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"Let Food Be Thy Medicine"
March 2018
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Jean Varney
Jeannie Varney
 Nutrition Consultant


The composition of the bacteria in your digestive system may be increasing your risk of obesity, heart disease, depression, anxiety, a compromised immune system, type II diabetes, certain cancers, Alzheimer's, food sensitivities and/or gastrointestinal disorders.

Our stomach and intestines contain trillions of microorganisms of many different species that carry out the digestive process. These "bugs" or "gut bacteria" are known collectively as our microbiome and are responsible for stimulating the immune system, synthesizing certain vitamins (K and some Bs), breaking down food compounds, and converting fiber into short chain fatty acids. (SCFA) According to Harvard School of Public Health, "[It's these] SCFAs that play a role in muscle function and possibly the prevention of chronic diseases including cancers and bowel disorders."

Each person has a unique set of microbes that is originally determined at birth. As we age, however, the make-up of our gut flora changes depending on diet, medications, exercise and environmental exposures. Emerging research suggests the type of bacteria we harbor in our intestines can keep us healthy or put us at risk for disease. And while we know lean, healthy individuals have a very different microbiome than individuals who suffer from heart disease, obesity, type II diabetes, mood issues, cancers and gastrointestinal diseases, we are just beginning to understand why and possibly how to alter the composition of our gut flora to prevent or even reverse disease and weight gain. To ensure your digestive tract contains a variety of "good" bacteria that most likely will protect your health and waistline, exercise, avoid unnecessary antibiotics, consume prebiotics (see below), fermented foods, and pickled vegetables and for some, consider taking a probiotic supplement for 3-6 months. Probiotics are live strands of healthy bacteria, which will help repopulate your body with a wide range of friendly, beneficial "bugs."

Below I've given you guidelines for probiotic use as well as a list of foods to consume and to avoid to ensure your gut flora is keeping your immune system strong, your heart healthy, your brain sharp and happy and your waistline trim.


No Guts No Glory!
Your bodies host an array of good and bad bacteria. In healthy individuals, these bugs live peacefully within us. The beneficial bacteria are more abundant. When the balance becomes disturbed and an abundance of harmful microbes exist, emerging research suggests, we may put ourselves at risk for a host of chronic diseases, obesity, and digestive and cognitive issues.   Diet and lifestyle choices have a huge impact on the type and balance of bacteria that reside in our bodies.
To ensure you have a good balance of an array of species, follow the suggestions below:

Exercise:   Research shows that exercise of all kinds promotes the growth of healthy bacteria. Get Moving ... brisk walks count! Do something for at least 30 minutes every day. The more the merrier!

Avoid unnecessary antibiotics:   Antibiotics don't discriminate. They wipe out the good and bad bacteria. Take these meds only when absolutely needed and avoid chronic exposure to antibiotics by choosing your animal products carefully. Antibiotics are routinely administered to livestock to make them grow faster and to help them survive unsanitary farming conditions. Researchers now believe this exposure, may lead to weight gain in humans. For more information, click here. If you choose to eat poultry, beef, lamb or pork choose organic varieties or brands that guarantee the animals have not been given antibiotics. Stick to organic dairy and eggs as well. 

Get your Zzzzzs:   Research shows that sleep deprivation increases the gut bacteria most associated with weight gain, obesity, type II diabetes, and unhealthy fat metabolism. Shoot for 7-8 hours of uninterrupted sleep nightly. 

Eat prebiotic foods:   Prebiotics are indigestible, fibrous foods that feed and promote the growth of our healthy bacteria. Consume them OFTEN, preferably at each meal, but increase your intake slowly as they may initially cause gas and bloating. These foods are essential to keeping your flora healthy:

Garlic, onions, leeks, asparagus, Jerusalem artichokes, dandelion and other dark leafy greens, lentils, bananas, cabbage, beans, apples, jicama, flaxseeds, unsweetened cocoa, wheat bran, and whole grains (especially oats, barley and wheat berries).

Enjoy foods that contain probiotics:
Low or no-fat yogurt, kefir or yogurt alternatives that contain live cultures and are void of added sugar or artificial sweeteners, cottage cheese, quark, raw sauerkraut, pickled vegetables, kimchi, miso, tempeh, natto, and unsweetened kombucha tea

Avoid   over-consumption  of foods that feed the bad bacteria:   Here are the biggest culprits:

Refined grains - foods made with white, wheat, multigrain or other refined flour  which include pizza, most baked goods, breakfast cereals, hot cereals, crackers, pastas, chips, and breads/bagels/English muffins.

Sugar - all varieties - Sugar is added to roughly 70% of all foods found in the grocery store. Read food labels and choose brands that do not add the sweet stuff to their products. Be especially careful of the following, which often contain a lot of sweetener:

Sugary beverages to include sweetened coffees, teas, sports drinks, sodas, lemonade, flavored waters, chocolate milk, and sweetened milk alternatives, baked goods, sweetened yogurt and yogurt alternatives, candies, sweetened marinades and sauces, salad dressings, frozen yogurts and ice creams, cookies, low-fat foods, fruit snacks, energy, protein and breakfast bars, and sweetened hot and cold cereals.

Alcohol:  D rinking too much alcohol reduces your healthy gut bacteria - the caveat, red wine. There is some research that suggests a LITTLE red wine may actually benefit your gut flora. Remember a serving is just 5oz ( a splash more than half a cup). Don't consume more than 1 serving a day and remember red grapes offer the same benefit without side effects. 

Avoid artificial sweeteners:   Please avoid or at least reduce your dependence on artificial sweeteners. Emerging research suggests these fake sugars negatively change the balance of our gut flora and may possibly encourage our body to absorb more calories from carbohydrates. Yikes!!! Is this why people who drink so many diet drinks struggle with weight loss? Time will tell. Don't believe me, read this. 

Take a probiotic supplement*:   If you've been on an antibiotic over the past year, or several over the course of a lifetime, survived on a diet full of refined flour and sugar, consumed too much alcohol, or suffer from digestive issues like IBS or food sensitivities, you may benefit from taking a probiotic for 3 months while implementing the above diet suggestions. Here are the brands I recommend. 

For overall general digestive and immune health:   Click Here
For possible help with weight control and constipation:  Click Here

For antibiotic associated diarrhea:   Click Here

For traveler's diarrhea:  Click Here

For cramping, diarrhea and bloating associated with IBS:    Click Here

Your body is very sensitive to dietary changes. Implementing the above suggestions can positively affect your gut bacteria in as little as one week. Jump in and give it a try. Your heart, brain, immune system, digestive tract and waistline will thank you! No guts, no glory!

This article is for informational purposes only, is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease, and is not a substitute for medical advice. *Always consult your doctor prior to  taking  any supplement, probiotics included. 
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About Jean Varney 
Jean Varney is the founder and president of Eat Right, Be Fit, Live Well LLC, a health and nutrition consulting firm committed to empowering men and women to improve their health through sustainable changes to their diet and lifestyle.  Based in the Washington DC metropolitan area, Jean coaches clients nationwide by phone and in person.  She focuses on helping individuals make smart choices about the foods they eat in order to maintain high energy levels, avoid unwanted weight gain and decrease their risk of heart disease, cancer, type II diabetes and other chronic illnesses.  Jean received her training at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition in New York City.  To learn more about her practice, please visit her website at: