There are thousands—if not millions—of articles out there touting the best methods to optimize gut health and diversify your microbiome (including a few of my own) but not as many answer the corresponding question: what am I doing to actually harm my gut health?
Answering this question is important because our digestive tract is the greatest ally we have in our quest for good health. Fortunately, I’m here to help: I’ll provide you with three ways you’re negatively impacting the main engine to your health—the gut—and tips on how to rectify these problems on a daily basis.
Move, Munch, and Mingle
By the end of this article you may be excited about the prospect of following the three M’s (move, munch, and mingle) to combat those three habits harming your gut below. You’ll also be combatting inflammation, which can occur at any age, and could be the result of bad habit #1, which I’ll introduce in the next section.
GI Circulation: L.A. Traffic Jam
Many of us have heard that walking after a meal aids in digestion, but is this just another old wives’ tale? In a word: NO. You could reap some serious benefits just from increasing your daily activity.
How? For background, your gut goes through 5 major processes: motility, secretion, regulation, digestion, and (splanchnic) circulation. Splanchnic circulation sounds strange but it’s a simple concept: the process of blood flow to the small intestine, colon, pancreas, liver and spleen. Increasing blood flow through activity, like walking 10,000 steps throughout the day, keeps our tissues healthy. Decreased blood flow can lead to inflamed tissue that has been linked to serious digestive problems (think IBS and IBD), asthma, and cardiovascular disease.
Even if you’re a relatively active person outside the office, prolonged sitting can lead to abnormal cholesterol levels, cardiovascular disease, and a sluggish metabolism. Research published in the June 2017 issue of Medicine also found that prolonged sitting time was correlated with a significantly higher risk of colorectal cancer and that just 2 extra hours of sitting increased your risk by 4%.
What else can you do to increase your circulation and avoid harming your gut? Simple: move more, even if it’s just at your desk. Download an app on your phone that allows for short interval training and timely reminders like “Stand Up! The Work Break Timer” or SWORKIT.
Plant Fiber: You’re Not Getting Enough
Plant fiber isn’t often something people consciously try to incorporate into their diet, even though it’s the cheapest and most effective way to boost the health of your microbiome.
This is unfortunate because research is proving that eating a diverse landscape of plant fiber therapeutically targets your microbiota, and may be the key to increasing your own physical and mental performance. After all, the inadequate intake of fruits and vegetables is considered to be a major causal risk factor associated with increased susceptibility to certain lifestyle-related diseases–and who wants to be ill in the name of eating less veggies?
It’s not just the average Joe that is impacted by a lack of plant fiber either. High performers and athletes have always been told to consume a diet for optimal strength and endurance, but the levels of plant derived polysaccharides are usually low. Unfortunately, they face reduced microbiota diversity and functionality by not making this essential food group a bulk of their diets. Without plant-based polysaccharides and phytonutrients, athletes deal with higher levels of fatigue, mood disturbances, psychological issues, underperformance, and GI distress. If athletes are suffering adverse consequences by not eating enough plant-based foods, the rest of us normal folks certainly aren’t immune.
To help keep your gut flourishing with biodiversity, I recommend eating at least 50+ grams of plant-based fiber a day. For even more detailed information about how to best feed your gut bacteria, look into Wild Mediterranean, the age-old, science-new plan I’ve spent my professional lifetime developing. My methods are founded on the “pillars of health” that push the importance of an individual’s lifestyle and the incorporation of gut health enhancing foods to improve wellbeing. If you’re looking for quick tips, my website includes Wild Recipes and plenty of articles to point you in the right direction.
Your Gut and Brain: Go Out There and Mingle.
Our GI tracts don’t just impact us physically and psychologically, they are influential players in unconsciously regulating our behavior as well. The average adult has approximately 2.2 pounds of GI bacteria residing within them, which is near the approximate weight of the human brain. This “second brain” has been shown capable of profoundly altering our underlying neurochemistry and thus changing how we interact socially, manage our stress, and develop behavioral patterns.
The gut-brain connection can be a good thing if you’re feeding your gut a landscape of healthy foods and indulging in healthy behaviors, like socializing. In Wild Mediterranean I noted a study that discovered chimps transfering bacterial colonies among themselves, helping to diversify their microbiomes. That same team plans to study humans to see if that’s one of the reasons highly social people outlive wallflowers. So go out there and mingle. Your microbiome will thank you.
Move. Munch. Mingle.