A plant-based diet is good for the gut. Any diet high in plants offers a wide range of fibres, phytonutrients, antioxidants and other valuable micronutrients. However, plant-based does not mean avoiding foods and nutrients from other sources. It’s is all about what’s needed, for who and in what amount. Cravings, stress and sleep play an important role in our ability to make choices. Diet isn’t just about what food we take in. It’s also about what media, social contact & downtime we choose.
Keep It Simple
Simplifying life is an art. It is more about what we leave out, than what we take in. We are overloaded with choice. Overwhelm and anxiety are an epidemic. The amount of stress we have is compounded by each decision. My happiest times have been when I have one thing to do each day. I’ve talked about this in terms of success as well. People who can focus on what they love are more satisfied, healthier and happier.
So eat plants for carbohydrates. Enjoy a wide variety of locally grown vegetables. Include sea vegetables. Avoid anything that your body reacts and that is too processed. Make sure you are eating plants that grow below the ground. These nourish the microbiome. Cook these foods more. If you have trouble with your tummy then cook the plants that grow above the ground too. Summer is a better time to eat a little raw food like sprouts & cucumber. In the winter warming spices support your digestion.
Start your day with protein. This gives you a dopamine response. This means you will be satiated and have lasting energy. Then you can focus. Carbohydrates have been vilified lately. There are good reasons. The food industry sells highly palatable foods in combinations that make people insatiable to keep us buying more and more. If you stick to plants for carbs this won’t happen especially if you don’t buy packaged food. Cook at home. Keep stress down. Keep the marketing machine at bay. Satisfied people are less susceptible to being sold insanity. Cold, sweet breakfast cereal and pea protein powders with a million ingredients will hurt your metabolism & your tummy. Fruit is a great snack later in the day.
What is Right for You
What you need will change. Humans are omnivores. We can thrive on any macronutrient ratio. Get to know what makes you feel good. There is so much debate over what is healthy and not healthy. Don’t get too caught up in it. You can be plant-based and eat grass-fed meat. Fish is incredibly important for brain health so include it in your diet in a way that you enjoy and feel good about.
What we each need changes throughout our lives. Kids need more calories AND more nutrients. So do athletes and college students. So do mothers of small children. Pleasure is a big part of food. So is social connection. Keep this central to what you take in. Don’t ever forget it. Personally, I could order out more to ensure that I’m not a slave to my kitchen. Fasting is another way to take a break. Both are good options.
Cravings, Crashes & Sleep
Sleep is everything! Half of women lay awake in the past month because of stress. What does this have to do with cravings? Well it’s pretty simple. Our brain can’t function or make the best choices when it hasn’t had enough rest.
When stress is high your body will try to regulate itself. The quickest form of energy is glucose. Sweet means survival to our brain. A lot of sweet makes us crave salt. Stress causes our blood pressure to go up. Craving salt can be an attempt to regulate this. The crash that occurs after a stressful event can result in craving fat. This is natural because fat is replenishing after a crisis. But what if you are always in crisis?
High cortisol makes it harder to make good choices. It changes how the frontal cortex makes executive decisions. Cortisol increases how much pleasure we derive from salt and sugar. This is why I focus so much on stress management, even more so than what food you eat. It’s much easier to make good choices when our cortisol is regulated.
Calm Cortisol & Hunger
Abdominal fat is inflammatory that cortisol makes and stores when we are under chronically high stress. It changes grenlin and leptin which are hormones that play a role in hunger. Basically this type of fat makes you crave sugar and carbs to calm the stress. You’ll be more hungry as a result because there is such a low nutrient profile in most of these quick fix foods.
Remember that cortisol is one of our allies when it comes to inflammation but only if we manage our stress. Meditation is one of the best ways to do this. So is strength training. Both of these you can do at home or with a group depending on if you need more time alone or more social connection.
So why is plant-based good for the gut?
My mom would say a lot of this is common sense and I’ve written in detail on this before. It increases the diversity in our microbiome to avoid processed carbs and focus on plants. The brain & metabolism both respond better to these microbiota accessible carbs than other carbs. Add enough fats and proteins to nourish the lining of the gastrointestinal tract so you can absorb all that goodness.
A healthy gut produces neurotransmitters for the brain. The brain also loves healthy fats and protein from wild fish or grass fed meats. If you focus on getting enough rest you’ll be more able to choose these foods. You’ll stop having cravings and feel more calm. Hunger won’t come on like a tidal wave and your energy will be steady again.