If the gut is not working efficiently, the body cannot receive the necessary nutrients for its cells. When food particles and other substances are absorbed incorrectly, the immune system goes into high alert, and it attacks them as pathogens.
This immune response, creates inflammation in the bloodstream, and it moves throughout the body. It causes digestive distress such as bloating, heartburn, or diarrhea. Interestingly, the most common symptoms for poor gut health symptoms show up in the brain: depression, anxiety, insomnia, brain fog, and poor memory.
Probiotics are our healthy gut bacteria, and prebiotics are the foods that enables them to thrive. Fibre is a prebiotic and it is part of a plant’s cellular structure. If you want to get fibre naturally, the most efficient way to do it is through eating more plants. One of the most extensive studies on microbes, published by Dr. Knight in 2017, shows that the single most significant predictor of a healthy gut microbiome is incorporating a diverse range of plants into the diet.
Research suggests that we should be eating up to thirty different plants per week to support a healthy microbiome. Every plant type feeds a unique microbe community, and the more varied the plant intake, the more diverse the microbiome in the gut.
Dr. Bulsiewicz outlines an easy way to incorporate more plants into our diet through following the acronym, F-GOALS. This acronym stands for: fruits and fermented foods; greens and grains; omega-rich nuts and seeds; aromatics; legumes; and sulforaphanes. And although it can be intimidating to begin with, here is a list of plants to get you started. You can use either frozen or fresh fruits and vegetables. Dry legumes (beans), seeds and nuts are an inexpensive and accessible option and they add fibre-rich protein into the diet; these items can be purchased from most bulk foods or grocery stores. Be careful when using canned options, however, as there is often added sugar and salt, so read the ingredients carefully.
Fruits and Fermented Foods
A study from Cornell University shows that eating a combination of fruit results in increased antioxidant activity in the body. Berries are incredibly nutrient-rich, and one study shows that eating two servings of berries per week, can reduce Parkinson’s disease by 23%.
Fermented foods, such as kimchi, sauerkraut, miso and kombucha, are rich in healthy bacteria, or probiotics. Almost every culture on earth has fermented foods as part of their food tradition because it is excellent for health and it is an efficient preservation method. Here is a link to ten fermented foods that you can easily make at home.
Greens and Grains
When it comes to grains, Dr. B encourages dropping the refined options, such as white rice and highly processed bread, and incorporating whole-grain options. One particular ten-year study of dietary patterns examined 37 different food groups and showed that whole grain consumption had the most potent anti-inflammatory effect on the body.
The most efficient way to get more Omega-3 is by incorporating more seeds into your diet, such as flax, chia, and hemp seeds. Seeds are easy to incorporate into salad, porridge, smoothies or just by sprinkling onto a meal for texture.
Aromatics such as onions, leeks and garlic contain an enzyme called allianase, which is anti-viral, anti-fungal, and anti-parasitic. In order to activate this enzyme, Dr. B suggests using the “Chop and Stop” method. Chop up your garlic or onions and wait ten minutes before adding it to the frying pan.
Legumes are packed with fibre. A cup of green peas contains 7 grams of fibre and lentils 16 grams. If you combine a legume with a whole-grain, such as brown rice, it creates a complete protein.
Sulforaphane is unique to the cruciferous family of vegetables, such as broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and cabbage. He especially encourages the consumption of broccoli sprouts, which you can grow at home for a very low cost.
I found this book to be really informative and I appreciated the recipes and resources provided. Dr. B lays out the complex science behind gut health in a simple, factual and accessible manner. He also recently released a more extensive cookbook, which helps to put the F-GOAL concepts into action. Both books should be available to borrow through your local library. If not, there are also a lot of great free resources available online providing delicious, plant-based recipes, such as this one.
If you do not have time to read the books, or cannot easily access them, I highly recommend listening to this great interview with Dr. B and Rich Roll. It provides a comprehensive summary of the key concepts and why they matter to your health and well-being.
Neurologists, Dean and Ayesha Sherzai, created the Healthy Minds Initiative in response to the helplessness that they felt working within the traditional “sick care” model. After watching all the latest drugs and treatments fail to stop dementia, they set out to discover a better preventative approach.
