Happy Gut Kitchen

Top 7 Happy Gut Tips for the Holidays

Staying on track and eating healthy during the holiday season can be challenging with all the temptations of food, sweets and alcohol. It can seem like everywhere you turn, you are being offered cookies, cake and candy. Holiday parties and socializing become stressful with the endless abundance of food and buffets. Or you may feel pressured by family members to eat a decadent homemade dish. Before you know it, you’ve gained weight, are dealing with indigestion and feeling fatigued from a sugar/refined carb overload and the lack of nutritious foods.

Holidays don’t have to mean stress, anxiety and indulgence. It’s important to recognize that the holidays are often the only time many families come together. During this time, take a moment and give thanks for what you have and reflect on this past year’s joys. There is so much more that encompasses the holiday season than just indulgent, fat-rich, savory and sugary foods. This is a time to reflect and express gratitude for what is good in your life. Keep this in mind when the bustle of the holidays overwhelms you.

And for those moments when temptation may get the best of you in the next few weeks, use these Happy Gut tips to feel good and stay healthy throughout the holiday season!

7 Happy Gut Holiday Tips

Stay Hydrated Make sure you drink plenty of water. When it gets cooler out, and the dry heat turns on, you may not realize how much fluid you’re losing to the environment when you breathe and talk. It’s easy to dehydrate, drinking coffee and forgetting to drink enough water. Often times, we even confuse hunger or fatigue for thirst, leading you to over-consume simple sugars and refined starches when simply hydrating would help your body feel balanced. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology released a study indicating that drinking water can help increase metabolic rate. This is good news for those of you looking to support your body’s metabolic needs and maintain a healthy weight.1 Not to mention, a warm cup of water with lemon is a great way to naturally stimulate the body’s detoxification and digestion processes.

Eliminate Added Sugars and Processed Ingredients It may seem like the apple pie or sugar cookies are calling your name, but once you have that first bite you won’t be able to resist. The best way to avoid them is to not have them. Resist the urge to indulge in these highly processed foods. Sugar is like cocaine to the brain. It stimulates the same brain regions as the drug. In addition, many desserts are filled with processed sugar and grains that can leave you feeling uncomfortable and bloated.

Instead, skip the sugar and processed foods. Opt for a healthy dessert. Be sure to check out my delicious cookies and  n’ice cream, among other upcoming holiday dessert recipes!

Stabilize Blood SugarNever go to a holiday party hungry. Prior to leaving for a big holiday meal, eat a snack with healthy fats and protein to ensure stable blood sugar levels.2 Showing up famished and “hangry” to a party will lead you to overeat, and you’re sure to not make the healthiest choices. When your blood sugar drops, you will crave refined starches (like bread, rice, and pasta) and sweets. Choose a low-carb snack like a hard-boiled egg with nut butter,  carrot sticks with hummus, or even a few avocado slices drizzled with Himalayan sea salt and olive oil, prior to heading out to the holiday party.

Stay Active Just because it’s the holidays, there is no reason to stop your daily exercise routine. Before you start the day, get out in nature for a brisk walk, do your favorite yoga routine or find the right exercise that works for you. Break a sweat! Better yet, after a holiday meal, take a 15 – 20 minute walk with the family to digest your holiday dinner.

“Mocktail, Please!”The other side of holiday indulgence involves imbibing, not just eating. Too much alcohol can equally wreak havoc on your health, just as the wrong food choices can. Instead, opt for soda water with bitters and mashed berries. Bitters help stimulate your digestive juices, so you can break down and absorb your food better. This drink is guilt free, low in sugar,  and promotes a healthy, happy gut. Even better, it looks like a fancy cocktail, but without the booze or hangover.

Support Digestion Before, During and After  Regardless of staying on track and doing your best during the holiday season, you may indulge in a few larger meals. In an attempt to not feel completely stuffed and uncomfortable, try a digestive enzyme. Take the enzyme 15 – 20 minutes prior to each large meal. A favorite product of mine is our Happy Gut Activate enzymes–a comprehensive digestive enzyme supplement.

