If there was ever a call for "digestive health," this is it!
Yes, it's true. Your gut is considered your "second brain."
There is no denying it anymore.
And because of the new scientific discoveries about the vagus nerve, the enteric nervous system, and the amazing influence your gut microbes can have, it's no wonder what you eat feeds not only your body but can directly affect your brain.
We find it amazing (but not too surprising).
What exactly is the "gut-brain connection."
Well, it’s very complex, and to be honest, we’re still learning lots about it!
There seem to be multiple things working together. Things like:
We'll briefly touch on these areas, and end off with a delicious recipe (of course!)
This is a nerve that runs directly from the gut to the brain.
And after reading this so far, you’ll probably get a sense of which direction 90% of the transmission is…
Not from your brain to your gut (which is what we used to think), but from your gut up to your brain!
The enteric nervous system and neurotransmitters
Would you believe us if we told you that the gut has more nerves than your spinal cord?
We knew you would!
And that's why it's referred to as the "second brain."
And, if you think about it, controlling the complex process of digestion (i.e. digestive enzymes, absorption of nutrients, the flow of food, etc.) should probably be done pretty "smartly"...don't you think?
And guess how these nerves speak to each other, and to other cells? By chemical messengers called "neurotransmitters."
In fact, many of the neurotransmitters that have a strong effect on our mood are made in the gut! e.g. a whopping 95% of serotonin is made in your gut, not in your brain!
The immune system of the gut
Because eating and drinking is a huge portal where disease-causing critters can get into your body, it makes total sense that much of our defense system would be located there too, right? Seventy-five percent of our immune system is in our gut!
And you know that the immune cells can move throughout the entire body and cause inflammation just about anywhere, right?
Well, if they’re “activated” by something in the gut, they can potentially wreak havoc anywhere in the body. Including the potential to cause inflammation in the brain.
Your friendly neighborhood gut residents. You have billions of those little guys happily living in your gut. And they do amazing things like help you digest certain foods, make certain vitamins, and even help regulate inflammation!
But more and more evidence is showing that changes in your gut microbiota can impact your mood, and even other, more serious, mental health issues.
How do these all work together for brain health?
The honest answer to how these things all work together is that we really don't know just yet. More and more studies are being done to learn more.
But one thing is becoming clear. A healthy gut goes hand-in-hand with a healthy brain!
So, how do you feed your brain?
Of course, a variety of minimally-processed, nutrient-dense foods is required, because no nutrients work alone.
But two things that you many consider eating more of are fiber and omega-3 fats. Fiber (in fruits, veggies, nuts & seeds) help to feed your awesome gut microbes. And omega-3 fats (in fatty fish, walnuts, algae, and seeds like flax, chia, and hemp) are well-know inflammation-lowering brain boosters.
Recipe (Gut food fibre, Brain food omega-3): Blueberry Hemp Overnight Oats
1 cup blueberries (fresh or frozen)
1 cup oats (gluten-free)
1 cup almond milk
1 tablespoon chia seeds
2 tablespoons hemp seeds
½ teaspoon cinnamon
1 banana, sliced
¼ cup chopped walnuts
Serve & enjoy!
Tip: Your gut microbes love to eat the fiber in the blueberries, oats, seeds, and nuts. Meanwhile, your brain loves the omega-3 fats in the seeds and nuts.
Yes you should (end of post).
But what exactly is it about coconut oil that makes it so healthy? And which type is best?
Let’s dive into some of the fascinating research and find out.
Coconut oil is a special kind of fat
Coconut oil is fat and contains the same 9 calories per gram as other fats.
It is extracted from the "meat" of the coconut. Coconut oil is a white solid at room temperature and easily melts into a clear liquid on a hot day.
The idea of adding coconut oil to your diet is NOT to add on to what you already eat but to substitute it for some of the (possibly) less healthy fats you may be eating now.
And here’s why - Because not all calories or fats are created equal.
Coconut oil contains a unique type of fat known as “Medium Chain Triglycerides” (MCTs). In fact, 65% of the fat in coconut oil are these MCTs.
What makes MCTs unique is how your body metabolizes them; they're easily absorbed into the bloodstream by your gut, where they go straight to the liver, and they're burned for fuel or converted into "ketones."
This metabolic process, unique to MCTs, is what sets coconut oil apart from other fats.
Coconut oil MCTs may help with fat loss
Coconut oil’s MCTs have been shown to have a few different fat loss benefits.
