The Pros Taught Us What To Do For A Happy And Healthy Gut. Here's Everything We Learned!
The gut isn't called the 2nd brain for nothing!
How many times have you encountered problems in your stomach and quickly dismissed it as any regular tummy ache and popped a pill to kick the pain away? Have there also been times when your tummy just didn't feel right when you had a major decision to make? We're sure you've also heard the age old adage "trust your gut." Chances are, your gut really is trying to tell you that there is something wrong with your system, and that we should listen more intently.
Listen to your gut? This may not sound right to some, but they say the gut is the body's second brain, and this line holds true for good reason. According to Dr. Stanley Chua, Board Certified in Nutritional Medicine at Bio Balance Philippines, the gut is home to 1,ooo different species of bacteria, and they help the gut digest food, help with the production of some vitamins, combat aggressions from other microorganisms, and they play vital role in the immune system.
He also shares that 90-95% supply of the neurotransmitter serotonin or the "happy chemical" is found in the digestive tract, although manufactured in the brain. Why then is the gut called the 2nd brain?
We were fortunate enough to attend a wellness workshop recently called the "Happy Belly" workshop—led by Weizel Gulfan who is Certified in Culinary Nutrition, and is a Macrobiotics & Raw Food Chef, as well as Sara Black, Meditation & Mindfulness Coach. The dynamic duo let us in on valuable information that taught us why we should be paying more attention to our gut, and why it indeed is our 2nd brain.
Here's what we learned:
Just like Dr. Stanley Chua mentioned, the gut is home to hundreds of trillions of microbiota living in our large intestine. In addition to this, Weizel Gulfan shared with us that our gut has 40 times the surface area of our skin—now that's a huge space to cover. It has 20 different kinds of hormones, and it has its own nervous system, one that has nerves tied tightly to the lymphatic system—2/3 of which makes up our immunity!
If this data isn't blowing you away just yet, there's more. 90% of our cells are microbial, so it's safe to say that whatever happens in the gut, affects our entirety.
Now with today's modern lifestyle comprised of stressful days, harsh and toxic environmental conditions, consuming of less-than-ideal food (aka processed food, too many animal products, etc.), the result is a gut that's in a subpar state, and a gut that's most likely compromised. The good news? We can do something about it, and we can help our gut get to a happier state!
How can we make our belly happy? Yes we can do all the crunches we want at the gym, but if we don't mind what's going on inside, then we're missing out on the whole point. Optimum health starts in the gut, and we should be taking care of it with much effort.
The simple answer for making our gut happier and healthier is to eat right for it. And no, we're not just talking about those little pink bottles of probiotics we've loved since we were kids—we're talking about plant-based food, fermented food like kombucha and pickled goods, whole foods, polyphenols, and prebiotics! Did that sound like a mouthful? Allow us to break it down for you:
Calling all vegans and vegetarians: you're on the right track! If you haven't considered upping your vegetables, fruits, and good fiber intake, then this is the sign you've been waiting for to go for it. Plant-based food is rich in fiber that can't be digested but feeds the microbiota and leads to a growth of good bacteria, which we like! It promotes the growth of beneficial gut bacteria aka the good guys, including Bifidobacteria, a good bacteria that prevents intestinal inflammation!
You're probably thinking Kimchi, which is well-loved in the dining scene. Apart from this favorite, there are lots of options for fermented food for you to try in your menu at home. The process of fermenting usually involves bacteria or yeasts converting the sugars in food to organic acids or alcohol. A lot of these foods are rich in lactobacilli, a type of bacteria that can benefit your health!
While ideally we should be consuming our food from head-to-tail and skin-to-seed, we know that this isn't always possible, so the next best thing is to opt for non-processed food you can totally enjoy daily. Why not try to enjoy a delicious, ripe banana rather than eating its sweetened chips version? Or eat an entire grilled fish instead of eating its bottled, sodium-laden kind? Eating whole foods allows you to benefit from the live enzymes necessary to digest the food you eat. Variety is key, and sticking to only five kinds of meat (or less) and 12 kinds of veggies and fruits (or less) discourages your microbiome from growing diversely.
Don't be turned off by the scientific jargon, it's simpler than you think! Polyphenols are basically plant compounds that have many health benefits, including reductions in blood pressure, inflammation, cholesterol levels, and oxidative stress. These powerhouse compounds can't always be digested by human cells, and given that they aren't absorbed efficiently, most make their way to the colon, where they can be digested by gut bacteria—which is good for them! Some samples of food with polyphenols are cacao, blueberries, almonds, green tea, grapes, and onions!
