Monthly Archives: May 2017

fiber in fruits and veggies

The inside scoop on your poop

Your gut environment impacts your brain. Recent research links specific gut bacteria types with chronic fatigue syndrome, also called myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME/CFS). Scientists at Columbia University’s Center of Infection and Immunity at the Mailman School of Public Health have discovered that the type and amount of bacteria in your intestine is associated with ME/CFS. ME/CFS is a debilitating autoimmune disorder that causes extreme fatigue, body aches and even impaired thinking. It turns out that 90% of people with this condition also have irritable bowel disease (IBS), also a condition that has been linked with an overgrowth of bad gut bacteria.

Gut-brain connection

One would like to think that everything that ends up in the large intestine doesn’t have any other business with the rest of our body at that point. Mission accomplished, body nourished. But that’s not the case. Even worse, the contents of our colon, specifically the bacteria in there, still communicate with our brain even from the large intestine. Furthermore, the more impaired this gut microbiome or microorganism environment, the worse the symptoms of ME/CFS.

The bacteria in the gut affect normal metabolic pathways between the brain and the gut. Lead researchers in the Mailman School of Public Health study state:

“Much like IBS, ME/CFS may involve a breakdown in the bidirectional communication between the brain and the gut mediated by bacteria, their metabolites, and the molecules they influence”. 

In other words, the bacteria in your gut talks to your brain. Higher amounts of “good bacteria” leads to positive health outcomes while larger amounts of “bad bacteria” or insufficient good bacteria lead to negative health outcomes.

What’s in your gut?

Bristol Stool Chart

photo from Cabot Health

Your poop says a lot about your general health. The Bristol Stool Chart was developed in 1997 by Dr Ken Heaton from the University of Bristol in England to better understand diseases of the bowel and as a communication tool.  A healthy stool should look like type 3 or 4 in the chart. If yours doesn’t and you have no known digestive issues, then you might want to consider doing some housekeeping on your microbiome. You can even be part of the American Gut and have your stool sample analyzed.

Improving your gut microbiome

Jeff Leach, from the Human Food Project, in an NPR interview, states that even though understanding the gut microbiome is in the early stages of research, dietary fiber is very important. Dietary fiber feeds the good gut bacteria. Leach also recommends:

  • Eat garlic and leeks. These are high in a prebiotic called inulin which feeds the good gut bacteria. Garlic also may kill some of the bad bacteria.
  • Eat more vegetables. Leach believes that they are the best source of fiber and that they should be eaten as whole as possible.
  • Boost your dietary fiber to as much as 50 gms daily in order to really change the gut microbiome. If you decide to do this, increase it gradually and boost your water intake.
  • Increase your intake of fermented foods like kimchi, miso, sauerkraut and yogurt.

You are what you eat

The nutrients from your diet impact every cell in your body: their function, structure and integrity. And now we know that the bacteria in our body can turn on and off certain metabolic pathways. Boosting the good bacteria in your colon while limiting the bad bacteria through diet could prevent inflammatory conditions like ME/CFS and perhaps even improve symptoms in those with these conditions.

You have to wonder, are we creating these diseases ourselves by the foods we eat?

The cells in our body are constantly dying off and new ones are being made. Could it be that the overgrowth of bad bacteria is changing the DNA in this process of cell development and creating these inflammatory conditions which also include autoimmune disease like lupus, fibromyalgia, and rheumatoid arthritis? Could the 23.5 million people in the U.S. with these conditions improve their symptoms through their diet?

Could the answer to improving and preventing these autoimmune conditions lie in dietary choices? All I know is that if I suffered from pain, chronic fatigue, poor sleep and impaired thinking, I would much rather try to tackle it through what I eat than through a pill. Improvement of symptoms might not happen overnight, but I can imagine the battle going on in my gut. Now, I think I’ll plant my vegetable garden this week.

low fiber diet linked to breast cancer

Is your daughter’s diet increasing her risk for breast cancer?

Is your daughter’s favorite meal a nice steak with mashed potatoes? Or is picking up a burger and fries on the way home from sports practice a frequent habit? Or is her idea of fruit and veggies, ketchup and relish? These foods may be tasty – who doesn’t love a nice steak or crispy fries dipped in ketchup? But these food choices could increase your daughter’s risk for breast cancer down the road.

