What is Nutrition and Why is it Important?
Nutrition revolves around your body’s ability to perform essential functions from consuming food and processing their nutrients. These nutrients are composed of life-sustaining chemical compounds that support your body’s ability to carry out daily activities, regulate its systems, develop intellectually, and fight disease. Adapting to a balanced, nutritional diet is known to nourish long-term intellectual development and increase life expectancies.
Who Benefits from Nutrition?
The simple answer is everybody from all walks of life—infants, toddlers, children, adolescents, teenagers, adults, and senior citizens. Regardless of age, allergens, or medical conditions, most human bodies require an essential base of nutrients to function properly.
Nutrition Decreases Risk of Many Chronic or Diet-Related Diseases
While healing elixirs may not exist within the fields of science, modern technology continues to refine disease treatment, intervention, and most importantly, prevention. Chronic disease continues to be the undisputed leading cause of death and disabilities in the USA, according to research conducted by the CDC, the National Center for Biotechnology Information, and Harvard University.
However, research has also shown that most chronic, diet-related diseases in the 21st century United States are preventable. In this aspect, a diet refers to more than a strict regimen centered around weight control—it encompasses educating oneself about the interconnectivity between nutrition and the significant role it plays in each of the following:
- Minimizing chronic pain
- Building a strong immune system
- Fighting and preventing disease
- Lengthening life expectancies
Consuming a balanced, nutritious diet will not only nourish your gut health, it will also help you pursue a healthy, fulfilling life at your maximum potential.
The Gut Microbiome
What is the Gut Microbiome?
The human gut microbiome consists of a rich, complex ecosystem teeming with healthy bacteria that performs a diverse variety of essential body functions.
Why is it Important to Have a Healthy Gut Microbiome?
- Breaks down foods you otherwise would be unable to digest
- Produces important nutrients for the body
- Strenghthens the body’s immune system, increasing your protection against harmful, invasive germs
- Improves your energy levels, allowing you to perform daily activities
- Improves your mental clarity and overall emotional wellbeing
Diversity is the Key to Maintaining a Healthy Gut
Like many biological aspects, diversity is extremely important when it comes to maintaining a healthy gut. The more diverse food groups we consume, the more diverse nutrients we process. Ideally, this leads to a more diverse gut bacteria inside the gut microbiome, strengthening its ability to produce essential chemical compounds within your body. We’ve listed examples of several important compounds that gut bacteria helps your body produce:
- Dopamine: A “feel-good” neurotransmitter that activates the reward, pleasure, and motivation areas of your brain. Enhances your life, lowers risk of severe mental illness and chronic neurological diseases.
- Serotonin: Known as the “happiness hormone.” Helps your brain regulate your moods, stabilize your emotions, and reduce depression levels.
- Melatonin: Important for helping your body regulate its sleeping patterns.
- Adrenaline: Helps you assess potential dangers by activating your fight or flight instinct.
- Antioxidants: Protects cells and DNA from cancer by breaking down free radicals, carcinogenic outputs or leftovers from the body’s multitude of chemical processes.
What Causes Unhealthy Gut Microbiomes?
Poor Diet Negatively Affects Gut Health
A poor diet often consists of food groups with little nutritional value, lack of diversity, or both. Consuming foods with little or no nutritional value can lead us to falsely believing we are fulfilled in the short term, but in the long term, it prevents our bodies from getting the essential nutrients it needs to function properly.
Lack of Nutritional Diversity
We’ve discussed how bacterial diversity within the gut microbiome directly improves gut health. On the other hand, chronically consuming a diet low in nutritional diversity and value can dramatically alter the entire composition of your gut microbiome, for the worse. For instance, if your diet largely consists of plain bread with little else, eventually your gut microbiome will become trained to favor bacteria production that targets bread and carbohydrates, with little regard to the other types of bacteria essential for digesting meats, vegetables, fruits, fats, etc.
Eventually, these production numbers can become so distorted that the carbohydrate bacterias outcompete all the others, reducing diversity within our gut microbiome and rendering it unable to properly digest, break down, and process essential nutrients.
Malnutrition and the Gut Microbiome
Aside from seriously damaging your gut microbiome, nutritional deficiencies can lead to chronic inflammation and by extension, chronic pain. It can also lead to malnutrition, a state typically characterized by prolonged nutritional deficiencies or imbalances. Chronic malnutrition can have devastating long-term effects on the body, including the following:
- Frequent indigestion, constipation, diarrhea, and acid refluxes
- Abnormal losses in weight, muscle mass, and healthy body fat
- A look of consistent physical illness: gaunt cheekbones, bulging or sunken eyes, permanently swollen stomach, etc.
