Is Your Gut on Fire?
Everyday we make choices that impact both our short-term and long-term health. One of the most important choices that we make revolves around the foods we consume each day. The foods we pick can negatively affect our health including behaviors like undereating, overeating, and making unhealthy food choices when deciding what to eat. Our decisions can have long-lasting impacts on us such as unhealthy weight gain contributing to heart disease and diabetes or even unhealthy weight loss. So what can we do to make the right decisions for our diet? There are hundreds of different “diets” or “plans” out there to follow. These are a few diet suggestions that can benefit your body and your health for years to come.
The Mediterranean Diet was created in the 1960s when researchers discovered there was a lower prevalence of heart disease in the Mediterranean countries such as Italy or Greece in comparison to North America. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend the Mediterranean Diet in order to help prevent chronic disease and improve overall health and well-being.
This diet does not follow a specific list of foods to eat but rather promotes specific types of food. These include whole grains, fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts/seeds, and olive oil. Recommendations include:
- Daily consumption of whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and healthy fats
- Weekly consumption of fish, poultry, eggs, and beans
- Moderate consumption of dairy and dairy products
- Limited consumption of red meat
As you can see, the biggest difference in this diet compared to the typical diet of Americans is the lack of meat. Meals in the Mediterranean Diet are more plant-based rather than being meat-based. Legumes, vegetables, whole grains, and even seafood lay the foundation for this way of eating. This diet provides delicious food options that can help decrease your risk of getting a chronic disease, while aiding in lowering cholesterol, helping with weight loss, and reducing the risk of developing diabetes.
Gluten and Lectins
Gluten is a broad name for the proteins found in wheat, rye, and barley. It has created quite a craze in the media recently and has many people wondering if they have Celiac disease. Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease that occurs in individuals who are extremely allergic to gluten because it can damage the cells or “enterocytes” of the small intestine. This can lead to malabsorption of nutrients including iron and creates a wide range of symptoms including fatigue, abdominal pain, nausea, skin irritation, or even lactose intolerance.
With this wide range of symptoms, the celiac disease can be confused for many other gastrointestinal conditions. Even for individuals who do not test positive for celiac disease, gluten can still be difficult to digest for certain individuals. Talk to your health care professional if you feel you may have a sensitivity to gluten.
Lectins are another group of proteins found in a wide variety of foods, especially in grains and legumes. Some lectins are easily processed by the body with no issues. However, other lectins can survive the acidic environments in the gut causing vomiting, abdominal pain, and diarrhea. Lectins are also a carbohydrate-binding protein. With this property, lectins can cause nutrient deficiencies, issues with digestion of food, and intestinal damage in individuals who do not have the proper enzymes to interact with these proteins.
Gluten and lectins can both play a role in chronic inflammation and autoimmune diseases. When certain individuals have a hard time processing these components of food, their body creates a response to them and often, the immune system is being triggered. This can become chronic. Lectins have been associated with irritable bowel syndrome, Crohn’s disease, and rheumatoid arthritis. If you experience any of the symptoms of intolerance to gluten or lectins, reach out to your health care professional for more information.
We all love a little kick in our food don’t we? Black pepper, ginger, and capsaicin (found in red chili pepper) are all spices that add heat to the foods we eat. But they also provide a slight boost to our metabolism for short periods of time and can increase feelings of satiety (feeling full). When we consume spicy foods, we end up actually consuming less food overall. In fact, some researchers believe capsaicin can actually be used as an appetite suppressant. Capsaicin also has anti-inflammatory properties and can help people with autoimmune conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis. While eating spicy foods isn’t a magical weight loss solution, it’s a great concept to add into your daily diet to help you consume less calories overall by increasing feelings of fullness and boosting your metabolism, as well as helping to reduce inflammation. Next time you make lunch, consider adding a bit of hot sauce to the mix!
All in all, nutrition plays a large part in the regulation of gastrointestinal health. Making healthy foods choices, such as the recommendations in the Mediterranean Diet, can help maintain a well-balanced lifestyle. A typical healthy diet includes low-fat dairy, a variety of colors of fruits and vegetables, whole grains rather than refined grains, and lean meat/fish/poultry. A good way to stick to a healthy diet is by sticking to the outer aisles of the grocery store and purchasing “fresh” items rather than packaged items. In addition to the Mediterranean Diet, other healthy suggestions include limiting gluten if you are experiencing symptoms similar to those related to celiac disease, or adding spicy flavors to your food to increase satiety. These are just a few ways you can maintain gut health and achieve a healthier lifestyle.