Currently, approximately six million people are living with Alzheimer’s disease in the U.S. and 500,000 in Canada. It is the most common type of dementia. Every 64 seconds someone is diagnosed. This number is likely an underestimation of its true prevalence, as many people consider cognitive impairment to be a normal part of aging, and therefore never report it.
Two-thirds of individuals diagnosed are women. The likelihood of a woman developing Alzheimer’s disease during her lifetime is 1 in 6, compared to a man, which is 1 in 11. It is projected that if we do not take measure to slow the current trajectory, the number of people living with this disease will triple by 2050.
The good news is that Alzheimer’s is not a genetic inevitability and a diagnosis does not have to result in a death sentence. In fact, according to these two doctors, 90% of all Alzheimer’s cases can be prevented; and for the 10% with a strong genetic risk for cognitive decline, the disease can be delayed for ten to fifteen years.
Based upon their extensive research, the Sherzai’s have formed the following conclusions:
- Physical exercise increases both the number of brain cells and the connections between them.
- Chronic stress puts the brain in a state of high inflammation, causing structural damage.
- Restorative sleep is essential for cognitive and overall health.
- Meat and animal products are degenerative for your brain.
- Education, learning and other complex cognitive activities protect your brain against decline.
- Social support has an undeniable influence on the way your brain ages.
They developed a plan to promote the necessary lifestyle changes. They call the plan, “NEURO.” It includes:
- Nutrition: A whole-food, plant-based diet low in sugar, salt, and processed foods.
- Exercise: An active lifestyle that incorporates movement every hour.
- Unwind: Stress management in the form of meditation, yoga, mindful breathing exercises.
- Restore: Seven to eight hours of regular, detoxifying sleep.
- Optimize: Multimodal activities that challenge many of the brain’s capacities.
I have included two great interviews with the Sherzai’s below, with Rich Roll, where you can gain a solid understanding of their work. They have also written two books, The Alzheimer’s Solution, and The 30-Day Alzheimer’s Solution, as well as produce a regular blog and podcast on the subject.
For most of my youth and early adulthood, I struggled with body image issues. I consumed a lot of popular culture; and I wanted to emulate the women that I saw idealized in television, movies and magazines. I held myself to an impossible standard and I believed the lie that being skinny guaranteed access to happiness, love and success.
Over the years, I have learned that this is far from the truth. If you do not hold peace and acceptance inside, it does not matter what you look like on the outside. No one else can make you feel worthy and valuable. This belief needs to come from yourself.
As a forty-three year old woman, my focus is now on cultivating strength and joy within, rather than trying to fit into any external ideal of perfection. I aspire to be of service to my family, friends and community; and my aim is to age with grace and dignity. I can only do this if my body and mind are strong, fit and healthy.
Living in this stressful and busy world, it is extremely helpful to have daily practices that anchor and ground you. In order to do this, I follow a low inflammation diet and I practice a range of strength practices every week. Here are some of the ones that I enjoy the most:
Meditation: Meditation is a practice that spans across cultures and it takes many different forms. It is scientifically proven to reduce anxiety and depression, and improve attention, concentration, and overall psychological well-being. The basic premise is that you create the space for your feelings and thoughts, allowing them to come and go: observing them with curiosity and not hanging on to any one thing. The timing varies on what works for you. You can do it in as little as five minutes a day and in almost any place: while sitting, walking or washing the dishes. The key is to use your breath. To explore how to meditate, there are great free tools available, such as Headspace app.
Walking: I love to go for long walks. I walk for an hour or more, a few times a week, to get my heart rate up and to build muscle. I love being outside, breathing in the fresh air and spending time in nature. Even in an urban setting, there are often trees and greenery to enjoy. This is the time that I most enjoy listening to podcasts. Some of my favourites at the moment are: Rich Roll; Marie Forleo; The Tim Ferris Show; and Coffee Break French.
