You probably know the negative health effects of eating too much sugar, especially “added sugars” like in soda pop, candy, baked goods, and many commercially-available cereals, just to name a few. Added sugar is hiding just about everywhere in the grocery store.
Yes, ingesting refined sugar spikes your blood sugar and insulin, and increases your risk for a whole host of issues, (because it creates inflammation in our bodies).
A while ago, one of the food industry’s responses to the demand for lower-calorie foods that still taste great, was artificial sweeteners.
The idea behind them is that you can still get the sweetness, without the calories; like when you have a “diet pop” versus a regular one. Theoretically, this was going to help people maintain a healthy body weight, and hopefully not increase anyone’s risk of heart disease, diabetes, or obesity.
But, it doesn’t always work out the way we think it will…
Types of artificial sweeteners
Sugar substitutes fall into several categories, but what they all have in common is that they have a sweet taste and fewer calories than plain sugar.
Today we’ll specifically discuss “artificial sweeteners,” which are synthetic chemicals where a tiny bit tastes very sweet.
They’re also known as “non-nutritive sweeteners,” and include things like:
- Saccharin (Sweet & Low),
- Acesulfame potassium,
- Aspartame (Equal & NutraSweet), and
- Sucralose (Splenda).
Health effects of artificial sweeteners
Negative health effects from artificial sweeteners are cited all over the place, and while many studies show effects, others don’t. There still needs a lot of research to be done, but there is a body of evidence proving that they are linked to cancer, cardiovascular diseases, neurotoxicity, not to mention the effect on gut health. “Artificial sweeteners may change our gut bacteria in dangerous ways” was an article published in Scientific American. A group of Israeli scientist came to a conclusion that artificial sweeteners change the population of microbiota that regulates metabolism, the conversion of food to energy or stored fuel. So they make more calories available to us, calories that will eventually find their way to our hips and thighs.
This explains other studies finding that people who tend to drink diet sodas have double the risk of gaining weight than those who didn’t.
Another study has shown an increased risk for metabolic syndrome and diabetes for those who consume diet drinks every day.
How do artificial sweeteners affect our bodies?
Now that’s a million-dollar question!
There are so many ideas out there to try to explain it, but the reality is we don’t know for sure; plus, it might play out differently in different people.
- Altering the microbiome
- Is it because people feel that they can eat cake because they’ve switched to diet soda?
- Perhaps it’s because the sweeteners change the taste preferences so that fruit starts to taste worse, and veggies taste terrible?
- Maybe artificial sweeteners increase our cravings for more (real) sweets?
- It can be that the sweet taste of these sweeteners signals to our body to release insulin to lower our blood sugar; but, because we didn’t actually ingest sugar, our blood sugar levels get too low, to the point where we get sugar cravings.
- Some even say (and at least one animal study suggests) that saccharin may inspire addictive tendencies toward it.
- Maybe there is even a more complex response that involves our gut microbes and how they help to regulate our blood sugar levels.
Understand that added sugar is not good for you, but the solution may not be to replace them all with artificial sweeteners.
Alternatives to artificial sweeteners: Stevia, Monk fruit, Coconut palm sugar, raw honey etc.
You know that you can have gastrointestinal symptoms when you’re stressed or nervous. We’ve all experienced that.
But, you may have also heard about the “gut-brain connection.” That your gastrointestinal system, lovingly called the “gut,” not only talks to your brain (yes, talks “to” your brain) but is kind of its own brain (a “second brain”). And that it may influence your actual brain.
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.”
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?
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.
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 may consider eating more of are fiber and omega-3 fats. Fiber (in fruits, veggies, nuts & seeds) helps 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.
Hippocrates said, “All disease begins in the gut.”
Research shows more and more that our gut (digestive system) has a bigger role in many diseases than we used to think. And we’re not just talking about heartburn, constipation, diarrhea, IBS, IBD, etc. We’re talking about all kinds of issues like allergies, pain, mood disorders, and nutrient deficiencies and autoimmune conditions.
There are a lot of reasons for this. Our gut is the portal to the outside world. It’s here where we take in disease-causing bacteria, viruses, and parasites. We also take in nutrients (and toxins) through our gut. The nutrients we ingest and absorb are the building blocks of every single part of our body. We’re just learning the connections between our gut and other areas of our body, like our brain (have you heard of “the gut-brain axis”). Not just our gut per se; but, its friendly resident microbes too. These guys also have newly discovered roles in our gut health and overall health.
