The gut is critical for establishing and maintaining good health. It is a long tube, going from the top to the bottom of the torso. The meal goes in, it is mechanically and then chemically broken down and the nutrients and water are removed with the remaining material prepared for elimination. This tells us digestion is efficient. The process of digestion, absorption, and elimination occurs via the digestive tract and the kidneys, and the urinary tract. It is a remarkable process. The gut never quits processing what we eat unless we go on an extended fast, which for some can be a remarkably successful method for restoring normal gut functions.
While fasting for several days is an excellent health strategy, unfortunately, it is something most people will not do. However, several effective non-fasting avenues exist for restoring normal gut function as well. Each person is unique; what may work for one person may not work for another. It may be a good idea to get professional help when your gut is not working well. Signs your gut might be losing some function(s) include constipation, diarrhea, excess bloating, gas, pain, reflux, bad breath, smelly stools, etc.
How does gut function relate to meals? It’s simple, really. Every food you eat either count as a positive, negative, or neutral influence on the gut and health. This means that with each meal, you have a fresh opportunity to exert a positive influence on the course of your health (or disease). What we eat impacts our gut’s health, our mental health, cognitive functions, inflammation, immune functions, conditions such as autism, heart functions, liver functions, obesity, etc. If your gut is healthy, ingested toxins, pathogens, etc., have a much lower likelihood of entering your bloodstream. A healthy microbiome increases your chances of resisting cold viruses, exerting robust vitality, promoting clear thinking, etc.
When you consume highly processed or artificial foods, the chemicals, and even toxins in the food first come into contact with your mouth, then your stomach, small intestine, and large intestine. Food transiting through the gut ideally takes 8 to 12 hours to enter, process, and leave the gut as a bowel movement (BM). However, most people’s transit time is days and for some, weeks, and not hours long. This is known as constipation. For every meal you eat, you form a BM. This means if you eat three meals per day, you need to have 2 to 3 BMs per day. Anything less negatively impacts your microbiome.
As food and chemicals move through the gut, they are either absorbed in the small intestine or what is not absorbed ends up in the large intestine and is ultimately eliminated. As the unabsorbed components in the small intestine reach the large intestine, they contact the extensive microbiome, a large population of hopefully beneficial microorganisms that permanently occupies the large intestine that may weigh up to several pounds. The microbiome modulates the body’s reaction to ingested toxins and ideally increases our body’s ability to resist absorbing them and efficiently eliminate them. When chemicals and toxins come into contact with the microbiome, they either feed or poison them. If the latter happens, the good microorganisms may die and bad microorganisms may take their place. Food and even environmental toxins have the ability to alter the gut microbiome. Taking antibiotics may wipe out a healthy microbiome and the replacement microorganisms may not be as healthy and optimally functional. It is critical to follow up on antibiotics with healthy pre-and probiotic foods (see the listing below and the provided link).
One infrequently consumed bad food or one bad meal may not have lasting effects, but as the frequency increases, there is a greater chance of permanently altering gut function. This is why every meal matters. Every time you consume food and beverages that support gut health, you reap the amazing benefits of continued good health, good sleep, good cognitive functions, minimal food sensitivities, good mood, high energy, good relationships, etc. This is why every meal matters.
In the next blog, we will continue to discuss the gut, a healthy microbiome, and how much volume of food per meal is ideal. For now, here are some awesome ways to positively impact your microbiome:
- Drink pure water (not chlorinated, fluorinated, chemical-laden tap water).
- Learn how to juice healthy fruits and vegetables such as carrots, apples, beets, ginger, celery, kale, turmeric, etc.
- Eat plenty of prebiotic foods (e.g., apples, asparagus, avocado, bananas, barley, burdock root, cabbage, cacao, cauliflower, chicory root, flaxseeds, garlic, ginger, Jerusalem artichoke, jicama, leeks, oats, onions, pumpkin seeds, seaweed, wheat bran, wild rice).
- Eat plenty of probiotic foods (e.g., coconut water, kefir, kimchi, miso, sauerkraut).
- Eat a fresh, raw salad at every meal (e.g., fruit salad, fruit smoothie, salad).
- Reduce or remove processed foods. If the label on the food shows a lot of chemical names you do not recognize, it is processed food that likely contains gut toxins in varying amounts.
- Minimize sugar intake to once or maybe twice per week.
- Minimize excess amounts of oils that are highly processed, including canola, corn, cottonseed, and highly processed safflower and sunflower oils, etc. Oils that are better include coconut, olive, avocado, and any naturally pressed oils such as walnut, pecan, sunflower, sesame, etc.
- Use less added oils and substitute with natural fats such as avocado and olives, etc.
- Avoid snacking or consuming food between meals.
- Avoid drinking large amounts of liquids with your meals.
- Avoid excessive use of gut stimulants such as caffeine, laxatives, and excitotoxins found in food and beverages such as aspartame, saccharin, MSG, etc.
- Add psyllium husks or chia seeds to your morning water.