First, it can help to increase feelings of fullness, which can lead to a natural reduction in the amount of food you eat.
Second, because of their unique metabolic route, MCTs can also increase the number of calories you burn; this happens when you compare the calories burned after eating the same amount of other fats.
In fact, a few studies show that coconut oil may increase the number of calories you burn by as much as 5%.
Third, some studies show that eating coconut oil can help reduce belly fat (a.k.a. “waist circumference”).
Just remember not to add coconut oil to your diet without reducing other fats and oils!
How much coconut oil should I eat?
Many of the studies that showed increased fullness, increased metabolism, and reduced belly fat only used about 2 tablespoons per day.
You probably don’t need any more than that.
What kind of coconut oil is the best?
There are so many coconut oil options available in grocery stores these days
that it can make it difficult to know which is best.
We recommend you stay away from "refined" ones, and opt for "virgin" coconut oil. That is because it is processed at lower temperatures and avoids some of the chemical solvents used in the refining process; this helps to preserve more of the oil's natural health-promoting antioxidants.
Pro Tip: Always (and we mean ALWAYS) avoid "hydrogenated" coconut oil. It can be a health nightmare because it contains the infamous "trans fats."
One thing you should also consider is that each oil has a specific high temperature that you should avoid surpassing (e.g. its "smoke point"). For virgin coconut oil, that temperature is 350F. That means you can safely use it on the stovetop on a low-medium setting, as well as in most baking.
Substitute some of the fat you eat with virgin coconut oil; this may help you to lose weight and belly fat by naturally helping you to eat less, as well as slightly increasing your metabolism.
Oh, and it tastes great too!
Recipe (Coconut Oil): Homemade Healthy Chocolate
⅓ cup coconut oil, melted
1 cup cocoa/cacao powder
4 tablespoons maple syrup
2 dashes salt
4 tablespoons slivered almonds
1. Melt coconut oil, and whisk in maple syrup, salt, and cocoa/cacao powder until smooth.
2. Stir in slivered almonds until evenly distributed.
3. Pour into an ice cube tray and freeze.
4. Store in fridge or freezer to avoid melting.
Serve & enjoy!
Tip: Substitute other seeds, chopped nuts, or dried fruit instead of the almonds if you wish.
Let’s finally put an end to the debate of raw vs. cooked.
Of course, in the grand scheme of a well-balanced, nutrient-dense, varied, whole foods diet, the cooked vs. raw debate isn't that critical for most people.
Where this can become a consideration is for vitamin and mineral deficiencies (or "insufficiencies"). These may be due to digestion or absorption issues, or avoidance of certain foods (due to allergies, intolerances, or choice).
And let us tell you that the answer isn't as simple as "raw is always better" or "cooked is always better." As with most nutrition science, it depends on several factors. Some vitamins are destroyed in cooking, while others become easier to absorb (a.k.a. more "bioavailable").
Here is the skinny on vitamins and minerals in raw foods versus cooked foods.
Foods to eat raw
As a general rule, water soluble nutrients, like vitamin C and the B vitamins, found mostly in fruits and vegetables, are best eaten raw.
The reason why is two-fold.
First, when these nutrients are heated, they tend to degrade; this is from any heat, be it steaming, boiling, roasting, or frying. Vitamin C and the B vitamins are a bit more "delicate" and susceptible to heat than many other nutrients.
Of course, the obvious way to combat these nutrient losses is to eat foods high in vitamin C and B's in their raw form (like in an awesome salad) or to cook them for as short a time as possible (like quickly steaming or blanching).
Fun fact: Raw spinach can contain three times the amount of vitamin C as cooked spinach.
The second reason why foods high in vitamin C and the B vitamins are best eaten raw is that they're "water soluble." So, guess where the vitamins go when they're cooked in water? Yes, they're dissolved right into the water; this is particularly true for fruits and veggies that are boiled and poached but even for foods that steamed as well.
Of course, if you’re a savvy health nut, you’ll probably keep that liquid to use in your next soup or sauce to preserve those nutrients that are left after cooking. Just don’t overheat it or you may lose what you were aiming to keep.
But, how much loss are we talking about? Well, of course, it ranges but can go from as low as 15%, up to over 50%.
In short, the water soluble vitamins like vitamin C and the B vitamins degrade with heat and some of what's left over after they're heated dissolves into the cooking water. So be sure to cook your fruits and veggies as little as possible, and keep that cooking water to use in your next recipe.