The Nurses Health Study II

The original Nurses’ Health Study, funded by the National Institute of Health, looked at the long-term impact of oral contraception on women’s health. Female nurses were selected for their health awareness and appreciation of filling out an accurate health history. The 121,700 returned questionnaires shed light not only on the cancer and heart disease risk with the use of oral contraception, but also the impact of smoking. The Nurses’ Health Study II in 1989 focused on additional lifestyle factors and behaviors and their connection to over 30 different diseases in a younger population – 116,430 women aged 25-42. This second study has provided insight to the link between diet and breast cancer risk.

Dietary fiber and breast cancer

A prospective study reported in the March, 2016 American Academy of Pediatrics looked at the connection between dietary fiber intake during high school years and premenopausal breast cancer risk. After statistical analysis they found a connection between the amount of dietary fiber intake, particularly fruit and vegetable fiber, and risk of breast cancer. Higher consumption of dietary fiber was associated with reduced breast cancer risk. In fact they found:

 “a 13% lower breast cancer risk per 10 g/day fiber increment during early adulthood and 14% lower breast cancer risk per 10 g/day fiber increment during adolescence.”

In other words, for every 10 g of dietary fiber eaten daily, there was a 13% lower risk of breast cancer. The American Heart Association (the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines do not state specific dietary fiber intake) recommends that females between the ages of 14-18 get 26 g of fiber daily, and males consume 38 g. Foods highest in fiber are nuts and seeds, legumes, foods made with whole grains, and fruit and vegetables. An example excellent dietary fiber: a half cup of beans delivers at least 8 g of fiber depending on the bean type. Topping salads, adding to soups or having as a side dish will give you a great dose of cancer prevention.

Red meat consumption linked to breast cancer

A study reported in the October, 2014 International Journal of Cancer looked at the connection between consumption of different protein sources and risk of breast cancer, also looking at data from the Nurses’ Health Study II. They found that the more red meat consumed during the adolescent years, the greater the premenopausal breast cancer risk. They also found that replacing some of the red meat with other protein sources like fish, poultry, nuts and beans reduced the risk for breast cancer.

Less red meat, more fruits and veggies

The answer is pretty obvious. Red meat is high in saturated fat, expensive and has a large carbon footprint, and now there’s a link to red meat consumption and breast cancer. Additionally, not consuming enough fiber from fruits and veggies, beans, nuts, and whole grains, also puts your daughter’s breast health at risk.

Food is health promoting…or health stealing

It really comes down to a mindset. It’s finding the balance between food that is nurturing and nourishing. I don’t expect to love everything I eat, but I try to prepare them in ways to make them tasty. I feel sorry for the kids who never grew up eating vegetables and only ate meals that came out of a box from a fast food restaurant. If that’s the only way someone has eaten, then the concept of learning how to plan and prepare a meal, let alone try new foods, can be daunting.

Tips For Eating Health Promoting Foods

  1. Keep it simple.  Make something in a crock-pot, make a soup or try some of these one pan dinners. Find 5 recipes that you like, write them down on index cards or on your phone notes along with the list of ingredients, and keep them with you so you always have them available when you shop.
  2. Make this an automatic thought: “how can I add more veggies to this meal?” I add extra frozen or fresh veggies to soups, casseroles and even to my breakfast smoothie. i always have at least a box of frozen spinach and broccoli in my freezer. I add cabbage (which has a really long frig life) to wraps, salads, and even soups. I keep cut up fresh veggies in my frig to snack on with humus all the time. I even mash steamed cauliflower to add to my mashed potatoes. I try to get at least 3-4 cups a day.
  3. Cutting down on red meat really comes down to finding other fish, poultry or meatless recipes you like. If you take the time on the first suggestion, you will find that beef disappears, or will be eaten less often.
  4. Your freezer is your way to convenience.  Double or even triple recipes. There isn’t one dinner that I’ve made that hasn’t frozen well. You can even portion extras servings into individual containers to take on the go, or when you don’t have time to prepare a meal.
  5. Know that you are eating this way for you and your daughter’s health in the future. Many of us make regular deposits in retirement accounts for a happy future; how many of us are making regular deposits in our daily lives for our or our family’s future health? What’s the point of having money if you don’t have good health to enjoy it? At least take these steps for your daughter’s sake.