Keep Your Gut Healthy to Keep Yourself Healthy

December 02, 2020

At some point you were probably encouraged to “trust your gut.” That’s great advice when it comes to believing in your instincts, but your gut is a major part of your digestive system. You have about 30 feet of intestines inside your body that are home to trillions of organisms working to maintain a healthy balance.

But gut health goes beyond what happens in the digestive system. It has been shown to affect the body’s immune system, it can help the body to fight infection, can prevent some types of cancers, and even plays a role in a person’s mental health.

Fighting Disease with Healthy Guts

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The research on gut health and overall health is relatively new so it’s difficult to say which strains of bacteria are the most beneficial or how bacteria work together to improve overall health. But there are a few interesting findings:

  • Cancer — A study found some evidence that a certain bacteria could protect against some cancers.
  • Heart disease — A study identified a bacteria that could prevent the inflammation that leads to fatty buildup in the arteries.
  • Immune system — Researchers discovered that giving a certain bacteria to mice with skin cancer made their immune systems attack tumor cells.

Your gut also plays a significant role in your outlook and mental health: it’s home to 95% of your body’s serotonin, an amazing hormone that regulates your sleep, appetite, mood, and sensitivity to pain.

Feeding a Healthy Gut

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How we’re built, how we manage stress, our family and genetic history, and what we eat all affect our gut. We can’t do much about our family or genetic history, but we can manage our stress, shape our bodies, and control what we put in them.

When you eat a lot of highly processed foods like fast food, chips, snacks, canned foods, and foods with added sugars, you kill the good bacteria in your gut. Sugar can cause a quick spike in serotonin, but it damages your gut’s ability to produce it. This eventually interferes with your body’s ability to regulate sleep, appetite, mood, and pain sensitivity. Eating less sugar will benefit your gut and just about every other system in your body.

Another way to improve your gut health is to add fiber to your diet, which you can get by eating a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and nuts. Aim to consume 20 to 30 grams of fiber a day. If you don’t consume a lot of fiber, start adding it to your diet gradually to avoid bloating, gas, and discomfort.

Prebiotics and Probiotics

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To get the right bacterial balance, you should eat foods to feed the bacteria in your gut or eat foods that add bacteria to your gut. Feeding existing microbes requires prebiotics while adding new microbes calls for probiotics.

  • Prebiotics are dense carbohydrates that aren’t digestible by your body so they become food for the bacteria in your gut. There are lengthy lists of prebiotic foods but some of the more common ones are garlic, onion, leeks, asparagus, bananas, oats, apples, cocoa, jicama, and wheat bran.
  • Probiotics are found in bacteria-fermented foods like yogurt, sauerkraut, kombucha, and kimchi.

If you think you could benefit from these nutrients, talk to an AltaMed dietician to find the food sources and supplements that would be best for you.

Maintaining a Healthy Gut

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Eating the right foods goes a long way toward having a healthy gut. Until the complex relationship between gut health and overall health is understood more, here are additional steps to take:

  • Eat slower — Chewing well before swallowing keeps you from swallowing air and improves digestion.
  • Have smaller meals — This encourages digestion and you avoid overfilling your stomach, which can lead to reflux.
  • Don’t dine at dark — Your gastrointestinal tract works better in the morning and during the day.
  • Control stress — Learn some relaxation techniques as digestion is harder when you’re stressed.
  • Have a routine — Eating at regular times has been shown to improve digestion.
  • Move more — This helps maintain a healthy weight and avoid digestive problems.
  • Sleep more — Obesity is linked to lack of sleep and obesity leads to digestive problems.

We’re Here for You

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AltaMed can help you answer questions about the connection between your gut health and your overall health. Our registered dieticians are available to get you on a path to eating a healthier diet. We can also help put together an exercise plan, and our Behavioral Health Services can help you cope with stress. Learn more by calling (888) 499-9303.