Soaking nuts and seeds
Regarding raw nuts and seeds, it may be beneficial to soak them. Soaking nuts and seeds (for several hours at room temperature) allows some of the minerals to become "unlocked" from their chemical structure, so they're more absorbable.
Foods to eat cooked
Cooking certain orange and red “beta-carotene rich” veggies (e.g. tomatoes, carrots, & sweet potatoes) can help make this pre-vitamin A compound more absorbable.
Fun fact: One study found that absorption of beta-carotene was 6.5 times greater in stir-fried carrots than in raw carrots!
Of course, eating your fat-soluble vitamins with a bit of fat will help you to absorb more of them, so that’s one factor to consider.
One vegetable that’s best eaten both raw and cooked
And we're not just saying this to get everyone to eat it any way possible (although, we would love for this to happen...unless you’re allergic, of course).
Spinach contains so many beneficial compounds that it's great eaten both raw and cooked.
Eating raw spinach preserves the water-soluble vitamins C & the B vitamins.
Eating spinach cooked allows the pre-vitamin A, as well as some of the minerals like iron to be better absorbed. Not to mention how much spinach reduces in size when it’s cooked, so it’s easier to eat way more cooked spinach than raw spinach.
The old nutrition philosophy of making sure you get a lot of nutrient-dense whole foods into your diet holds true. Feel free to mix up how you eat them, whether you prefer raw or cooked just make sure you eat them.
Recipe (cooked spinach): Sauteed Spinach
2 teaspoons olive oil
2 cloves garlic
1 bag baby spinach leaves
1 dash salt
1 dash black pepper
1. In a large cast iron pan heat olive oil.
2. Add garlic and saute for 1 minute.
3. Add spinach, salt, pepper and toss with garlic and oil.
4. Cover pan and cook on low for about 2 minutes.
5. Saute cook spinach for another minute, stirring frequently, until all the spinach is wilted.
6. Squeeze fresh lemon juice on top.
Serve & enjoy!
Tip: Enjoying the cooked spinach with the vitamin C in the “raw” lemon juice helps your body absorb more of the iron.
Yes, we're serious! (And don't you sometimes wonder anyway?)
You already know that your poop can reflect your physical, and sometimes even emotional, health.
You may get constipation or have diarrhea when you eat something that "doesn't agree with you," or when you're super-nervous about something.
And what about fiber and water? If you’re not getting enough, it’ll probably show in your poop.
What about the all-important gut microbes? If they're not happy, it'll probably show in your poop.
Here’s a trivia question for you:
Did you know there is an “official” standard for poop? I mean a university-created chart! One that is used to help diagnose conditions like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)?
Meet the Bristol Stool Scale
The Bristol Stool Scale was created at the prestigious University of Bristol in the UK back in 1997.
You can see the chart here.
The scale breaks down type of poop into seven different categories ranging from type 1 which is very constipated, to type 7 which is diarrhea:
1 - Separate hard lumps (very constipated).
2 - Lumpy and sausage-like (slightly constipated).
3 - Sausage shaped with cracks in the surface (normal)
4 - Smooth, soft sausage (normal).
5 - Soft blobs with clear-cut edges (lacking fiber).
6 - Mushy consistency with ragged edges (inflammation).
7 - Liquid consistency with no solid pieces (inflammation).
Other “poop” factors to consider:
You probably guessed that the shapes described in the Bristol Stool Scale are not the only thing to consider for poop health.
Think about how often you go. At least once per day, up to 3 times per day is pretty good. Less than one, or more than three can mean there is something going on.
What about how hard you have to try to go? You want it to be as effortless as possible.
And the colour? It should be brown from the bile that you need to break down the fats you ingest.
And if it’s green after a day of massive veggies, or red after that large glass of beet juice, you’re just fine.
But if you see an abnormal colour, like red or even black, that you can't explain based on what you ate or drank in the last day or two, you probably want to get that checked out.
What do you do when you have "imperfect" poo?
Well, the first thing to consider is how imperfect it is, and how often it is like that? Once in a while, things aren't going to be perfect, and that's A-OK.
If you know you need to get more fiber or water, then try increasing that.
If you haven’t had enough probiotic foods, then try getting more of them.
If you’re super-stressed, then try deep breathing, meditating, or having a warm bath.
