Your gut. It does more than you think. You already know basically what it is–essentially, a long tube from your mouth all the way through the middle of you and ending with, well, the “end”. And you don’t notice it when it’s working right. You pretty much know what it’s supposed to do–make food into fuel–and you’d rather it just do its job and leave you alone. But the gut is a lot more subtle and complex than that.
It takes a little careful handling to keep your gut in good shape, and it’s worth the attention to do it. You see, the gut is responsible for keeping all the other parts of our body working right. It processes food, absorbs nutrients that keep our other organs healthy, and supports body functions from hormones to skin to mental health and toxin and waste elimination. And it works like a second brain. Yup, you heard that right! A brain.
There’s a lesser known part of our nervous system called the enteric system and its network of nerves, neurons, and neurotransmitters extends all the way down the digestive tract and it works in tandem with our central nervous system to govern not only physical, but mental health. For instance, the enteric nervous system stops digestion during ‘fight or flight’ responses. Also, do you know that nasty, panicky feeling you get in the pit of your stomach when you take a drivers’ test or stand up to speak in a meeting? That’s the enteric system, too. Are you getting it? Nerves and emotions can trigger a digestive response that, in turn, results in GI symptoms like abdominal pain and diarrhea. Is stress a daily thing for you? GI symptoms could be down the road.
Now, the gut is just like any other body system. Mistreat it for long periods of time and problems start. Common gut diseases are abdominal pain, gas, bloating, constipation, and diarrhea. More severe and complex are Irritable Bowel Disease (IBS), Crohn’s, and Ulcerative Colitis. Any of them can make your life miserable. It’s much easier to prevent disease than cure it, and that goes for the gut, too. So, how do you keep your gut in good shape?
Well, it starts with bacteria. That’s how the gut does its main job, after all, but you need good gut bacteria for more than that. A lack of good gut bacteria has been linked to depression, anxiety, kidney disease, chronic pain, and cardiovascular issues like high blood pressure. So how do you get good gut bacteria? Well, a good probiotic can help, but your body will do a better job if you just give it the right material to work with. Food.
Not just any food, of course, but a few carefully selected ones. Number one: fermented foods. Sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha, kefir, tempeh. They are full of just the kind of bacteria your gut thrives on. Try them–even try making them. Kraut is the easiest thing ever and the best kinds are mild and almost sweet. Want to make it yourself? A recipe follows at the end of the blog. Other foods are asparagus, pineapple, onions, garlic, apple cider vinegar, and bone broth. It’s like eating your way to good health.
Of course, it’s not only good food that will help you. There are good habits and some of them are surprisingly easy. Like eating slowly and mindfully. Not with your phone or in front of the TV. This is good for your mind and your soul, too. Cut back on dairy products and fatty foods. Avoid high-fructose corn syrup. And, of course, exercise and quit smoking.
And try to make some sauerkraut. Your gut will love you.
Easy Homemade Sauerkraut
Shred a cabbage and pack it into glass pint canning jars up to ½” from the top. Add ½ tsp. canning salt and, if you want, ½ tsp sugar. Pour boiling water into the jar up to the top and remove air bubbles by running a butter knife through the inside. Screw on caps LOOSELY and set in a rimmed baking sheet or glass dish and set aside, preferably in the sun, for 24 hours. If some of the water has bubbled out, refill with boiling water. Set in a sunny spot for three days, then either process in a canner for 5 minutes at 5 pounds or in a boiling water bath for 20 minutes. Fasten lids down tight and store.