How To Strengthen Your Gut Health Through Food

rē-thinking the traditional medical model for healing with Dr. Mary Pardee

By: Karyn Trepanier
How To Strengthen Your Gut Health Through Food

Dr. Mary Pardee is the founder of Modern Med, a practicing functional medicine practitioner and naturopathic medical doctor specializing in gut-brain health in Los Angeles, California. From birth until the age of twenty-six, she experienced excruciating IBS symptoms. After trying every medication and being told by conventional medical doctors there was nothing they could do for her, she decided to rē•think her approach to healing altogether. Dr.Pardee has dedicated her career to becoming the doctor she never had as a little girl. One who takes a more modern approach by examining the comprehensive picture of each patient.

The traditional medical model is created around the idea of specialties. Doctors examine specific body parts when making diagnoses, but the body doesn’t work as separate entities. The body operates as a whole, and all its parts work in conjunction. The gut is connected to every other organ in the body and healing from a holistic perspective, truly begins here.

Mindful eating for better digestion

Your gut is connected and communicating with your entire body in two different ways. The first is through the gut-brain connection, confirmed by numerous medical studies. This physical connection is made through your nervous system, which means the emotional state you’re in while eating can have a serious impact on digestion. Your brain and your gut are in constant communication. The very thought of food can and should get your digestive juices flowing. “If you aren’t salivating yet, you aren’t ready to eat,” Dr. Pardee explains. 

She also stresses the fact that you have to be in a parasympathetic state for your body to properly digest. Dr. Pardee believes that many people can actually heal their gut issues just by mindful eating alone. This means you take the time to sit and eat in a relaxed and receptive state when you’re truly hungry. Don’t eat on the go and put the devices down. 

A surprising connection

The second way your gut is connected to the rest of your body is through messenger molecules produced by your gut microbiome. This is where things get really mystifying. Your gut microbiome is an entire ecosystem of its own. We each have 20 trillion human cells and 39 trillion bacterial cells in our bodies, which according to the numbers means we’re only 43% human from a cellular perspective. A hair-raising revelation that gets even eerier.

Dr.Pardee says it’s also important to look at the body from a genetic perspective because your genes code for proteins, which are the building blocks of life. Everything, including your hormones, are made from your genetic material, which is inherited from your parents. We each have about 20,000 human genes given to us from our mom and dad and about 2-20 million microbial genes. From this perspective, the human body is only 1% human genes and 99% microbial genes! This begs the question, who’s really in charge? Is it us or our bacteria?

Dr. Pardee says it’s a combination of both, not one or the other. But, these microbes have the ability to make proteins, interact with your human cells, cross over your gut barrier, go into your human cells, and even talk to your brain. The startling fact that the human body is made up of 99% of these microbial genes means what you feed your gut microbiome has a critical impact on your health. The gut is the place where you begin to digest food, the place where all of your body’s nourishment comes from. Vitamins and minerals are absorbed here and when your gut is able to efficiently absorb the nutrition you’re feeding it all of your cells can function the way they’re designed to. 

The problem according to Dr.Pardee is that most Americans are overfed but undernourished. “Your gut health is largely dependent on the foods you choose to consume. The standard American diet that is high in sugar and processed foods can increase inflammation throughout the body, including in the gut which can lead to several chronic diseases and symptoms like bloating, constipation, or diarrhea. To improve gut health you have to consume a wide variety of vegetables since the diversity of your diet increases the diversity of your gut microbiome, the collection of bacteria, fungi, protozoa, and viruses that reside in your gut.” 

How to nourish your gut bacteria

When treating patients with gut health issues the first approach she takes is to implement a short-term elimination diet. Dairy, grains, processed foods, eggs, and even nuts are taken out for 30 days and reintroduced back into the diet one at a time so that patients can really see which foods they can tolerate. Dr. Pardee says that when your gut is healthy you should be able to digest all whole foods. Adverse reactions to unhealthy, processed foods like fast food and sugary desserts are a normal reaction. Adverse reactions to specific whole foods are not normal and indicate gut problems.

In addition to trying an elimination diet, she recommends incorporating lots of soups and stews into your diet. Consuming cooked vegetables and purees is easier for your body to digest because half the work is already done. When vegetables are pre-digested through the cooking process first, your body can better absorb all of the amazing nutrients through digestion. The best vegetables to include in your diet to optimize gut health?

1.) Bitter vegetables:

Bitter vegetables like dandelion greens, arugula, and endive stimulate your body to produce digestive enzymes from the pancreas that help you break down foods to prevent bloating and indigestion after meals. This is also why traditionally we drink bitter drinks like aperitifs prior to eating to start the digestive process and prep our system for food.

2.) Ginger:

Ginger is a gut-loving herb that helps to stimulate motility in the gastrointestinal tract that ensures digested food continues to move through our intestines for normal healthy bowel movements. Ginger can reduce bloating and is helpful in preventing constipation. It can be consumed fresh, powdered, or as a tea-drinking between meals. 

3.) Peppermint:

Peppermint helps relieve gas and discomfort in the gut. For people with IBS or for anyone with occasional excess gas formation drinking peppermint tea between meals can be very helpful. 

4.) Jerusalem artichoke:

Jerusalem artichokes contain a lot of prebiotic fiber. This fiber helps to feed our gut microbiota (the bacteria that reside in our gut). The bacteria in our gut breaks down this fiber and produces anti-inflammatory compounds called metabolites that have many roles including reducing inflammation.

5.) Marshmallow root:

Marshmallow root is an herb that has been used for centuries for its healing effects on the gut and is traditionally consumed as a tea. For people who have gastritis, which is inflammation of the stomach lining, marshmallow root can help to soothe the tissue and aid in the repair of this tissue. 

rē•strengthening your gut health through food has the ability to optimize your entire body and help you achieve your fullest potential. Your gut microbiome is the biggest organ in your entire body. Keeping it healthy and thriving is one of the best ways to nourish your well-being. 

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