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Intermittent Fasting: How Alternating Between Eating and Fasting Can Help You Shed Pounds and Improve Your Health

March 02, 2020

Want to drop a few pounds but the keto diet seems too extreme for you? Intermittent fasting is an eating pattern that involves cycling between periods of fasting and non-fasting so you can shred the weight. It’s also good for your body and healing various health ailments, particularly those caused by inflammation.

But How Does It Work?

When we eat, our body releases insulin to help cells turn glucose from our food into energy. If the glucose isn’t used immediately, it gets pushed to our fat cells. When we’re fasting, the body breaks down those fat cells for energy, which may lead to weight loss.

Sounds Great. How Do I Get Started?

There’s no right way to do it. Based on your medical history and current health, you should research a few methods to find the one your body responds best to. Check out these techniques below, try them out, and see what works for you.

The 12:12 Method: This one is simple. Eat for 12 hours, fast for 12 hours, observe the results. A good strategy for 12:12 is to stop eating after dinner and then eat breakfast again 12 hours later.

The 16:8 Method: This is the most popular method that often yields the fastest results. Build up to 16 hours of fasting each day with an eight-hour window to eat. Work a 9 to 5? Align your eating schedule with your workday to help keep your routine consistent.

The 5:2 Method: For this method, dieters consume their standard amount of food five days a week while significantly cutting back on calories for two days a week. During the two fasting days, men generally consume 600 calories while women consume 500.

The 24-hour Method: This method involves one total fast, all day for one day a week. For this method, people often fast from breakfast to breakfast or lunch to lunch. Test out both techniques and stick with one.

Will It Improve My Health?

In addition to weight loss, intermittent fasting can have numerous positive effects on the body. Research shows that intermittent fasting can:

  • Improve brain health
  • Kickstart important cell repair processes
  • Lower your risk of Type 2 diabetes
  • Possibly protect against Alzheimer’s disease
  • Possibly prevent cancer
  • Reduce inflammation, which protects against aging and disease
  • Reduce the risk factor for heart disease

What Should I Eat?

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While there are no strict rules around eating while (not) fasting, some foods will help you see results faster. Eat meals with fiber and whole grains, like fresh fruit and oatmeal to keep your blood sugar in check and your insulin levels low. Eating high-fiber, high-protein meals will help keep you full longer. Drinking plenty of water and unsweetened, caffeinated beverages such as plain green tea or black coffee can also help suppress cravings during your fasting window.

Are There Any Downsides?

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Since you’re not eating, you’ve likely cut down on drinking, so intermittent fasters may struggle with dehydration. Make sure you drink plenty of water throughout the day, even during your fasting periods, and other fluids once you’ve broken your fast. Intermittent fasting can also lead to constipation so load up on high-fiber snacks or meals such as fruits or fiber-rich cereals to aid your digestion.

Is Intermittent Fasting for Everyone?

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Not quite. Intermittent fasting can be risky for people with certain medical conditions. People with Type 2 Diabetes, who are pregnant, people attempting to conceive, and those who are lactating shouldn’t fast for extended periods of time.

Those who are at risk of becoming dizzy or faint (the elderly, people with low blood pressure) should proceed with caution. Children should never be put on a fasting regimen. In addition, people who struggle with an eating disorder, whether that is anorexia, bulimia, or binge eating, should avoid all methods of the diet.

If you take prescription medications, fasting can also make it harder to comply with your prescription or interfere with how certain medications work, so make sure to check with your doctor first.

As long as you proceed with caution and ensure you are an appropriate candidate for the diet, you could expect fast and favorable results. No matter what kind of eating plan you decide on, you’ll get better results if you also stick to an exercise routine. If you’re looking for fitness ideas that don’t require a gym, try any one of these outdoor activities that are so much fun, you won’t even realize you’re exercising!

8 Great Reasons to Try Going Meatless

August 05, 2020

If you’ve been to one of the big fast-food chains lately, you’ve probably seen options for meatless or “imitation meat” hamburgers, tacos, sandwiches, and even meatballs – and you’ve probably wondered how it tastes, and if this new trend is really worth it.