Yoga: Yoga is not only good for the body, it is also nourishing for the mind. It is an amazingly versatile practice, which offers everything from restorative to power-based options. You can do it in as little as ten to fifteen minutes a day. I love the idea of growing into a ninety year old woman who can bend over and touch her toes. Yoga is my anchor and I highly recommend that you explore it. The great thing is you no longer need to find a studio to try it out. There are some fantastic free resources online that you can now access at home. A few that I like are: Do Yoga With Me and Yoga with Adrienne.
Bootcamp / High Intensity Training (HIT): Muscle density is important for healthy aging. After age 30, you begin to lose as much as 3% to 5% per decade. Age-related muscle loss, called sarcopenia is one of the most important causes of functional decline and loss of independence in older adults. Less muscle means greater weakness and less mobility, both of which may increase the risk of falls and fractures. Building muscle does not mean bulking up; it is about creating an overall lean body structure and maintaining a healthy, stable body weight. I really enjoy taking a bootcamp class in my local community. The trainers are fantastic, kind and encouraging; and there are participants of all different ages and abilities. I am in and out of there in forty-five minutes; and the class is different and varied every day. If you do not want to go to the gym, there are also some great free resources online that you can follow at home, with a mat and some hand weights. I enjoy Christine Salus’ HIT workouts.
How you you like to stay strong? Tell me in the comments below.
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“You see things as they are and you say, ‘Why?’ But I dream things that never were, and I say, ‘Why not?'” ~ George Bernard Shaw
I recently listened to a fantastic interview that Rich Roll did with documentary filmmakers, Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin about their Oscar-winning film, Free Solo. It captures the journey of climber, Alex Honnold, to become the first person to free solo climb the 3000 ft granite face of El Capitan in Yosemite National Park, without a rope or safety equipment. El Cap is considered by many to be the epicentre of the rock climbing world. It is a vertical expanse stretching more than a half mile up—higher than the world’s tallest building. Jimmy and Chai give a behind the scenes perspective into the unique challenges faced in making this film. It is a great interview and I highly recommend you listen to it.
I am personally petrified of heights. I generally have no interest in watching extreme sports or following rock climbing but this really story captured my imagination. Alex Honnold knew from an early age that climbing is his destiny; and he has spent his entire adult life relentlessly honing his craft. All of this work culminates in his dream to free solo climb El Cap: something which has never been previously achieved by another human being.
The film is particularly compelling as it not only captures the climb itself but it gives you an inside look into the close knit nature of the community, which includes legendary climber Tommy Caldwell, filmmaker and climber Jimmy Chin and Alex’s girlfriend, Sannie McCandless. Although they are each deeply concerned for his safety, they support him wholeheartedly to achieve his seemingly impossible dream: not knowing what the ultimate result will be. Death is a very real possibility for free soloists and Alex fully accepts this as a potential result.
I love this movie as it reminds me of the importance of following your heart and living the life that is most authentic to you. No one else needs to understand your dreams, as they are unique to you alone; but you need to be willing to pursue them with a singular focus and determination. Alex fully embodies this philosophy of life. He lives his life from a place of clarity and driven passion that is very rare. Watching this film stirred something deep in my heart. I was left feeling very inspired about what a human can accomplish if he puts his mind to it. I encourage you to check it out.
As I have talked about in earlier posts, I really enjoy listening to podcasts, especially when I am out walking or spending time working in the garden. There are so many good shows out there on virtually every topic. I particularly enjoy ones that delve into topics on writing, creative inspiration, health and well-being.
A few of my favourites at the moment are:
A few episodes that resonated with me recently are from the RobCast. He interviews his wife Kristen Bell on strategies for living with anxiety (episodes 226 & 227). She presents some great self-care suggestions, as well as perspectives on how to befriend the emotion, rather than push it away. I also really enjoyed the two Rob did called “An Anatomy of Restlessness” (episodes 230 & 231). He unpacks the feeling of restlessness and how it is an important message and catalyst for change. Lastly, I loved an interview that Rich Roll did with the screenwriter, Brian Koppelman, on how he broke through his own mental blocks to become a writer. It is really inspiring and contains some fantastic, actionable ideas for how to bring more creativity into your life, if you want it.
What are your favourite podcasts? I would love to hear what they are and why you love them.