So, let’s talk about the roles that our gut and our gut microbes play in our overall health. Then I’ll give you tips to improve your gut health naturally.
Our gut’s role in our overall health
Our gut’s main role is as a barrier. To let things in that should get in, and to keep things out that should stay out. Think of “absorption” of nutrients as things we want to let in; and “elimination” of waste as things we want to pass right through and out.
This seemingly simple role is super-complex! And it can break down in so many places.
For one thing, our guts can “leak.” Yes, like a long tube with holes in it, it can allow things to get into our bloodstream/bodies that can wreak havoc (bacteria, undigested food, and toxins). You name it, whatever you put into your mouth can be absorbed by your gut and get into your bloodstream, even if it’s not supposed to. And when your gut wall gets irritated, it can “leak.” When this happens, you get inflammation, which is a starting point for many diseases that don’t seem linked to the gut but have a sneaky connection there.
FUN FACT: About 70% of our immune system lives in and around our gut.
A healthy gut is not a leaky gut. It maintains its barrier and shuttles things through to be eliminated. Maintaining a healthy gut barrier is the first pillar of gut health.
The second main part of your gut are the billions of friendly health-promoting microbes. Gut microbes help us digest and absorb nutrients. They fight off disease-causing microbes, make some vitamins for us, and have all kinds of other health benefits, like mental health benefits, reducing inflammation, and stabilizing blood sugar.
So, keeping your gut microbes happy is the second pillar of gut health!
How to improve gut health
There are a lot of natural ways to improve gut health. Let’s start with what to stop. It’s always best to eliminate the cause, so let’s stop giving our guts junk to deal with. How about eliminating added sugars, processed foods, and alcohol? Try that for a few weeks, and you may be amazed at how much better your body (and gut) feels.
You may also want to eliminate other gut irritants. Dairy and grains contain common compounds known to irritate some people’s guts. Sometimes you only need to eliminate them for a few weeks to see if it makes a difference for your health.
By eating nutrient-dense foods, we allow ample macro- and micro-nutrients into our gut to maximize the chance for absorption. These nutrients help our bodies build and repair our gut, and every other body part as well. Some of the most nutrient-dense foods include dark leafy greens, colorful fruits and veggies, liver, and fish.
The second pillar of gut health is our microbes. By ingesting probiotic-rich foods and drinks, we can help to replenish our gut microbes. These are found in fermented foods like kombucha, kefir, miso, sauerkraut, and kimchi. Make these a part of your daily diet.
Whole foods are full of gut-friendly fiber. Not eating enough fiber increases the risk of heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and obesity. Fiber plays lots of roles in our gut, including whisking away some of those pesky bad bacteria and toxins so they can be eliminated. Fiber also helps to feed our friendly resident microbes that help us absorb and digest our food better. What foods have a lot of fiber? Fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and even cacao.
And don’t forget the important lifestyle factors like getting enough sleep, stressing less, and getting the right amount (and intensity) of exercise for you. It’s easy to forget some of the simple, but key links there are between what we do with our bodies and how well they function.
The function of your gut is key to your overall health. There are two pillars of gut health: maintaining a good barrier and maintaining healthy gut microbes.
The main ways to improve both of these naturally is by eating nutrient-dense whole foods. Foods filled with nutrition, probiotics, and fiber. And eliminating common gut irritants like added sugar, processed foods, and alcohol.
Recipe (Probiotic-rich): Fermented Carrots
1 L warm water
4 tsp salt
4 carrots, medium, peeled, sliced
1 clove garlic, smashed (optional)
Make a brine by dissolving the salt in water.
Place carrots into a clean canning jar, packing them in tight. Make sure to leave about 1 inch of headspace at the top.
Fill the jar with brine, making sure to cover the carrots completely. Weigh the carrots down to make sure they don’t float (you can use a “fermenting weight”).
Close the jar and let it sit at room temperature for 1-4 days. The longer it sits, the more the flavor will develop. Feel free to open and taste.
Serve & enjoy!
Tip: Use this as a side dish, or even a snack.
Detox is vital in this toxic world. For so many years as an MD and a health coach I focused simply on digestion because I do believe that good digestion leads to a healthy life. But then one day the light went off in my head. I realized that to have good digestion, you must be detoxing properly.
You see, detox is a natural step toward a better digestion. Good digestion leads to less inflammation, and less inflammation leads to less disease in this world. Let me say it again, decrease the inflammation and prevent disease.
If this is true and disease begins in the gut, aka your digestive system, then having a healthy and strong digestion is key. But let me share a secret with you – when the body is toxic, your digestive system is weak.
