Leaky gut- What is it and how can I fix it?

Gut health is essential. It can affect metabolism, energy levels, immunity and digestion and absorption of nutrients. Even if you have a perfect diet, your gut has to be able to absorb the nutrients to help them work properly, otherwise you aren’t getting the true benefit of eating them. What causes a gut to be in poor health, and what can you do to make sure your gut is in optimum health?

Leaky gut syndrome (or increase in intestinal permeability) is when the lining of the intestines do not work properly to prevent large molecules from passing through. Normally there is a tight junction within the intestinal walls to allow for transport of small molecules (amino acids, electrolytes, water) into the bloodstream to be used by the body. When this tight junction is compromised larger molecules that should be blocked, such as undigested food particles and toxins can enter the bloodstream- no fun! This causes a variety of symptoms including gas, bloating, joint pain, muscle aches, fatigue, autoimmune reactions and food allergies.

Leaky gut typically is a result of things that weaken digestive function. This includes chronic antibiotic use, the use of NSAIDs (ibuprofen), chronic stress, drinking alcohol, and eating refined foods. Eating foods with anti-nutrients such as phytates and lignin can also cause leaky gut to happen because our bodies aren’t able to break down these foods very well and may lead perforations (holes) in the intestines. Phytates are found in grains, brown rice and oats. Lectins are found largely in wheat, rice and soy.

There are specific tests to test for leaky gut that you may want to talk with your doctor about if you believe you may be suffering with this condition. The tests include: urine test, stool and digestive analysis, blood test for IgG and IgA antibodies, or a bacterial dysbiosis test.

The good new is, you can heal your leaky gut. Here are the steps that should be taken.

  1.  Remove foods from your diet that are impairing gut health. The foods that are hard to digest and may be causing damage to your gut include grains, legumes and processed foods. These should be avoided, at least for the duration of the healing process.
  2. Begin eating more foods that restore gut health by reducing inflammation and promoting good bacteria. These foods include
    • yogurt with active cultures- great for replenishing beneficial gut bacteria
    • fermented vegetables such as sauerkraut and kimchi- also great for replenishing beneficial gut bacteria
    • Coconut products- the medium chain fatty acids in coconut are easier to digest than other fats and can help to support the growth of good bacteria
    • Healthy fats- such as avocado, fatty fish, olives and healing bone broth can help to reduce inflammation that has occurred from your leaky gut
    • Sprouted grains- such as hemp seeds, chia seeds and flaxseeds are great sources of fiber that can help support the growth of healthy bacteria
  3. Gut healing supplements are also beneficial. These include fish oil, probiotics and L-glutamine. Fish oil targets inflammations and reduces it. Probiotics promote the growth of good bacteria in the intestinal tract. L-glutamine is the most beneficial as it is an anti-inflammatory essential amino acid that is responsible for the growth and repair of the intestinal lining.
  4. Manage stress more effectively. Stress promotes inflammation and increases healing time.

Here is what a sample day of eating looks like to heal a leaky gut:

Breakfast: Omelet made with omega-3 eggs. Berries. Coconut milk.

Lunch: Salad with chicken and avocado, olive oil and vinaigrette dressing. Fruit.

Snack: yogurt with chia seeds mixed in.

Dinner: salmon, sweet potato, broccoli.

Snack: smoothie made with banana, mango, kale, hemp seeds, coconut milk

Here’s to a happy and healthy gut!

Summer Grilling

Forget the hot dogs and hamburgers this Fourth of July, here are some much healthier (and more flavorful) grilled favorites of mine.

Grilled chicken sausage with mixed vegetables

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Ingredients:

  • Chicken sausage cut into bite-size pieces (I usually buy al fresco brand, they have a spinach and feta flavored sausage that’s really good. See here. Publix also carries their own brand of chicken sausage that is minimally processed and a good option as well.
  • Veggies: for this recipe I used 1 zucchini, 1 summer squash, 1 red bell pepper, 1 package of portabella mushrooms and 2 small red potatoes. Cut all veggies to size you desire (I quarter mine).
  • 2 tbsp olive oil, 1 tsp rosemary, 1/2 tsp garlic powder

Mix everything together and place in foil. Grill for 30-35 minutes, until potatoes are fully cooked. Tastes great with a glass of red wine with mixed summer berries for dessert. Yum!