Confused by priobiotics and prebiotics? Probiotics are basically the friendly kind of gut bacteria, providing health benefits when eaten. These are often taken as supplements and are said to populate your gut with health-boosting microorganisms. Prebiotics on the other hand are resistant starches that are not absorbed in the small intestine. Rather, it passes into the large intestine where it's broken down by the microbiota. Some examples of prebiotics are raw bananas, onions, garlic, and leeks.
Now that we know what to eat, it's also beneficial to get schooled on what not to eat. Unfriendly food for our gut are animal protein (think beef burgers, pork belly chops, fried chicken, dairy), sugar, oil, alcohol, and antibiotics.
If you're tempted to head straight to the drug store when you're feeling funny in the stomach, why not try reaching out for your pantry of healthy food first and try dealing with it with nature's prescription? You'll find that altering the way you eat is highly beneficial in turning your tummy woes around! At the very least it is worth a try. No one is pressuring you to go full-on vegan, but adding way more of these beneficial foods could lend a helping hand to your ailing gut.
Want to know if your gut is happy? Here are some telltale signs:
You have good immunity, meaning you rarely ever get sick. You don't feel gassy, and you feel way less bloating. You skin is clear—no need for excessive spending on treatments or products! You have a sharp mind, and don't ever experience "brain fog". Your intuition is strong, you have no allergies, you have little intolerances, you have a balanced mood, and you generally have a positive outlook in life.
The human body has a ringmaster. It controls your digestion, your immunity, your brain, your weight, your health, and even your happiness. This ringmaster is your gut. - Nancy Mure
Not feeling any of these? Well maybe your gut is in dire need of cheering up! Scroll ahead to find out more ways of getting that tummy to a happier state:
1. Avoid certain foods. This means you must by all means lessen or totally avoid your intake of processed food like MSG, refined sugars, hydrogenated oils like vegetable oil and palm oil, and chemical preservatives found in many mainstream packaged foods.
2. Eat certain foods this way. When eating vegetables, make sure to not overcook them, lest you risk losing essential good bacteria, vitamins, and enzymes needed by your body. Raw food on the other hand, tends to retain water and accumulate gas in the tummy, so when you are to eat raw, warm it a bit, then chew each spoonful for 30 times for better digestion. Lastly, practice sprouting your grains, seeds, and beans—rice, lentils, sunflower seeds, even cashews. This inhibits the natural phytic acid around them that interferes with digestion and absorption.
3. Inject probiotics to your diet. Even if you are eating right, it's always good to try supplementing it with probiotics to aid your body in the digestion process. Probiotics, if you can, should be eaten whole—in the form of fermented foods. Kimchi, sauerkraut, kombucha, and kefir are great options to add to your menu. These help break down fat and protein in the food you eat.
4. Don't forget to hydrate! While it's tempting to make coffee the very first thing you chug down in the AM, it is not exactly the most ideal thing to do. Adding lemon to your water should make things easier if you are struggling with your water intake, and adding things like herbal tea to your day are also beneficial.
5. Try helpful tips for supporting enzyme production. Oftentimes we are in a rush that we don't really chew our food well. We tend to swallow every spoonful of food most especially when we're on-the-go, but our tummies aren't benefiting from this practice. Try chewing 30 times before you swallow, to activate enzymes in your mouth, to kickstart the digestion process.
Try to limit liquids 30 minutes before a meal, to let your digestive system's acids break down the food efficiently. When you drink green juice, opt to swish it around your mouth to coat it with digestive enzymes. It is always better to drink room temperature, and do this to lessen the tendency of bloating. (by Agni Sar Kriya)
6. Last but not least, learn to lessen stress. Reducing cortisol (stress hormones) in your bodies and increasing serotonin (happy hormone) is key to a more balanced gut, and eventually a healthier, happier life. Be mindful with what you eat, and how you eat it. As I mentioned earlier, we're often rushed, and don't even bother giving our meals any thought. Having your meals on the road or on your work desk isn't just depressing, but an unhealthy way of eating. Why not set aside some time to focus on your meal and actually enjoy it?
Another surefire way of helping your body cope? SLEEP. You're not going to be awarded girlboss of the year by sleeping less than eight hours everyday. You will end up exhausted, sick, and irritable if you don't get the necessary R&R your body needs. Cell regeneration and organ repair happens when we're asleep, lack of which slows down the metabolism and creates acidity in the body.
Who's ready to have a happy belly? We know we are!
The Happy Belly workshop was supported by Breville Philippines (for green juices, green smoothies and ingredients, equipment, and manpower for the workshop), Crosta Pizza (for the probiotic non-dairy cheeses on fermented crusts), Boocha Mama (for their probiotic sparkling kombucha), Bio Balance Philippines.