Slow Down During your meal, practice mindfulness by being fully present. Enjoy the experience at the table, socialize, and eat slowly. Try resting your fork between bites and chewing thoroughly. Eating at a slower pace gives your stomach the time it needs to signal your brain that it is full. Try to stop when you are seventy-five percent full. This will decrease your chances of overeating.

After the meal, if you still feel like you may have overeaten, opt for a warm cup of ginger or peppermint tea to soothe your belly and decrease discomfort.

I hope you all have a wonderful holiday season and find these tips helpful throughout the next few weeks!

For more help rebooting your gut health after the holidays, check out my 3-Day Gut Reboot Diet. It’s a quick way to reset your gut health when overindulgence has gotten the better of you.

Beat the Bloat With These Foods – Remedies from the Happy Gut Kitchen

I’m posting this during gut health week, so I wanted to talk about the most common gastrointestinal complaint I hear — bloating. What better way to achieve a happy gut than by beating the bloat. Bloating, that uncomfortable distention of the your abdomen after or even in-between meals, is most definitely something you don’t want to endure for another day of your life. Fortunately, at the Happy Gut Kitchen, we have the tools and resources you need to beat the bloat for good!

First, let’s take a little inventory check to see if bloating may be an area of concern for you.

Inventory Check:

Do you suffer from serious abdominal distension more often than not?

Do you look like you’re pregnant by the end of the day?

Are you uncomfortable or even embarrassed to be in public because of gassiness?

Do you bloat after meals?

Do you suffer from insomnia because of a bloated belly?

Do you skip meals because of frequent bloating that keeps you feeling full between meals?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, keep reading to learn how to truly beat the bloat for good through the foods you eat.

Let’s just be clear, bloating is nothing to be ashamed of. It is also something you should not have to deal with on a regular basis, either. More than 34 million Americans suffer from digestive disorders, while 10-15% suffer from Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). Approx. 66-90% of individuals with IBS experience bloating, while women experience this more commonly than men. These numbers are staggering. When digestive issues are not taken care of, they can even lead to chronic health conditions and have an effect on the quality of your life. Women who suffer from bloating may actually experience heightened depression and anxiety. 1,2,3

There are a few underlying reasons why you may be suffering from bloating, making it more than just a “food baby bump” after an indulgent meal. It can be really challenging to pinpoint what the underlying triggers are. Let’s get into it. I want to help you understand the root causes of your bloating!

Root Causes – Imbalances that make for a Sad Gut

Studies show that even just minor disturbances in gut microflora can lead to staggering changes in gut function. Those with IBS, particularly constipation, are known to endure greater bloating, gas, and distention of the abdominal region.1  Candida overgrowth is an extremely common contributor to bloating. Candida — an unfriendly yeast that can overgrow in your gut —  normally resides in the intestinal tract, mucous membranes and skin without causing issues.4  However, several triggers may lead to yeast overgrowth. These include things like stress, poor diet (high in processed sugar and refined carbohydrates like pasta, white bread and bagels), overuse of prescription medications (i.e. antibiotics) and a weakened immune system. In the right setting, Candida albicans, an infectious strain of Candida yeasts, takes over.

Certain foods contain sugars and simple, short-chain carbohydrates that contribute to gastrointestinal discomfort, such as bloating, diarrhea and gas. These sugars are most problematic when they are fermented in the small intestine by harmful or even normal, commensal bacteria, as opposed to being properly fermented in the colon. If digested in the small intestine, the bacteria will produce gases that can contribute to bloating, abdominal pain, diarrhea or constipation.2 If you suffer from extensive bloating, distension, gas, and/or constipation or chronic diarrhea, it is beneficial to work with a functional provider to assess any underlying bacterial or yeast imbalances. In the meantime, check out the groups of sugars listed below, and the accompanying foods that may contribute to bloating.

Simple Carb + Sugar Groups to Avoid

Oligosaccharides (legumes, wheat, onions and garlic)

Disaccharides (lactose-containing products like yogurt, milk and cheese)

Monosaccharides (fructose-containing foods like many fresh fruits, such as apples, mangoes and melons)

Polyols (sugar substitutes, chewing gum, candy and baked goods)

On Your Way to a Happy Gut

Now that we understand what contributes to the bloat, make sure to ditch the foods that cause discomfort. Check out the strategies below and be sure to stock your cabinets with favorites from The Happy Gut Kitchen!

