As a nutrition educator and outdoor enthusiast of exercise, sports, and overall movement, I am passionate about helping individuals reach their health goals and limit chronic diseases. In order to educate others and help improve their health concerns, however, I first needed to understand my own health. After all, I’m a big believer in practicing what I preach.
One aspect that needed fine-tuning was my microbiota. Fifteen-plus years ago the environment within my gut was not healthy. My symptoms included decreased mental concentration, abdominal bloating, constipation, and joint pain. Can you relate?
What lived in my gut affected my daily life and my body’s ability to digest, absorb, and assimilate food. The absence of a healthy and efficiently functioning gastrointestinal tract (GIT) oftentimes leads to chronic diseases. How did my gut health become so poor?
The gut is inhabited by trillions of bacteria. That leaves me having 10 times the number of bacteria in my gut as I do cells in my body! By balancing these tiny microbes I can enhance my body’s ability to fight disease, maintain a healthy weight, and regulate my mood.
A decade and a half ago my plant-food intake was marginal with just a couple servings of fruits and vegetables per day. Instead I ate sizable amounts of high carbohydrate foods such as bread, sugar, chips, and other processed foods. Artificial sweeteners were consumed daily. I was much more susceptible to colds and became sick several times each year, which resulted in an increase in my antibiotic use. Each of these lifestyle factors disrupted my microbiota balance, leading to dysbiosis (a disruptive change in structural or functional composition of the gut microbes) and loss of environmental diversity.
How can dysbiosis result in such unwanted signs and symptoms? Simply stated, it’s through an imbalance of certain bacterial strains and gases produced from the improper ratio of bacteria, leading to chronic diseases – a road I was blindly following.
With my GIT about 30 feet in length and my small intestine consisting of a surface area covering the dimensions of a tennis court, this large area allows for a variety of factors to come into play. From the foods I eat to the air I breathe, the GIT is affected by everything from stress to hormonal cycles and environmental toxins.
In order to maintain proper balance and improve my unwanted dysbiosis I needed to consume probiotic and prebiotic foods. Probiotics are the health-promoting organisms that help restore my digestive tract, prime my immune system, and make the bugs in my body work more efficiently. Having diverse microbiota (containing a wide range of bacterial strains) is necessary in maintaining a healthy body. Prebiotic foods feed the more beneficial bugs. Prebiotics change the microbiotic ecosystem into a healthier composition.
Diverse probiotics occur naturally in raw fermented vegetables. By consuming a small portion of a variety of these foods I was able to create a diverse ecosystem in my digestive tract and improve immediate and long-term health. Some common traditional foods that turned my health around were raw sauerkraut, kimchi, coconut kefir, and yogurt (though only selected brands of yogurt are medicinal).
Fermented vegetables are beneficial to gut health due to the fermentation process that “pre-digests” the vegetables, making them easier to absorb while providing probiotic microorganisms to help heal the gut. Also beneficial is vinegar, a wonderful source of energy for the immune system.
A few of my favorite health-promoting prebiotic-rich foods are Jerusalem artichokes, onions, garlic, leeks, and asparagus.
Throughout the healing process I had to keep in mind that my dysbiosis did not develop overnight and was going to take some time to heal. By regularly consuming these foods, in addition to adjusting other lifestyle factors, I healed and was able to perform the things I love most in life.
I always enjoy hearing from readers and local Hillians. What is a chronic or frequent health concern that you are experiencing?
To a healthy gut in 2017!
Stacy Peterson, MS, MA, CSCS, CHHC, is a functional nutrition educator, holistic health coach, and strength and conditioning coach practicing whole-foods nutrition and physical training to individuals of all ages and activities on the Hill. She offers an integrative aspect for everyone’s healthcare and performance team. For recipes, nutrition, and exercise tips sign up for the monthly newsletter at www.accelerationsports.net. To see how to achieve your health and/or fitness goals contact Acceleration Sports by emailing [email protected] or calling 805-704-7193.