5 Rules That Will Guide You To A Healthy, Happy Belly

Your gastrointestinal tract takes on a lot of stress. If you eat processed foods, those require a lot more work from your digestive system than whole foods. Plus, eating food on the run (rather than chewing mindfully and allowing your saliva to help break down food) means that your pancreas has to work harder.

Extra work and unnatural material in the gut can lead to a poorly functioning GI tract, which is associated with health issues such as inflammation, depression, and fatigue. The good news is: you can reverse many of these conditions and create belly bliss by following these five gut rules.

1. Remember that food is meant to nourish, not to manage emotions.

Here are some questions to ask yourself before you start eating:

  • Am I truly hungry?
  • Will this food nourish me to be my best, happiest, and strongest self?
  • Am I really just thirsty?

Some foods that can burden your digestive system:

  • Sweets
  • Baked goods
  • Fatty foods
  • Alcohol
  • Excessive caffeine
  • Too much dairy
  • Anything processed

So what should you prioritize in your diet? Stick to fruits and vegetables, fish, grass-fed meats and such grains as quinoa, gluten-free oats, or rice. Whole foods provide the natural multivitamins and antioxidants your body needs and your digestive system requires for healthy functioning.

2. Eat foods that support "good" bacteria.

Your microbiome is the collection of bacteria living in and around your body. A healthy gut means having trillions of good bacteria living, digesting, absorbing and promoting a healthy immune system and a happy mind. You therefore want to increase your intake of food groups that contain live cultures of such bacteria as Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium, as well as the foods that help feed them.

Foods that help the natural flora of your gut include:

  • Onions
  • Garlic
  • Leeks
  • Legumes
  • Asparagus
  • Artichokes

Fermented foods mean that the foods have been “cultured” and therefore also support the “good bugs.” These include:

  • Pickles
  • Sauerkraut
  • Tempeh
  • Kefir
  • Miso

3. Eat the rainbow.

Since your gut makes up a large part of your defense system against disease through its physical barrier, its friendly bacteria, and the immune cells that live there, you want to help your gut along by living an “anti-inflammatory” life.

By consuming colorful fruits and vegetables such as kale, raspberries, string beans, sweet potatoes, avocado, spinach, apples and cantaloupe, you provide your body with necessary antioxidants. Cherries, blueberries, tomatoes and squash, for example, are high in antioxidant content and may protect against inflammatory damage in the gut.

4. Manage your stress.

New research around the microbiome indicates that your gut and your stress levels are connected. Aim for emotional balance by prioritizing positive social interaction, as well as times for rest and relaxation. Finding sources for stress reduction, like spending time in nature, meditating, speaking to a counselor, or spending time with your pet. In addition, work on getting adequate sleep.

5. Slow down in everything you do.

The hectic lifestyle many of us lead can have negative health consequences, especially your gut and your mood. In the long run, you may want to practice slowing down (which includes a good night’s sleep or naps).

In addition, try to slow down:

  • When you're chewing food (count to 40 when you chew)
  • When you walk somewhere (try to smell the roses, literally!)
  • When you're spending time around people you love
  • When you eat. Appreciate the food on your plate — colors, smells, where it comes from, how lucky you are that you are about to be nourished, etc. Stop when you feel full. Appreciate again.

Now go on — dance, be merry and eat berries!

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