Happy Gut, hAPPY MIND, HAPPY YOU.
If you've read my previous blog posts on my wellness journey and why I moved to LA, you'll know I'm not shy when it comes to speaking about gut health issues. In my case; bloating, gas, and constipation. The reason I don't give a shit (no pun intended) when it comes to being open an honest about my own digestive issues is because I know for sure that in today's day and age many of us struggle with similar symptoms. We are all living lives full of stress (both the good and the bad kind), environmental toxins, and an industrial food supply that's less than ideal. All of those things affect our precious little tummies (too cutesy?).
Gut health is responsible for everything from our moods to our energy and our immune system. It's the first line of defense from environmental toxins and our life line for absorbing the nutrients we need to show up as our best selves. If that barrier, also known as your gut lining, is compromised it's an open door for pathogens like bacteria, yeasts, and fungi to pass into your bloodstream and party like it's 1999. Your immune system reacts to those foreign substances in effort to counter, causing inflammation throughout your body, including your brain. So an unhappy gut equals an unhappy mind. And vice versa. It's a vicious cycle that's hard to halt. I've been there. You feel like shit, so you eat like shit; which signals your body to ramp up the immune system, creating more inflammation. That inflammation stirs up the chemicals and cells in your brain, causing feelings of depression, anxiety, and low energy. Feelings that aren't exactly conducive to jumping out of bed to whip up a green smoothie, or getting anywhere near a gym. So you feel even worse - about yourself, your body, your situation; and the cycle continues.
But it's 2018, not 1999, and we're well aware that gut health is something we have the power to influence based on the choices we make everyday. Every time we make one of those choices, we either feed the good guys or the bad guys. Like anything in life, you'll always have some of each, but the goal here is to rebalance the ecosystem. We need to restore some order (sounds a lot like the US political system).
There are a number of ways to do this. And if you've been following along with me for any period of time you know I'm never one to suggest a single thing as the magic solution to all your problems. Gut health is a complex topic, and one that's very unique to each individual based on environment, lifestyle, and genetics. But the lowest hanging fruit starts with what we are putting into our bodies. Especially, first thing in the morning after our bodies have done a full sweep of the little guys in our digestive system while we slept and has been without food for several hours. Hence, breakfast - breaking the fast.
I like to break my fast with a smoothie because it's easier to digest while your body, and digestion, are still waking up from hitting the reset button. It's also very quick to digest, giving your body the nutrients it needs as you ramp up for your day. I used to wake up and immediately have 2 eggs, bacon, and avocado toast - but if you were coming off a several day fast would that be the first thing you reached for? Most likely, no. Your body has turned down those systems and isn't ready to digest all of that fat and protein. Switching to a smoothie instead made my day go much smoother (and my trips to the toilet).
I know what you're thinking next. Because I felt the same way. 'But how can you just have a smoothie in the morning and feel full?' Well, I don't make just any smoothie. It's packed with veggies (both cooked and raw), healthy fats, protein, and nutrients to help keep your gut and mind as happy as Pharrell in that annoying (but catchy) song.
GUT HEALING SMOOTHIE RECIPE
If you've read all that and you're just like; 'Ahh give me the recipe already!' I don't really have a recipe for you, just a template. Because I think you should make it your own, have fun with it and get creative. Plus, who wants to have the same smoothie for breakfast every morning? That's just plain boring. AND our guts thrive off a diverse array of foods, all the more reason to mix it up.