Opinions vary about how much products like Beyond Meat and Impossible Burger actually taste like the real thing, but we can tell you that going meatless is good for your health and the planet. Learn more about all the benefits you can get by cutting down on meat, even if it’s only a few meals a week.

1. Improve Your Health

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Simply reducing the amount of meat you eat has so many benefits to your health. According to the National Institutes of Health, eating red meat increases your risks for heart attack, stroke, diabetes, and certain cancers, and may even take years off your life. And, if you’re eating less meat and replacing it with healthy fats, fresh seasonal produce, and whole grains, you get even more health-boosting benefits.

2. Helps Protect Our Environment

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The farming of animals required to produce meat uses a lot of precious resources, especially water, feed, and land – it takes 450 gallons of water to produce a quarter-pound of beef, and the amount of grain used to feed U.S. livestock animals every year could feed 800 million people. Millions of gallons of pesticides and fertilizers that give off greenhouse gases are used for commercial livestock. Even the United Nations notes that the farming and eating of meat contributes to climate change (global warming).

3. Meat Substitutes Have Come a Long Way

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In recent years, plant-based meat alternatives, such as Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods, have made a huge splash in the market, with both vegetarians and meat-eaters. Both products were created to be more like “real” meat, in terms of taste, texture, aroma, appearance, and juiciness – they’re even plump and pink on the inside when you cook them. Some people love them and think they taste almost identical to meat; others think that, even if the flavor isn’t identical to meat, it’s still delicious and worth eating once or twice a week to benefit their health and the environment.

4. So Many Tasty Options

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You don’t need a meat substitute to get your protein and other nutrients. Other ways to go meatless include:

  • Nut butter (peanut butter or almond butter)
  • Legumes
  • Tofu or tempeh
  • Rice and beans (eaten together, they form a complete protein)
  • Quinoa
  • Whey protein shakes
  • Traditional soy- and plant-based veggie patties and products

There are so many high-protein options that even if you’re doing a keto program, you can still plan a few meatless meals.

5. Because Animals

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Most commercially farmed animals (like the kind that end up in fast-food hamburgers and chicken nuggets, and the fresh meat at the supermarket) have short and terrible lives before they are killed. Even products labeled “free-range” or “farm-raised” don’t always guarantee that the animals are treated humanely, and these products are still quite expensive. And at the end of it all, these animals are killed (usually in inhumane ways) for consumption. If you truly love animals, the best way to protect them is to eat fewer of them. It doesn’t mean you need to be a vegetarian or vegan, but every little bit makes a difference.

6. It’s Great for Weight Loss

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One of the biggest benefits of eating less meat is that you’re likely to drop a few pounds, too. Compared to fresh produce and grains, meat is dense in calories. If you’re cooking your own meatless meals, you may be more likely to eat a whole-food diet, and less likely to use processed ingredients that are higher in calories. And chances are good that if you’re not eating that hamburger, you won’t be having the French fries or sugary soda that goes with it.

7. It Could Help You Look Younger

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Meats, especially red meats and highly processed lunchmeats, can fire up inflammation in your body, which can lead to less collagen and elastin in your skin. These are two proteins in your body that help make your skin supple, moist, and resilient. Over time, too much inflammation in your body can cause your skin to appear dry and wrinkled.

8. Even a Little Bit Makes a Difference

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You don’t have to turn completely vegetarian or vegan to reap the benefits: Just think about doing a “Meatless Monday” or replacing a couple of meals a week, and you’ll start seeing a difference. Even skipping just half a serving of meat and replacing it with one of the protein-packed options in #4 above can cut your risk for developing Type 2 diabetes.

You may even save some money, too!

Experts agree that most people get more than enough protein in their diets, so an occasional meatless meal is totally safe. In fact, most people don’t get enough fiber, and could benefit from incorporating more veggie options in their diet. But if you’ve ever been told you are iron-deficient or have anemia, you may want to talk to your doctor first.

If you’re healthy and looking for ways to feel even better, keep checking the AltaMed Health and Wellness page. You’ll find all the news you need to know to stay safe, get in shape, and take care of both your mind and body.