A Guide to Improving Your Digestive Health
Immigrants go through several changes when they arrive in America. They’re also undergoing a shift in the composition of their digestive tracts.
Your gut microbiome is a vast community of trillions of bacteria and fungi that inhabit every nook and cranny of your gastrointestinal tract, and have a major influence on your metabolism, body weight, propensity to illness, immune system, appetite, and mood. Because dietary habits and lifestyle play a key role in shaping the gut microbiome, there is a large difference in the Indian gut microbiome compared with other populations due to our unique lifestyle and eating habits.
Immigrants coming to the U.S. go through several changes when they arrive in America, like a new home, new job, and a new community. But internally, they’re also undergoing a shift in the composition of their digestive tracts.
A new study concluded that within nine months, immigrants from southeast Asian communities start to lose their diverse gut microbiomes and gain one similar to Americans, with far fewer types of bacteria. These changes are more pronounced with each generation living in the U.S., meaning that someone who first moved to the U.S. could pass down some of these changes to her children. Because the gut microbiome has been linked to several conditions, including obesity, this shift could have health implications for immigrant populations that have yet to be addressed.
Many of us have experienced and thus know how to recognize gut-related issues like constipation, bloating, heartburn, abdominal pain or diarrhea. However, we don’t realize that an imbalance in the gut can manifest as other symptoms elsewhere in the body such as allergies, migraine, joint pain, eczema, fatigue and many others.
The GI tract has an intricate relationship with the rest of the organs in the body. Three-quarters of our neurotransmitters and two-thirds of our immune system sit in the gut. There is 10 times the amount of bacteria in the gut than cells in our body. An intact intestinal barrier is essential to normal function and prevention of disease. Multiple factors including stress, eating the “wrong foods,” infections and medications can all cause vulnerability to our gut lining.
As a result, this intestinal permeability causes “leaky gut syndrome,” allowing harmful substances to leak through the gut barrier into the blood system and come into contact with our immune systems, causing system-wide inflammation, negative food reactions, and autoimmune symptoms.
To prevent this from happening, eat foods that provide balance and diversity. If we can heal our gut, we can heal our bodies.
The following foods are great options for improving your digestive health:
- Vegetables: broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, arugula, carrots, kale, eggplant, beetroot, Swiss chard, spinach, ginger, mushrooms, and zucchini
- Roots and tubers: potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots, squash, and turnips
- Fermented vegetables/foods: kimchi, sauerkraut, tempeh, miso, Kanji, idli, dosa, dhokla.
- Fruit: coconut, grapes, bananas, blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, kiwi, pineapple, oranges, mandarin, lemon, limes, and papaya
- Sprouted seeds: chia seeds, flax seeds, sunflower seeds, and more
- Gluten-free grains: buckwheat, amaranth, rice (brown and white), teff, and gluten-free oats
- Healthy fats: avocado, avocado oil, coconut oil, and extra virgin olive oil
- Fish: salmon, tuna, herring, and other omega-3-rich fish
- Meats and eggs: lean cuts of chicken, beef, lamb, turkey, and eggs
- Herbs and spices: all herbs and spices, specifically turmeric, cumin, ajwain and fennel seeds.
- Cultured dairy products: kefir, yogurt, Greek yogurt, and traditional buttermilk
- Beverages: bone broth, teas, coconut milk, nut milk, water, and kombucha
- Nuts: raw nuts, including peanuts, almonds, and nut-based products, such as nut milks
The following list contains foods that may harm healthy gut bacteria, as well as some that are believed to trigger digestive symptoms, such as bloating, constipation, and diarrhea:
- Wheat-based products: bread, pasta, cereals, wheat flour, couscous, etc.
- Gluten-containing grains: barley, rye, bulgur, seitan, triticale, and oats
- Processed meats: cold cuts, deli meats, bacon, hot dogs, etc.
- Baked goods: cakes, muffins, cookies, pies, pastries, and pizza
- Snack foods: refined crackers, granola bars, popcorn, pretzels, etc.
- Junk food: fast foods, potato chips, sugary cereals, candy bars, fried Indian snacks like samosa, packaged namkeen.
- Dairy products: milk, cheeses, and ice cream
- Refined oils: canola, sunflower, soybean, and safflower oils
- Artificial sweeteners: aspartame, sucralose, and saccharin
- Sauces: salad dressings, as well as soy, teriyaki, spicy and oily Indian gravies at restaurants.
- Beverages: alcohol, carbonated beverages, and other sugary drinks
Gut-friendly stir fry bowl:
- 2-3 cups of cruciferous veggie blend (cabbage, broccoli, kale). These have distinctive compounds that help gut bacteria.
- 1 tablespoon coconut oil. Fatty acids in coconut oil inhibit the growth of candida and other pathogens.
- ½ teaspoon cumin. This increases digestive enzyme speeding up digestion
- 1 teaspoon nutritional yeast. This is a species of yeast known as Sacharomyces Cerevisea. It is a complete protein, high in fiber and B vitamins. It can also reduce Ecoli and Salmonella infections.
- 1/3 teaspoon grated ginger. Reduces bloating.
- Cashews. For crunch, easier to digest, provide satiety with healthy fat content.
Directions: Heat coconut oil in a pan. Add the veggie blend and ginger. Sauté until tender. Add cumin, nutritional yeast, salt and pepper to taste. Garnish with cashews.
If you are following a healthy “microbiome friendly” lifestyle and still experiencing symptoms, please get in touch with a professional who can do a full evaluation to diagnose symptoms and recommend personalized and targeted diet, supplements and lifestyle goals.