If there was ever a call for "digestive health," this is it!
Yes, it's true. Your gut is considered your "second brain."
There is no denying it anymore.
And because of the new scientific discoveries about the vagus nerve, the enteric nervous system, and the amazing influence your gut microbes can have, it's no wonder what you eat feeds not only your body but can directly affect your brain.
I find it amazing (but not too surprising).
What exactly is the "gut-brain connection."
Well, it’s very complex, and to be honest, we’re still learning lots about it!
There seem to be multiple things working together. Things like:
The vagus nerve that links the gut directly to the brain;
The “enteric nervous system” (A.K.A. “second brain) that helps the complex intricacies of digestion flow with little to no involvement from the actual brain;
The massive amount of neurotransmitters produced by the gut;
The huge part of the immune system that is in the gut, but can travel throughout the body; and,
The interactions and messages sent by the gut microbes.
This is complex. And amazing, if you ask me.
I’ll briefly touch on these areas, and end off with a delicious recipe (of course!)
There is a nerve that runs directly from the gut to the brain.
And after reading this so far, you’ll probably get a sense of which direction 90% of the transmission is…
Not from your brain to your gut (which is what we used to think), but from your gut up to your brain!
The enteric nervous system and neurotransmitters
Would you believe me if I told you that the gut has more nerves than your spinal cord?
I knew you would!
And that's why it's referred to as the "second brain."
And, if you think about it, controlling the complex process of digestion (i.e. digestive enzymes, absorption of nutrients, the flow of food, etc.) should probably be done pretty "smartly"...don't you think?
And guess how these nerves speak to each other, and to other cells? By chemical messengers called "neurotransmitters."
In fact, many of the neurotransmitters that have a strong effect on our mood are made in the gut! e.g. a whopping 95% of serotonin is made in your gut, not in your brain!
The immune system of the gut
Because eating and drinking is a huge portal where disease-causing critters can get into your body, it makes total sense that much of our defense system would be located there too, right? Seventy-five percent of our immune system is in our gut!
And you know that the immune cells can move throughout the entire body and cause inflammation just about anywhere, right?
Well, if they’re “activated” by something in the gut, they can potentially wreak havoc anywhere in the body. Including the potential to cause inflammation in the brain.
Your friendly neighborhood gut residents. You have billions of those little guys happily living in your gut. And they do amazing things like help you digest certain foods, make certain vitamins, and even help regulate inflammation!
But more and more evidence is showing that changes in your gut microbiota can impact your mood, and even other, more serious, mental health issues.
How do these all work together for brain health?
The honest answer to how these things all work together is that we really don't know just yet. More and more studies are being done to learn more.
But one thing is becoming clear. A healthy gut goes hand-in-hand with a healthy brain!
So, how do you feed your brain?
Of course, a variety of minimally-processed, nutrient-dense foods is required, because no nutrients work alone.
But two things that you many consider eating more of are fiber and omega-3 fats. Fiber (in fruits, veggies, nuts & seeds) help to feed your awesome gut microbes. And omega-3 fats (in fatty fish, walnuts, algae, and seeds like flax, chia, and hemp) are well-know inflammation-lowering brain boosters.
Recipe (Gut food fibre, Brain food omega-3): Blueberry Hemp Overnight Oats
1 cup blueberries (fresh or frozen)
1 cup oats (gluten-free)
1 cup almond milk
1 tablespoon chia seeds
2 tablespoons hemp seeds
½ teaspoon cinnamon
1 banana, sliced
¼ cup chopped walnuts
1.Blend blueberries in the food processor until smooth.
2.Mix blueberries, oats, almond milk, chia seeds, hemp seeds in a bowl with a lid. Let set in fridge overnight.
3.Split into two bowls and top with cinnamon, banana, and walnuts.
Serve & enjoy!
Tip: Your gut microbes love to eat the fiber in the blueberries, oats, seeds, and nuts. Meanwhile, your brain loves the omega-3 fats in the seeds and nuts.
Let me ask you this: Have you looked at the ingredients on a food label lately? How about a “processed” food label; like famous brands of cookies, cereals, or junky snack foods?
Do you have those ingredients in your house? Do you even know what all of those ingredients are?
There are a ton of artificial, chemical, "junky" ingredients in foods these days. If you see an ingredient called "artificial flavor," what exactly is it?
For the most part, it’s a secret! Seriously! Big food companies don’t want their proprietary flavors to be known, so they’re allowed to say “artificial flavor” and leave the details out.
That alone gets me upset.
But what makes me more upset is what artificial flavors represent when they're in your food.
I’m going to give you the real deal below.
Why use "artificial flavors' in a product?
When you make an apple muffin at home, what gives it the apple flavor?
Apples of course! Like real, whole, chopped or shredded apples or applesauce.
But, let’s say you’re a big food company and you’re making thousands of apple muffins every day. In a factory. On an assembly line.
