My last blog post was all about brain health, but you really can’t talk about brain health without talking about gut health. Why? The gut is considered your second brain. Our gut is linked to nearly every system and organ in our body, including our brain, digestive system, immune system, and hormones. It’s also where nearly 80% of disease stems from.
I’ve been working on a preparing a workshop on the gut-brain connection. I was struggling to find a way to connect the two in an interesting way. Void of inspiration, I took a break to spend some time in my garden. I spent hours lost in the rhythmic task of raking leaves and cleaning out the winter debris. As I worked in my garden, my mind often drifted back to that unfinished workshop. As I piled leaves in the wheelbarrow, turned the compost in the compost pile and planned the layout of my vegetable garden, I thought about a podcast I listened to with Dr. Mark Hyman and remembered that the inspiration was right here in my garden!
Your gut microbiome is made up of trillions of microorganisms (mainly bacteria) that live in your intestinal tract. These bacteria live in your digestive system and are essential to digesting the food you eat and absorbing nutrients from your food. Like good, rich soil, the digestive tract is important for filtering out toxins, manufacturing vitamins and producing hormones like serotonin and melatonin which balance mood and help us sleep.
It dawned on me that we can optimize our gut-brain connection the same way we care for our garden: Weed, seed, feed, water, move, rest & restore, repeat.
Weed: We need to remove gut-busting, brain impairing food and drugs. These cause damages to the intestinal tract and reduce cognition. Sugar, starch, and highly processed foods are the first toxic weeds you will want to pull. You’ll need to pull these often, as they creep into our gardens quickly and take over very aggressively.
Seed: Probiotics are beneficial microorganisms that boost your gut flora. While taking supplements is one way to support your gut, ensuring you’re consuming a varied diet high in fruits and veggies is key to increasing microbial diversity. Start by seeding with kimchi, kombucha and miso, then add “good bacteria” with fermented foods like sauerkraut, plain kefir, and raw, unfiltered apple cider vinegar.
Feed: Repair your intestinal lining and feed the good bacteria with fiber-rich foods like fruits and veggies, wild rice, nuts and seeds. Incorporate more prebiotics into your diet through quality whole foods. The benefit of prebiotics is that they are plentiful in food, so you don’t need to add another supplement to your diet. Onions, garlic, flaxseeds, and hemp seeds are just a few prebiotic rich foods.
Just like you need to water your garden, you need to make sure that you hydrate throughout the day. Getting an adequate amount of water helps flush out toxins and bad bacteria, helps you stay full longer and promotes mental clarity. Aim for half of your body weight in ounces of water per day for optimal hydration.
As I thought through the layout of my garden, I considered where I might move different plants to make sure the soil isn’t depleted. Just like you need to move plants around for a healthy garden, it is essential to feed your brain by moving your body. Movement supports digestion by increasing blood flow and stimulating the bowels. It improves mood, boosts energy, memory, learning, and concentration. Dr. Mark Hyman reminds us that exercise creates brain derived neurotrophic factor, which is like Miracle Grow for the brain. Moving just 30 minutes a day 5 times a week can improve gut and overall health!
Finally, our garden needs time to rest and restore. Have you ever noticed how vegetables in the garden magically ripen and grow overnight? The magic is in the rest. Your body needs to rest and restore daily. You can do this with stress- reducing activities like yoga, meditation, deep breathing, or journaling. Prioritizing sleep is critical to optimal health. Giving your body time to rest will ensure that your digestive and nervous systems have time to recharge for the next day.
I feel so empowered after I have spent time in my garden. Prioritizing my nutrition and wellness is empowering as well. I can’t wait to celebrate the bountiful harvest that my garden brings throughout the summer. Until then, I am going to enjoy delicious recipes like this Spring Pea Salad from Gaby at whatsgabycooking.com. I can’t wait to get to the farmers’ market for lettuce greens, but I’ll use spring greens from the Co-op for now.
Sources: Hyman, Mark (2020) The Pegan Diet. Little, Brown, Spark
With love from my garden,