- Higher risk of developing infections, illnesses, and chronic diseases (heart disease, diabetes, cancer, etc.)
- Higher risk to develop autoimmune conditions such as gout, lupus, and rheumatoid arthritis
- Longer recovery times for surgeries, wounds, and illnesses
- Higher risk of experiencing chronic irritability, anxiety, depression, emotional breakdowns, and other mental health illnesses
- Chronic insomnia, fatigue, and low energy levels
- Difficulty with concentration on a day to day basis
- Infants, toddlers, and adolescents: Stunted growth and intellectual development
In most cases, improving gut microbiome health is reversible, but it often can take a lot of time, energy, and education about proper nutrition. Research continues to refine our knowledge regarding gut bacteria and the microbiome. Below are some known facts about nutrition, as well as tips you can perform to improve your gut bacteria diversity, heal your gut microbiome, and restore your gut health.
How Nutrition Can Help Heal the Gut Microbiome
Improving Gut Health through Diet: 9 Tips for Beginners
- Weekly Meal Plans: Meal planning is a fantastic way to save yourself time, avoid impulsive purchases, stay within your financial budget, and ensure your diet has a balance. Use food pyramids, food groups, and meal planning templates to look ahead and diversify your nutrition.
- Food Prep: Certain food preparation methods can also help improve gut health and microbiome biodiversity. For example, choosing to lightly steam, sautee, or consuming raw vegetables generally retains more nutrition than deep-frying. For a bonus, add some food preparation methods to the main dishes of your weekly meal plans.
- Size Out Portions with Smaller Plates: Smaller plates help maintain modest portions, decrease the potential to overindulge, and allows you to better pace yourself. Simultaneously, you can always return for more helpings until you are satisfied. Eat until you are satisfied, not stuffed or uncomfortable. Sunday night leftovers can make a great Monday work lunch!
- Choose Minimally Processed Foods with High Nutritional Value: Try to seek out fresh options at your local farmer’s market or grocery store whenever possible. Chicken, turkey, fish, egg whites, almonds, flaxseeds, chia seeds, edamame, lentils, and beans are some foods that offer a great amount of fiber, protein, and nutritional value. For more information about foods you should only buy organic, please visit our Dirty Dozens blog.
- Consume Foods with Antioxidants: Consume foods with high levels of bacterial diversity and naturally occurring antioxidants, such as whole fruits, black coffee, tea, and dark chocolate (good rule of thumb = minimum 70% cacao).
- Incorporate Some Fermented Foods into Your Diet: Fermented foods are typically rich with antioxidants, bacterial diversity, and nutritional vitality. Some of the most popular fermented foods include pickles, kimchi, sauerkraut, kombucha, and low sugar yogurts. but they come in a diverse range from many different recipes and cultures.
- Decrease Your Consumption of Processed Foods: Many of these offer less fuel, bacterial diversity, and nutritional value for your gut microbiomes. They can temporarily make you feel filled up, but ultimately end up starving your healthy gut bacteria. While there is no need to give up this food group altogether, highly processed foods — packaged snacks, canned goods, frozen foods, white breads, etc.— are better when consumed in moderation.
- Provide Yourself Options through Substitutions:
- Dairy and Other Drinks: Instead of whole milk, soda, and sweet drinks laden with high fructose corn syrup, choose healthier options such as reduced fat milk, almond milk, flavored sparkling water, or plain ice water.
- Sugar: If you enjoy desserts, a good method of lowering your daily sugar intake is to choose desserts with lower sugar contents. Ripe whole fruit, baked fruits with little dollops of cream, fruit smoothies with no added sugars, and greek yogurt with toppings like dark chocolate or unprocessed fruit can typically satisfy most sweet cravings.
- Sauces: Instead of sauces made with copious amounts of butter or heavy cream, flavor your dishes with natural spices, such as salt, pepper, oregano, rosemary, cinnamon, garlic, etc.
9. Remain Conscientious: Read food labels to discover potential hidden sugars or abnormal salt levels, especially in frozen foods, canned foods, and takeout dishes (most restaurants are required to provide nutritional information).
Improving Gut Health Beyond Your Diet
- Learn How to Manage Your Stress Levels: Some common stress management methods include meditation, yoga, or vacations. Therapy and counseling is also a fantastic resource for learning ways to improve mindfulness, decrease stress, and control anxiety.
- Physical Exercise: Even a mildly active lifestyle can offer benefits over a completely sedentary one. Daily 15-20 minutes walks can help your digestive system and your body mitigate your stress levels.
- Targeted Nutritional Supplementation: Figure out which specific vitamins or minerals your body may be missing and try to incorporate that into your diet plans.