STEP 1: Choose a cooked vegetable base
I like to start with a cooked veggie (or two) as my base for the smoothie. Cooking your vegetables beforehand (whether by steaming, roasting, or sautéing) makes them easier to digest. Especially for harder to digest cruciferous vegetables like cauliflower, broccoli, and kale. I'm busy as hell (and also lazy) so I like to buy mine already cut and frozen from the grocery store. I cook the whole bag beforehand and store them in the fridge for the mornings. If you buy them fresh, you can also chop things up on Sunday and cook them up so they are ready to throw in. Here's some of my favs:
- Steamed kale
- Steamed zucchini
- Steamed cauliflower
- Steamed broccoli
- Roasted carrots
- Roasted sweet potato
STEP 2: Add some greens
If you've gone with kale for your veggie you're probably good on the greens. But if not, I like to add a handful of raw spinach or mesclun to the blender. Raw greens are great for digestion because they contain important enzymes we need to break down our food. The combo of raw greens with the cooked vegetables makes digestion even easier. Some ideas include:
- Baby kale
- Mesclun Greens
*Bonus points if you want to throw in some microgreens or sprouts, they are loaded with nutrients!
STEP 3: Add low glycemic fruit
The days of super sweet fruit smoothies are over. When I first jumped on the smoothie train, I was making these delicious blends with 2 bananas, strawberries, kiwi, maybe some mango...the list goes on. I thought I was being super healthy but was always starving and foggy headed an hour or two later. Our bodies are naturally less able to process sugar first in thing in the morning (so save your sweeter options for the middle of the day) and immediately shocking it with a blood sugar spike only sets you up for mood swings, brain fog, and hunger a few hours later as your body signals that blood sugar has risen and dropped dramatically. Berries, green apple, and acai are some of the lowest glycemic fruit options while still adding a sweet taste and a dose of antioxidants. If you love the creaminess of a banana in your smoothie, opt for green bananas (aka super ripe ones). The starch in the banana has not started breaking down into sugar yet, like the sweeter super ripe bananas, and it remains a type of starch known as resistant starch. Resistant starch does just what it sounds like; resists digestion making it less likely to spike blood sugar while also feeding the good guys in our ecosystem. Here's some ideas:
- Berries (blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, blackberries)
- Acai (also a berry, but sounds super exotic)
- Green apple
- Green banana
STEP 4: Add a healthy fat
Keeping with the blood sugar balance theme, adding a healthy fat to your morning smoothie also helps slow the digestion process just enough that you don't have an insulin spike and are left feeling full much longer. That means you can make it to lunch without reaching for a KIND bar. It also makes the smoothie more dense, delicious, and nutritious as many of our nutrients are fat soluble. Some great options are:
- Avocado (nature's butter)
- Almond butter
- Cashew butter
- Coconut oil
- Flax-seed oil
- Omega-3 Fish Oil
- Chia seeds
(Optional) STEP 5: Add supplements
I'm not a huge supplement person unless I'm targeting a specific issue or working through something temporarily. That being said, including Marshmallow Root and Slippery Elm in my smoothies every morning has done beautiful things for my digestion. Both are very healing and soothing. Slippery Elm creates a protective layer over your stomach lining and intestines, making it harder for particles to breakthrough undigested into your blood stream. Marshmallow root does the same while also helping fight inflammation and unwanted bacteria. Some things you can add for an extra gut healing boost are:
(Optional) STEP 6: Add proteIn
I'm also not a big believer in protein powders but if you're looking for a little extra protein to start your day they can be a great addition. When I do include one, my go-to is 1 tbsp of Spirulina powder. It's one of the few plant sources of protein that's considered a complete protein (has all of the 9 essential amino acids), is super high in nutrients and antioxidants, and helps balance blood sugar. Other options include:
- Collagen powder (great for gut healing)
- Vegan protein powder (pea, rice, hemp)
- Grassfed Whey (dairy)
Enjoy your liquid breakfast! And tag @life.by.design in your beautiful creations, I'm always looking for new concoctions and will feature them so others can be inspired as well!
I started Life by Design because wellness is about so much more than drinking adaptogenic matcha tea and perfecting yoga headstands. It's a lifestyle. A lifestyle designed by you, for you, so you can live your best life possible. I'm just here to guide you along the way with the things I've learned on my own wellness journey, and all the things I'll continue to learn as we grow together.