Hawaiian Chicken Kabobs

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Ingredients:

For the marinade

  • 1/2 cup pineapple juice
  • 3 minced garlic cloves
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1/3 tsp paprika

For the kabobs

  • Chicken breast, cut into small pieces. For two people and a baby I used about 3/4 pound of chicken (we love leftovers…no-cook lunches!)
  • Veggies: 1 sliced zucchini, 1 sliced summer squash, 1 sliced red onion, 1 sliced green pepper, 1 sliced red pepper, 1 pack portabella mushrooms (I left these whole)

After mixing the marinade ingredients together, put in a ziplock baggie with the chicken and marinade for at least 2 hours. Soak wooden skewers for about 10 minutes in water and then place one of each ingredient (chicken and veggies) on each skewer. Repeat if you have room. Grill for about 20-25 minutes. I like to serve this meal with grilled sweet potato fries and fresh pineapple. To make my sweet potato fries I slice a fresh sweet potato into a fry-shape and season with about 1 tbsp of olive oil and just a touch of garlic salt and pepper. I grill these on foil alongside the skewers. Delicious!

Fish tacos with mango salsa

I love Mexican food and this dish is my favorite, hands down. I used tilapia for the example in this blog post, but I use mahi-mahi sometimes too. Grouper would also taste amazing, but I haven’t tried it with this recipe yet.

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Ingredients:

For the fish (2 servings)

  • tilapi or mahi-mahi filets
  • 1 tbsp lime juice
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 tsp chili powder
  • 1/4 tsp cumin
  • 1/4 tsp paprika
  • a pinch of cayenne pepper (this is optional- only if you like to add a little kick to it)

For the salsa

  • 1 large mango, peeled, pitted and diced
  • 1/4 red bell pepper, diced
  • 1 tbsp minced red onion
  • 1/4 avocado, diced
  • 1 tbsp fresh cilantro, diced
  • 1 small jalapeno pepper, minced
  • 1 tbsp lime juice
  • 1/2 tbsp lemon juice

Combine the seasoning ingredients for the fish and let sit in marinade for 20-30 minutes. Grill fish for about 3 minutes per side. Mix all salsa ingredients together. I like to serve on small corn tortillas with a Mexican slaw mixture (Dole makes this and it has kale mixed in and I’ve seen it at most grocery stores. Kroger also makes their own brand of this). I place the fish on top of the salad mixture and add the salsa on top of the fish. We like to eat our fish tacos with a couple tortilla chips and fresh guacamole. A margarita with fresh squeezed lime is the perfect addition to my favorite summer meal.

Enjoy!

 

This entry was posted in Recipes.

All About Organic- Is it Worth the Money?

Because I’m a dietitian, most people assume that I buy all organic foods. That’s actually not the case! I also get a lot of questions about whether or not it’s worth the extra money to buy organic and if organic food is healthier than its conventional counterparts.

First it’s good to understand what farming practices need to be adhered to before a food can be labeled organic. A food must have the following criteria to have the organic seal:

  • NO pesticides- All fruits and vegetables that are organic along with the feed provided to organic livestock must be grown without the use of GMO’s, synthetic fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides for at least the past 3 years.
  • NO antibiotics- If a sick animal is treated with antibiotics then its meat or milk cannot be sold as organic.
  • NO growth hormones

There are plenty of reasons why people decide to start buying organic food. Some do because they want to protect the environment. A world without pesticides is a much healthier environment to live in. Others do to help support organic farmers. The reasons I have for buying organic foods is because I like to know that the food I eat has been raised adhering to specific standards that organic farmers proudly have in place. A majority do because they believe organic food is healthier or because they want to avoid toxic pesticides. Switching to organic can be quite pricey- it is much more expensive than conventional foods, sometimes as much as 2x-3x the price. So is it even worth spending the extra money??

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Fruits and vegetables- Some fruits and vegetables have a thicker layer of residue than others, so it would be worth it to buy them organic to avoid exposure to these. The fruits and vegetables you can keep buying conventional are those with a thicker peel- these include bananas, avocados, melons, eggplant, pineapple, mangos, grapefruit, kiwi and mushrooms. The fruits and vegetables you may want to buy organic to avoid pesticides include apples, tomatoes, grapes, peaches, spinach, berries, nectarines, and potatoes.