Happy Gut Pantry Options

Kick the Sugar. To combat yeast and the bloat, eliminate all processed sugars and refined carbohydrates. You will also want to consider limiting your sweetener intake, even if they are natural options like honey and maple syrup. Be mindful of your fruit consumption as well. It is something that can easily sneak by you as a “healthy” option, because we don’t normally think of fruit as sugar. Instead of choosing fruits with higher sugar content, opt for mixed organic berries or organic cherries. As we enter the fall and winter season, try frozen options in your breakfast smoothie. When thawed, they also create a delicious “syrup” making them the perfect “substitute” for other sugar substitutes!

Eliminate Food Sensitivities. Take out any inflammatory foods you may be sensitive to. The most common include wheat, gluten, dairy, soy, corn, peanuts, legumes, and occasionally nuts. There are simple carbohydrates or sugars in various foods that can be difficult for individuals to digest.2 I always suggest eliminating gluten, dairy, corn, soy, most legumes (except for chickpeas and peas at moderate levels) and all highly processed foods (packaged snack items). As mentioned above, consumption of foods like garlic and onions, brussel sprouts and cabbage will vary depending on the person. Try eliminating them altogether for up to 3 – 4 weeks, then having small to increasing amounts to assess whether they make you gassy or not.

Add Ins. Here at the Happy Gut Kitchen we look for other delicious options for you to enjoy while you eliminate offending foods!

Gluten-Free Grain Options:

Quinoa

Millet

Amaranth

Buckwheat

Teff

Steel Cut Oats

Dairy Free Options:*

Almond Milk

Cashew Milk

Flax Milk

Coconut Milk

   *unsweetened options only; must be carrageenan-free

Non-Processed Snack Options:

SunButter and celery sticks

Hummus and carrot sticks

Alkali-free organic coconut flakes, walnut and sprouted almond trail mix

Toasted, sprouted pumpkin seeds

     Chia Seed Pudding:

     2 tablespoons chia seeds

     1 cup almond milk

     1 tsp vanilla extract

     Cinnamon, to taste

Organic blueberries (for topping)

Mint leaves, to garnish     

Mix well in a small mason jar or glass cup.

Soak overnight, top with blueberries, garnish with a mint leaf and enjoy like                         a  pudding.

Soothe the Gut. While you are healing the gut, try gut-soothing functional foods like ginger, fennel and celery. These foods help to reduce spasms in your gut and decrease bloating. Make this a daily habit with these Happy Gut pantry favorites.

     Morning Tonic

     ½ cup filtered water

     2 celery stalks

     Juice from ½ fresh lemon

     1 inch square ginger root

     Blend well in a high-speed blender. Enjoy with a straw.

Now you have your own tasty, anti-bloat beverage right at your fingertips! Be sure to check out my other beat the bloat smoothies here.

Just Say No. Cut the artificial sweeteners. Numerous studies support the detrimental effects artificial sweeteners have on your health, including increased risk for diabetes and cardiovascular disease, including stroke and heart attack. Not to mention, they can also contribute to bloating and gas.5 Instead, when you get that craving for a little something sweet, try organic stevia, dark chocolate, or frozen and thawed berries.

Feed the Gut. Enjoy prebiotic– and probiotic-rich foods. These foods are incredibly beneficial for the microbiome, allowing the beneficial bacteria to flourish and diversify. Try traditionally fermented, unpasteurized sauerkraut, kimchi, pickles and brine-cured olives.  

Another Serving of Fiber, Please. Make sure you are consuming plenty of leafy greens throughout your day. They are a rich source of insoluble fiber, which helps push the food along inside your GI tract. Eating fiber-rich foods helps to alleviate constipation — a major contributor to bloating. If you are not used to consuming high amounts of fiber, be sure to start slow and work your way up to larger servings.

Tip: Try sneaking greens into your morning smoothie, like our Green Vitality smoothie. You can also quickly saute a side of spinach in coconut oil to accompany your sunny-side up pasture-raised eggs for breakfast. Or even make delicious salads with fresh greens from the farmer’s market! The options are truly endless. It takes less than 5 minutes to put a salad together to go with your dinner. Easy, breezy!