Oh, and don’t forget the two most basic pieces of nutrition advice:
These are good habits for anyone and everyone, even when you have perfect poop!
Of course, long-term issues might require a more thorough review with a qualified health care practitioner. Don't suffer from poop issues for too long before seeking help.
Recipe (dairy-free probiotic): Super-Simple Coconut Milk Yogurt
2 cans full-fat coconut milk
2 probiotic capsules,
Serve & enjoy!
Tip: Fermenting food is not an exact science. If this doesn’t work out as you’d like it to, try different brands of coconut milk and/or probiotics.
The words “weight-loss” and “snacks” often appear in the same sentence.
But that might also bring thoughts of "tasteless," "cardboard," and "completely unsatisfying."
Let us give you our best weight-loss friendly snacks that aren't just nutritious but also delicious!
What’s our criteria you ask?
They have to be nutrient-dense whole foods where a little goes a long way; foods that contain protein and/or fibre.
1 - Nuts
It’s true - nuts contain calories and fat, but they are NOT fattening!
Well, we're not talking about the “honey roasted” ones, of course. Those probably are fattening.
Studies show that people who eat nuts tend to be healthier and leaner.
By the way, nuts also contain protein and fiber, which means a small amount can go pretty far in terms of filling you up. Not to mention the vitamins and minerals you can get from nuts.
Did you know that almonds have been shown to help with weight loss? At least 10% of the fat in them is not absorbed by the body, and almonds can also help to boost your metabolism!
Tip: Put a handful of unsalted/unsweetened nuts into a small container and throw it in your purse or bag.
2 - Fresh Fruit
As with nuts, studies show that people who tend to eat more fruit, tend to be healthier. (We're sure you’re not too surprised!)
Yes, fresh fruit contains sugar, but whole fruits (we're not talking juice or sweetened dried fruit) also contain a fair bit of water and fiber; not to mention their nutritional value with vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. And fresh fruit is low in calories.
Fiber is something that not only helps to fill you up (known as the "satiety factor") but also helps to slow the release of the fruit sugar into your bloodstream and reduce the notorious "blood sugar spike."
Try a variety of fruit (apples, pears, berries, etc.) and pair that with a handful of nuts.
Tip: Can't do fresh? Try frozen. Plus, they're already chopped for you.
3 - Chia seeds
This is one of our personal favourites…
Chia is not only high in fibre (and we mean HIGH in fibre), but it also contains protein and omega-3 fatty acids (yes THOSE omega-3s!). As well as antioxidants, calcium, and magnesium.
Can you see how awesome these tiny guys are?
They also absorb a lot of liquid, so by soaking them for a few minutes, they make a thick pudding (that is delicious and fills you up).
Tip: Put two tablespoons in a bowl with ½ cup of nut milk and wait a few minutes. Add in some berries, chopped fruit or nuts, and/or cinnamon and enjoy!
4 - Boiled or poached eggs
Eggs are packed with nutrition and most of it is in the yolk.
They contain a lot of high-quality protein and a good amount of vitamins and minerals.
And recent research shows that the cholesterol in the yolks is NOT associated with high elevated cholesterol or heart disease risk.
Yup, you read that right!
Tip: Boil a bunch of eggs and keep them in your fridge for a super-quick (and nutritious) snack!
5 - Vegetables
We don’t need to tell you how great these are for you, but just maybe we need to sell you on the delicious “snackability” of these nutrition powerhouses.
Veggies contain fibre and water to help fill you up, and you don't need us to tell you about their vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, right?
You can easily open a bag of baby carrots and/or cherry tomatoes and give them a quick rinse (they’re already bite-sized).
Tip: Use a bit of dip. Have you put almond butter on celery? How about trying our new hummus recipe below?
Go ahead and try one, or more, of these healthy snacks. Prepare them the night before if you need to. They will not be "tasteless," like "cardboard," or "completely unsatisfying." Trust us!
Recipe (Vegetable Dip): Hummus
Makes about 2 cups
1 can chickpeas (garbanzo beans), drained & rinsed
⅓ cup tahini
1 garlic clove
2 tbsp sesame oil
2 tbsp lemon juice
1 dash salt
1 dash pepper
1. Put all ingredients into a food processor and blend until smooth. You may need to thin it out with a bit of water, so add it 1 or 2 tablespoons at a time and blend.
Serve & enjoy!
Tip: Don’t like sesame? Use an avocado in place of the tahini, and olive oil in place of the sesame oil.