So even if you eat “clean” and only buy organic and hormone-free foods, you are still breathing toxicity in this world.
We live, eat and breathe toxicity every day. Look around your home and think of the paint on the walls, the rugs, the pesticides sprayed on your green grass, the exterminator to get rid of the bugs. Even if you are chemical-free in your home, is your chemical makeup free?
Even if you are doing your best to live a chemical-free life, we are still alive, and that means eating, breathing, and sleeping in a toxic environment.
Unless you feel that are ready to live in a bubble or a hyperbaric chamber, then it is time to wake up to what I call daily detox.
Now detox is not a curse word or anything to be scared about. Instead, it is exciting to think about your body and cells actually functioning. I do not tell people detox has to be living on juices, or water only, or only smoothies or just salad or soup. Detox is about lessening the toxic load in your body. As I say, “taking out the trash.”
When we are toxic, our body cannot perform its job. The body cannot metabolize properly, detox properly, absorb nutrients and minerals, or stay hydrated. It is a vicious cycle. See, detox is necessary to be healthy, happy and free of disease. We all have some low-level inflammation because again we breathe, but even more so we stress in this busy world.
Every time you stress you create acid in your body. Your body is then forced to pull minerals to buffer the acid waste. The liver, lymph and kidneys begin to work hard to filter out the toxic load.
But what happens when the body is tired and clogged? When your digestive system is not working and cannot break down these foods, it cannot focus on getting RID of TOXINS. That means you cannot get rid of bloat and fat and skin breakouts and all that jazz that keeps you tired.
TOXINS=>WEAK DIGESTION=>WEAK IMMUNE FUNCTION
- Difficult weight management
- Low energy
- Low sex drive
- Bad skin
- Get where I am going with all of this?
By detoxing you will improve digestion and free your body of inflammation and toxins in the process.
The foundation of this detox is NOT to ever feel deprived or starved.
The goal is to help you do what I have learned to do in my own life: learn how to EAT CLEAN and learn what foods are IRRITATING your body.
Click below and let’s change your life today.
Now that you’ve learned a little more about the benefits of detoxing, how can you start bringing it into your daily life?
Here are a few of my favorite ways to stay healthy and detox naturally:
- Upon waking, drink warm or room-temperature water with lemon and 1 tsp raw apple cider vinegar (if tolerated) and add a dash of cinnamon or cayenne.
- Start your day by being positive – find that daily affirmation that gets you fired up. I love Louise Hay, Geneen Roth, Gabrielle Bernstein and Marianne Williamson.
- Try getting quiet within yourself even just for one minute – and say “I release what does not serve me” – place your hand on your heart as you say this out loud. Scream if it you want, own that power.
- Drink fresh green juices or make your own green juice with 1 tbsp. chlorophyll and lemon and lime and water.
- Aim for one meal that is super easy on your digestion per day like a smoothie, green juice or soup. Give that digestion a rest.
- Get moving and shaking. Yes, exercise is one of the best ways to detox your body.
- Drink plenty of water and add lemon, lime or grapefruit to flush the toxicity.
- Skin brushing is my favorite way to support the liver and get rid of those toxins.
- Tongue scraping.
- Be happy and grateful for life.
This smoothie helped my belly bloat
Feeling like your digestion is making too much noise? Gurgle. Gurgle.
The last few months I have been working a lot and often that leads to a stressed me. This means my digestion can get wonky. I know what you might be thinking – that I’m a health coach, and I have this all figured out – but I am human too. In my practice, I teach people how to listen to their body and what to do when they feel wonky too.
Stress inflames the intestinal lining and disrupts the good balance of bacteria in the gut.
This is what happened to me. It was time to restore and rebuild on the quick.
Feel like you are passing gas too much?
Feel exhausted for no reason?
Time to rebuild and restore your gut health with this smoothie.
Every time I am feeling off, I keep it simple: smoothies, juices, and easy-to-digest soups.
The Healthy Digestion Smoothie
- 1/2 cup pineapple
- 1/4 green apple
- 1/2 cup water
- 1/2 cup coconut water
- 1/2 fresh kiwi
- 1/2 cucumber
- 1 teaspoon fresh ginger
- 1 probiotic, (I use a 50 billion CFU since I had ulcerative colitis)
- 2 ounces of Aloe Vera Juice
- Dash of cinnamon
- Juice of one lemon
Add all ingredients to a high-speed blender (I use a Vitamix).
For more information about my (event, free download, program) contact me.