Drink Up Between Meals. Be deliberate with your choice to stay hydrated. So many people forget to drink water throughout the day. To add to the problem, these same people are drinking 1 – 2 cups of coffee per day, further dehydrating their digestive tract and bodies. Hydration is a really important when you are increasing your fiber intake to combat constipation as well. Grab a glass or stainless steel bottle and fill it up with filtered water throughout your day. Avoid plastic water bottles as much as possible. Aim to reach a personal goal of at least 64 ounces of H2O daily to keep you on track. If plain water bores you, try adding fresh mint leaves, lemons, limes or cucumber slices.

Breathe. Remember to breathe! Stress has a significant effect on your overall health, especially digestion. Breath work before and between meals and at bedtime helps reduce belly discomfort and brings your body back to the “rest and digest phase.” Not to mention, breathing calms and balances the brain, resulting in a happy mind with a happy gut.

Be sure to implement these changes, try a new, anti-bloat recipe and most importantly, stock up on Happy Gut Kitchen favorites to beat the bloat! I’d love to help you reset your gut health with my self-guided, easy-to-follow 3-Day Gut Reboot Diet. It plans everything out for you for 3 days so you can be on your way to gut bliss. Click here to download this free e-book today!

Stressed, constipated and sleepless? Magnesium to the rescue!

Do you suffer from insomnia, agonize over constipation, endure painful leg cramps, battle depression or even find yourself feeling like you need a detox? Would you believe me if I said these symptoms and chronic health issues could be alleviated with the supplementation of a single mineral?1 With the stress of the upcoming holidays, this mineral is your best friend for surviving family get-togethers and holiday parties.

Magnesium is a powerful nutrient that is utilized by many enzymatic processes in the body. Enzymes are basically the catalysts that make things happen in the cells. More specifically, magnesium acts as a cofactor to these enzymes. Magnesium assists in energy metabolism, protein synthesis and cell replication. In regards to the cardiovascular system, magnesium regulates the conduction of other important minerals–calcium, sodium and potassium–in the heart. This mineral also plays important roles in sugar metabolism by facilitating glucose transport and the actions of the hormone insulin–its binding, secretion and activity.1 Magnesium has another important job, it aides in the synthesis of the master antioxidant in the body, glutathione.2

The recommended daily allowance or RDA of magnesium for men ages 19 – 30 years is 400 mg daily. For women in this age range, a recommended value is 310 mg daily. For ages 31 and up, the intake for men is 420 mg and 320 mg for women. Most Americans do not reach their RDA, which is actually the minimum requirement (not the amount needed for optimal function), leading to significant magnesium deficiencies.3

Magnesium Deficiency

Magnesium deficiencies can be due to a host of factors, among which are included:4,5

  • Gastrointestinal disorders. Individuals with a  leaky gut or malabsorption issues due to chronic irritable bowel syndrome, tend to also suffer from magnesium malabsorption.
  • A diet high in processed and altered foods. This type of manufacturing can deplete 85% of naturally occurring magnesium in foods.
  • Food preparation. Cooking or boiling food also decreases the amount of bioavailable magnesium that is present in a food.
  • Phytate-rich foods.  Phytates or phytic acid are naturally occurring components in legumes, whole grains, nuts and seeds that are sometimes referred to as “anti-nutrients.” They bind to micronutrients like magnesium, iron, calcium, zinc, and selenium, and inhibit their absorption into the body.
  • Excess alcohol consumption. Alcohol acts as a magnesium diuretic in the kidneys, contributing to a deficiency.
  • Antibiotic Use. Antibiotics disrupt the gut microbiome. As a result, barrier function and nutrient absorption are impaired, affecting the body’s ability to absorb magnesium.  

Do you feel that you eat a healthy diet, mostly plant-based with lots of nutrients? Do you not fit into any of these categories? You don’t drink alcohol or take medications. Even with a well-designed diet, you may still not be absorbing magnesium.

