The year has just started and, hopefully, we are still all on the “New Year, New You” afterglow. It’s important to continue on our health journey. We now welcome February, the month that reminds us of friendship and love via Valentine’s Day. It’s a good time to show love, not only to our family and friends but also to ourselves. A lovely place to start with is showing our tummy a little love. And when I say tummy, I’m referring to loving it from the inside, not holding on to the muffin top you may have acquired over the holidays!
Let’s dive into the fascinating world of our Gastrointestinal Tract, also known as the GI tract or gut. Our GI tract is a hollow tube that starts with the mouth and includes the esophagus, stomach, small and large intestines. Interestingly enough, when food passes through the GI tract, it’s technically still considered outside of the body since the nutrients haven’t yet been absorbed into our cells and bloodstream. Pretty neat, don’t you think? Our GI tract is extremely important because it’s the one responsible for digesting the foods we eat, absorbing the incredible nutrients, and eliminating whatever we don’t need.
For the most part, we don’t give our gut much thought until we feel that something’s off. But you don’t have to wait for discomfort to provide this wonderfully efficient system a little support. There are key nutrients that can help keep our gut healthy. Here are some:
Glutamine is a non-essential amino acid, which means that our bodies naturally produce them. This amino acid is a fundamental nutrient for our epithelial cells (our small intestine cells) because it’s the main fuel for these cells. Also, glutamine helps maintain these cells close together, so that foreign compounds don’t cross into our bloodstream. This is why glutamine is important for the maintenance and repair of our GI mucosa.
Glutathione is mainly known as a crucial antioxidant when it comes to detox, but it’s also important for gut health. This antioxidant is found in high concentrations in the mucosa (gut wall) of our GI tract, which is great for us because it plays an important role in counteracting oxidative stress found in our gut. Although your body produces this antioxidant on its own, some foods that can help your body boost these include sulfurrich foods such as garlic, onions, and cruciferous veggies like broccoli, kale, cabbage, and cauliflower, all of which are versatile and can be cooked in countless delicious ways.
Vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin that is mainly known for its support of eye health. But it’s also important because it provides immune support, helps regulate the growth of the cells that line the GI tract, and can help reduce inflammation in the gut. Some foods that are rich in vitamin A include sweet potato, carrots, spinach, and kale.
This vitamin is also known as the “sunshine” vitamin because one of the best ways that our body has of obtaining this vitamin is through the sun. Vitamin D helps to keep us healthy in so many ways, including keeping our gut flora healthy by shielding our good bacteria as well as promoting the health of the lining of our gut.
This trace mineral participates in many reactions in our bodies. Zinc is a vital nutrient to maintain the structure and function of our cell membrane and also acts as an antioxidant. And when it comes to GI health, zinc helps lower the permeability between cells serving as a protective factor because it helps maintain the integrity of the intestinal wall. Zinc also works together with Vitamin A in helping regenerate the cells that line the gut. Some great food sources include spinach, asparagus, mushrooms, and some seeds such as sesame and pumpkin.
Probiotics are live microorganisms that can provide us with health benefits when we have a good variety and healthy balance of the different types in our intestinal flora. We now know that this balance has everything to do with protecting our immune system, supporting digestion, and even affects our mood. In fact, many conditions can actually be traced back to having an unhealthy gut flora. Unfortunately, there is quite a variety of day-to-day factors that can affect this balance including the foods we eat, stress, toxins in the environment, inadequate sleep, and the overuse of antibiotics. This is why it’s imperative to ingest on a regular basis good sources of probiotics, such as fermented foods like yogurt, sauerkraut, miso, and kefir.
These are just some ways to keep your gut healthy and happy. Please remember that a maintaining a healthy, balanced diet, living an active lifestyle, getting your much needed hours of sleep and managing your day-today stress is the best way to keep your gut– and the rest of you–healthy.
Until next time!