Animal products- Even though many consumers may believe the opposite, just because an animal product is not organic does not mean it contains recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH) or antibiotics. Antibiotic residues are not permitted in conventionally produced animal foods and rBGH is rarely found in milk supplied by large grocery stores. In fact, fewer than 1 in 5 cows are injected with rBGH. I recommend looking for grass fed animal products because it naturally increases the omega’3 fatty acids in the animal’s diet- plus it just tastes so much better! Grass-fed animal products tend to be higher in omega-3 fatty acids which is beneficial for our health. However, the amount of omega’3 fatty acids in grass-fed beef is nowhere near as significant as the amount found in fish- the difference being 100 mg vs 1000 mg per serving! The adequate intake recommendations (AI) for omega-3 fatty acids is 1.6 gm/day for men and 1.1 gm/day for women.

 

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Junk food- If you are considering switching over to organic foods but are unsure if it will fit into your grocery budget, consider skipping the organic junk food. Just because it’s labeled organic does not make it any healthier.

To make organic food more affordable, consider buying only the fruits and vegetables with a thicker layer of pesticide residue (mentioned above) organic and buy the rest conventional. Organic frozen fruits and vegetables are great as well, and tend to be a little bit cheaper! Look for sales and stock up. Farmers markets are great too, especially because your purchase will help to support your local organic farmers.

All of that being said, I don’t buy 100% organic. I stick with grass fed meat and omega-3 fortified eggs. I buy Carli organic milk, yogurt and cheese and try to feed her organic fruits and vegetables when I can afford it. Because she eats more pound for pound than Nick and I, I try to make her exposure to pesticides minimal. I really like to encourage parents to not get discouraged if they can’t afford (or even want to) feed their kids organic, because it’s definitely not the end of the world if you don’t! Here are some tips if you decide that an organic lifestyle is not for you:

  • Always remember that having a diet high in conventional fruits and vegetables is much healthier than a diet high in organic junk food. Organic or not, fruits and vegetables are high in the nutrients your body needs to fight of disease and stay healthy.
  • Try incorporating more omega-3’s into the diet with salmon, flaxseed (I love adding to smoothies and yogurt), and walnuts.
  • Look for grass-fed meat. It’s less expensive than organic.
  • Use these tips from the FDA to reduce or eliminate pesticide residue
    • Wash your hands with warm water and soap for 20 seconds before and after preparing fresh produce
    • Cut away damaged or bruised areas before preparing or eating
    • Wash produce with large amounts of cold or warm running tap water. Washing removes about 75-80% of pesticide residues.
    • Wash produce before you peel it so dirt and bacteria aren’t transferred from the knife on the fruit or vegetable
    • Dry produce with a clean cloth or paper towel
    • Throw away the outer leaves of leafy vegetables such as lettuce and cabbage
    • Trim the fat from meat and the fat and skin from poultry. Some pesticide residues are stored in the animal fat.

 

 

Banana Ice-cream

Summers in Georgia are HOT. There’s nothing I love more than cooling off with a bowl of ice-cream after being out in the hot sun. Unfortunately, most cool summer treats are loaded with added sugars- including frozen yogurt, a choice that seems as if it would be a healthy alternative to Popsicles or ice-cream. Luckily, I have discovered an alternative to ice-cream that not only tastes delicious, but it’s just as sweet and refreshing. Banana ice-cream is just as it sounds- it’s pure banana! I like to add peanut butter because it gives it some extra flavor and nutrients making this recipe a great summer snack.

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It’s simple to make- all you need are a few very ripe bananas. Once they are starting to turn brown, slice them into small pieces and freeze for at least 2 hours. Place the frozen banana slices into a blender or food processor (I use my Nutra Ninja) and blend until it forms a purée. You may need to use a spoon to stir it to the right consistency. If you wish you can add a couple tablespoons of peanut butter. We tried adding honey flavored peanut butter and it was delicious! Hope you’re staying nice and cool this summer!

 

**For some reason the pictures posted in the last couple updates are sideways when viewed on a desktop computer but look normal on a tablet or phone. Not sure why this is, but I’m working on getting it fixed!**