Due to our mass agricultural techniques, much of our soil has been stripped from essential nutrients that used to occur naturally. Magnesium is one of these. Researchers at the University of Texas published an article in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition with evidence suggesting there has been a steady decline in the micronutrients in our soil and plants, including magnesium, zinc, vitamin E and vitamin B6. The vegetables and fruit our ancestors were consuming years ago were much more nutrient dense than what we eat on a daily basis in today’s society.4 That said, “popeye’s spinach” no longer has as many minerals as it once did.

It is clear there are many ways magnesium deficiency can show up. Take a look at common symptoms you and so many of my patients are often suffering from on a daily basis.6,7

Magnesium Deficiency Symptoms

  • Muscle Pain/Spasms
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • High Blood Pressure
  • Palpitations
  • Type 2 Diabetes
  • Constipation

Nourishing Your Body With Magnesium

One way you can address these symptoms and the resulting chronic conditions is to nourish your body with magnesium in several ways. Start with where you source your food from. Unfortunately, you do not have the power to stop the widespread use of pesticides and fertilizers that are depleting the soil of its nutrients, but you can control what you buy. Find whole foods from local farms you trust with high-quality organic, seasonal produce. Organic produce has been shown to have higher nutrient and antioxidant content than regular produce. Second, be sure you are consuming foods rich in magnesium on a daily basis. Check out the list of magnesium rich foods below.3

Magnesium Rich Foods

  • Spinach
  • Swiss Chard
  • Avocado
  • Figs
  • Dark Chocolate
  • Almonds
  • Pumpkin Seeds
  • Cashews
  • Bananas

Magnesium Supplementation

Aside from honing in on great food sources of this mineral, you may also want to consider supplementing with magnesium. There are many forms of magnesium to address different ailments. Listed below is a guide to the most common supplemental forms and what they can be used for.3

  • Magnesium Citrate: Combined with citric acid, it can aid in constipation through its laxative effects (at higher amounts can sometimes cause diarrhea, so always start low at around 200 mg and slowly increase the dose until the constipation is relieved with normal bowel movements).
  • Magnesium Glycinate: Beneficial in addressing deficiencies due to its high absorbency rate. Magnesium helps promote GABA secretion in the brain, which helps you and your body relax. Take 400 mg of this type at bedtime.
  • Magnesium Chelate: Attached to an amino acid, making it less likely to cause GI issues such as diarrhea or bloating. Different forms can be found. One example is malate, and another notable one is taurate.
  • Magnesium Taurate: An example of a chelated form with high absorption. Taurine is an amino acid that is good for both the brain and the heart–the two locations that concentrate the most taurine in the body. However, it also aids in liver detoxification. The starting dose range is 200 – 400 mg daily, preferentially at bedtime.

Tip: Don’t forget, your skin is yet another way to absorb magnesium. Epsom salt baths make for a great way to help your muscles relax. Add 10 drops of essential lavender oil, light up some scented candles, and you will be in the zen zone before you know it! It’s the perfect escape without needing to escape.

Citations:

1. Chaudhary, D.P., Sharma, R. & Bansal, D.D. Biol Trace Elem Res. 2010; 134: 119.

2. Mills BJ, Lindeman RD, Lang CA, Magnesium deficiency inhibits biosynthesis of blood glutathione and tumor growth in the rat.” Proc Soc Exp Biol Med. 1986 Mar;181(3):326-32.

3. “Office of Dietary Supplements – Magnesium.” National Institutes of Health. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Web. 02 May 2017.

4.”Dirt Poor: Have Fruits and Vegetables Become Less Nutritious?” Scientific American. 25 Apr. 2011. Web. 02 May 2017.

5. Rivlin RS. “Magnesium deficiency and alcohol intake: mechanisms, clinical significance and possible relation to cancer development.”  J Am Coll Nutr. 1994 Oct;13(5):416-23.

6. Serefko A, Szopa A, Wlaź P, Nowak G, Radziwoń-Zaleska M, Skalski M, Poleszak E. “Magnesium in depression.”  Pharmacol Rep. 2013;65(3):547-54.

7. R Swaminathan. “Magnesium Metabolism and its Disorders.” Clin Biochem Rev. 2003 May; 24(2): 47–66.