How would you process the huge amount of apples that are to be chopped, grated or made into applesauce? Would you have a separate "Apple Room" where all the apple processing happens? What if one batch is slightly riper, or tastes slightly different from the rest? Will your customers notice a different taste?
Apples are perishable - they go bad. So how would you guarantee the apples won't go bad? (Remember the saying "it only takes one bad apple to ruin the whole bunch?").
And what if you can have an apple flavor that tastes better than using real apples? Something that makes people want to keep buying them every week. It's true - some of the artificial flavours are engineered to give an even better taste than the real food.
Companies will often opt for the easier and more profitable option like artificial flavours.
Artificial flavours last longer and will be virtually identical batch after batch. In our apple muffin example, artificial flavours used to make an apple muffin are ready to go, so you don't need to peel, cut, or worry about apples going brown, or that they're not tasting "appley" enough.
Oh, and it’s way cheaper than using real, whole apples.
Pro Tip: If the package says "flavored" in the description, then the flavour is artificial. For example, "apple muffin" contains at least some apple. But, "apple flavoured muffin" contains artificial flavour and no apple.
Safety of artificialflavors
While there are some flavors banned for use in many countries, other countries allow them.
There is an approved list of flavours that are accepted to be safe, and are used by the food industry. They are considered GRAS, or “generally recognized as safe.”
Even if they are 100% safe to ingest, the mere fact that an artificial flavor is in food makes it an artificial food. It's not a real, whole food. Having an artificial flavor as an ingredient almost defines that food to be a processed, "food-like product." Sometimes referred to as "junk."
Artificial flavors in food indicate that the food, regardless of the marketing, or health claims, is not a healthy choice.
Big food companies use artificial flavors to reduce costs, make the manufacturing process simpler, reduce waste and even enhance flavor way beyond what the natural ingredient would taste like.
They are not added to improve the “healthfulness” or nutrition of the food.
Artificial flavors in the ingredient list indicate that the food is not going to optimize your health. These processed foods are most certainly “junk.”
Don’t buy them. Make this recipe instead.
Recipe (All-natural): Apple Muffins
1 cup quick oats, uncooked
1 tsp cinnamon
1 cup cooked quinoa
3 tbsp maple syrup
1 cup chopped apples
2 eggs, lightly beaten
Preheat oven to 350F.
In a large bowl, mix the quick oats and cinnamon. Add the quinoa and mix again. Now add maple syrup, apples and eggs, and mix until just combined.
Place 12 muffin liners into a muffin pan. Fill each muffin cup about ⅔ of the way
Place in oven and bake for about 25-30 minutes.
Serve & enjoy!
Tip: Before baking, sprinkle each muffin with a touch of cinnamon for extra (natural) flavour.
Do you desire a healthy life, but feel like the road to that lifestyle is an impossible one? The truth is that a life of vitality and energy is within your reach. If you're willing to take a few simple steps toward your dreams, they can become reality. And this can happen quicker than you might think!
Follow these strategies to begin experiencing the healthy life you deserve, starting today:
1. Change your dietary habits. Small changes can make a big difference. Eat more fresh fruits and vegetables, for example. Choose whole-grain foods, and eat as much fiber as possible. Cut back on the sugar.
2. Stop smoking. Certainly you already know the health risks of smoking. Quitting smoking offers you many wonderful consequences. You'll experience smells that might have been absent from your life for years. You'll breathe easier and have more energy. If you smoke, the most powerful thing you can do for yourself and your family is to quit.
3. Reduce or eliminate alcohol. Drinking occasionally is okay. But binge drinking is harmful to your liver and other organs. Drink responsibly by limiting your intake of harmful alcoholic beverages.
4. Drink plenty of water. Water detoxifies your body and provides cells with much-needed hydration. If you feel low in energy, you might be surprised at how effective a glass of water can be at perking you up. Low energy is often a sign of dehydration. Drink water when you wake up, before each meal, and as often as you can.
5. Keep your body "regular." Maintaining a regular bowel habit will produce lots of energy and make you feel healthy.
6. Exercise. Incorporate physical movement into your lifestyle for added energy and confidence.
7. Keep your mind fresh and healthy. Read as often as possible. Play mind games, like crossword puzzles and logic problems. Challenge yourself to games and recreational activities that are outside of your comfort zone. A fit mind works in tandem with your fit body to help you create the lifestyle you crave.
8. Stay up to date with your doctor visits. Most family doctors recommend that you see them at least once a year for a routine physical. Other checkups, like regular prostate or breast exams, may be recommended more often. So check with your family physician.
9. Let plenty of rest. Everyone needs a different amount of rest. For most, a minimum of 6 to 8 hours of quality sleep is a must for optimum health.
10. Hang around with like-minded people. If you want to be healthy, spend time with people who are healthy. Seek friendships with people that consider their health a priority in their lives. Spend less time with people that sit around all day and more time with active people. If you do, you'll have a tendency to become healthy like those people.
A healthy life is within your reach. If you follow these simple strategies and remain patient, you'll see, feel, and experience the amazing benefits of the healthy lifestyle you deserve.