Spring is in the air, and with spring cleaning on the mind, we asked Registered Dietitian Nutritionists and ZENB Plant Council members, James and Dahlia Marin of Married to Health, what tips they had to maintain good gut health. Here’s what they had to say:
This is the time of year when people deep dive into cleaning their belongings, organizing, recycling, upcycling or throwing things out they no longer find useful. The idea of a clean slate can most definitely apply to your gut health as well! As registered dietitians, what we like to tell our patients is that having (what we like to call) a #GoodGut happens with daily maintenance, just like having a clean home.
If you are bringing way too much stuff into your home, not putting things back where they belong, not washing dishes daily, not vacuuming, and not being mindful of what you buy, it doesn’t take long before your home is a complete disaster. Your gut is home to your amazing microbiota full of bacteria, viruses, parasites, fungi, and archaea, so providing a clean, efficient space for them to thrive without getting cluttered in the wrong area is crucial.
The bonus here is that maintaining a daily balanced and flowing, tidy gut has synergistic benefits. The foods we consume not only give our bodies macronutrients and micronutrients, they can offer additional microbes that help and shape our gut. The big “if” in this situation is what you decide to eat and drink regularly. We have some tips to help you keep your gut health nice and tidy.
1. Know the Sources of "Clutter" in Your Life
Saturated fats can break down the structure of the intestinal lining that serve as the ‘walls’ of the home of your microbes, leading to intestinal hyperpermeability, AKA “leaky gut syndrome.” Foods containing saturated fats include high fat animal products and tropical oils including coconut and palm oil.
Low quality animal products, which are often consumed as a medium of concentrated nutrients, can come bearing unwanted gifts of antibiotics, hormones, antibiotic-resistant superbugs, and other byproducts which can disrupt the gut microbiome.
Mental Clutter can lead to feelings of being overwhelmed, apathetic, and a general “forget it” outlook. Stress and anxiety can lead to comfort eating, binge eating, or restrictive eating to gain a sense of control. Instead, we suggest practicing mindfulness techniques such as talk therapy, journaling, and guided behavioral therapies.
2. Check Your “Cleaning Supplies” for Your Gut
It is important to understand how powerful your body is. In the same way your body is made to assimilate and take in nutrients, it is also made to expel unwanted byproducts and toxins. The gut is one of the main ways our body detoxes, we know this as poop or feces. This is great news because in our metaphor this would be like having a self-cleaning home, the trick is you just have to make sure you have the right supplies to function properly. What are these supplies?
- Fiber is our favorite F word and the essential carbohydrate. To help you get the right amount, our trick is to read the nutrition label and shoot for 20% of the total carbs coming from fiber (divide total carbs by total fiber, this should give you a number close to 5 and below. A high number means a smaller percentage of fiber.) We love looking for foods that maintain the peel and shell to give an above-and-beyond fiber boost, like ZENB Pasta made from 100% yellow peas and ZENB whole veggie sauces.
- Proper hydration with fluids like clean water, herbal teas, plant milks, or coconut water, can help move fiber and other substances through your gut to facilitate cleaning. Some fiber (you’ve heard of soluble fiber, right?) requires water to function best — just like a mop needs to be wet to work best. Our pro tip is to aim for at least half of your body weight in ounces of un-caffeinated fluid for minimum hydration.
- Make sure you include lots of antioxidants, which are conveniently found in a diversity of plant foods and fibrous foods. Eat foods that combine a variety of colors to consume a wide variety of antioxidants, all which bring their own benefit. Foods like smoothies, whole food sauces, or grain & veggie bowls make it easy and convenient to get in several antioxidants at once to wipe out inflammation!
- Prebiotics are easy to consume if you keep your eyes set on the fiber prize! Prebiotic fiber found in foods like less ripe, slightly green bananas, oats, artichoke, apples, and legumes (shout out to yellow pea pasta!) make great food and fuel for microbes found in our gut and microbes added to foods, which allow them to ferment and multiply. Our favorite probiotic sources are: sauerkraut and kimchi, coconut and water kefir, miso, and kombucha without added sugar post-fermentation.
3. Develop Your Cleaning Schedule
Every individual needs a unique action plan. Very rarely does one-size-fit-all in health. Here are some key takeaways to seek to incorporate into your gut cleaning plan:
- You don’t want to Marie Kondo your gut to the point where you have nothing left to give you (and your good gut bugs) nourishment and joy! Add plants and other good gut foods incrementally as you change up your diet.
- Start small and work your way up by picking a meal to really elevate. For example, focus on making an amazing gut-supporting breakfast as a starting point and then move on to your other meals and snacks. Just as you wouldn’t clean your entire home at once, we don’t recommend cleaning everything out of your current way of eating without having a plan to upgrade / replace the nutrients those foods currently provide you (calories, carbohydrates, protein, etc.).
- Extend the swaps into your outer environment. Once you’re in a good groove with ‘Spring Cleaning’ your nutrition, consider assessing if personal care products, cleaning products, fabrics, food containers, and other materials in, on, and around your skin microbiome may be causing inflammation.
- Explore mental challenges you may be dealing with and seek to build yourself up. Sit with behaviors that have brought ‘clutter’ to your good gut and ask if they are serving you well. Are they behaviors you want to continue to bring into your de-cluttered gut? You may want to replace them with journaling, talking with a loved one, getting out in nature, practicing self-care, or exercising.
It is great to add new tools and techniques to help keep your gut health balanced and flowing, while remembering to always search for the source of the mess. Just like no one wants to vacuum every second of the day because the dog keeps tracking in dirt, your gut health requires some training to change your behavior. A Registered Dietitian can be a great part of this investigative team to help you identify what may not be best serving your good gut with evidence-based recommendations.
About James and Dahlia Marin:
James and Dahlia Marin are the co-founders of Married to Health, a plant-based integrative dietetic practice that provides medical nutrition therapy to bridge the gaps in health maintenance, disease prevention, and disease reversal. As members of the ZENB Plant Council, their combined expertise help advocate, educate, and inspire people about the power of plants.