, flaxseed oil, and sesame oil for good fats. Many oils are made by chemical extraction, which puts toxins into the oil, so make sure you find oils that are mechanically extracted--raw, unprocessed, and from a reputable source.
In addition, beware of the low-fat/non-fat trick in processed food. When you see low-fat or nonfat on packaged food, it’s very likely that the fats in this food have been replaced with sugar--often high fructose corn syrup, which should always be avoided--for flavor. This type of food is a sure path to weight gain!
The balance of fatty acids in the protein we eat is also important. Conventionally raised farm animals have a high ratio of omega 6 to omega 3 fatty acids, at 18:1. Grass fed meats and free range poultry have a much better ratio--between 2:1 and 4:1.
Conventional farming practices introduce chemicals into our food that we want to avoid; our meat accumulates herbicides, commercial pesticides, antibiotics, and hormones. By eating these meats, we, in turn, begin to accumulate these chemicals in our bodies too.
Eating grass-fed, free-range, and cage-free proteins without added hormones, as well as avoiding farm-raised and Atlantic fish, will give your body the proper ratio of omega 6 to omega 3 fatty acids.
The sweet tooth is a powerful thing, and it has led many a person off track on their diet. Sugar affects the brain the same way many addictive drugs do. When you consume sugar, dopamine spikes. Dopamine is the same neurotransmitter released when you take opioids; that’s why it’s so hard to cut it out of your diet.
Hard, but not impossible--and SO worth the benefits. Cutting out or down on sugar doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy sweet treats every once in a while. It just means that your body isn’t running on sugar anymore--it’s running on sustainable energy provided by healthy fats and healthy carbohydrates.
Running on sugar makes your stress and reproductive hormones fluctuate WITH sugar spikes, which can wreak havoc on every system in your body and lead to mood and energy instability. You’ll live a much more balanced life, mentally and physically, if you’re running on real energy, rather than the artificial spikes and crashes characteristic of a sugar driven body.
There are several great, natural replacements for the sweetness of sugar that will help you break away from your sugar habit: stevia, medjool dates, bananas, and minimally processed honey.
The majority of whole and refined grains contribute to inflammation. When the body breaks down carbohydrates, it converts them into sugar, which causes spikes in blood sugar. This is why eating or overeating grains on a regular basis can also lead to elevated insulin levels and insulin sensitivity--and even type 2 diabetes over time.
Current farming practices have made many of the grains in the American diet so processed and genetically modified that they have lost much of their nutritional value. Genetically modified grains are likely to expose us to round-up--a common weed killer--which is highly toxic to humans and linked to inflammation, chronic diseases, and cancer.
Many people also have an unknown allergy to gluten, causing the body to attack itself every time it’s exposed to this protein found in most American farmed grains.
Swapping out refined and whole grains with pseudo grains amplifies the benefits of eating whole grains while reducing their potential negative effects on the body as well. Quinoa, buckwheat, teff, millet, amaranth, and wild rice are common pseudo grains. They are super foods known to be high in fiber and protein and lower on the glycemic scale than typical grains--reducing impact on blood sugar fluctuations.
As you begin to implement these dietary changes, it’s likely that you’ll notice an immediate difference in how you feel; brain fog will start to clear, your mood will stabilize, you’ll feel more sustainably energized, and you’ll probably start to lose weight too.
Feeling overwhelmed? Taking this step by step, one day at a time is the best way to get started. Maybe you’ll start out by implementing just one of these recommendations, and then adding on more as you succeed and feel the benefits. It’s amazing the difference even one of these changes will make in how you feel.
Plan to be hungry! This will set you up for success in sticking to your plan. Instead of reaching for a processed snack, have a bag of nuts with you to get in some healthy fats that will keep you energized. Cut up veggies ahead of time so when hunger strikes, there’s a healthy snack to reach for. Try out new recipes to make healthy eating fun and delicious.
There are so many health benefits to implementing these strategies. Try it out, and see for yourself the difference in how you feel!