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WHY IT IS IMPERATIVE TO UNDERSTAND THE GUT HEALTH CONNECTION

We discussed earlier how modern farming practices have made it more difficult to obtain healthy food. Between chemicals sprayed on crops and the depletion of our soil through over-farming, even foods that pose as the healthiest can be devoid of nutrition.

Before we move on, let’s take a minute to define nutrition. A nutrient is an agent that carries into the body a means of both survival and nourishment for thriving. It’s primarily delivered to our bodies in the form of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats;[i] but other vehicles of nutrition are vitamins, minerals, fiber, water, and oxygen. Nutrients include two categories: micronutrients and macronutrients. The first category includes those we can live on small quantities of, while the second, the macros, are nutrients we require in larger measures. An example of a micronutrient is iron, while macronutrients include substances like water and protein.[ii]

Modern Habits Sabotage Our Health

We face an ironic paradox. While our society has more access to food than many previous generations, we’re more malnourished on average than those same ancestors. It seems odd that a populace with such wealth and abundant availability of food—and with such an obesity epidemic—would be suffering from deficiencies of some of the most basic nutrients. Yet, Dr. Zack Bush points out an “inverse relationship” between being well-nourished and obese.[iii] (“Inverse” indicates “opposite”: When one number goes down on a chart, the other one comes up, and vice versa). This is counterintuitive: You would think that an obese person would have no nutritional deficiencies because of plentiful access to food. However, this assumption hinges on the concept that obesity is caused by eating large quantities of healthy food, which is rarely the case these days. Many individuals are surprised to learn that their health problems stem from the fact that they are extremely undernourished.

In addition to the fact that our food is depleted of many of its nutrients, there is (again) the issue of circadian rhythm where sustenance is concerned. Recall that previous generations only had access to food for about twelve hours a day, because once it was dark outside, they didn’t go out in pursuit of it. Many people only ate about two meals a day, and those who ate three didn’t snack. Thus, nutrients were ingested in proportion to the body’s rhythm and need, and didn’t fight against the its systems. This allowed the physiology to fully absorb and benefit from the nourishment ingested.

Depletion of Nutrition

In 2004, the Journal of the American College of Nutrition published a report based on a USDA analysis comparing produce grown in 1950 and 1999. The results showed that produce appearing the same actually showed a vast decline in nutrients in just forty-nine years. For example, radishes saw a 50 percent decline in calcium and protein, a 10 percent drop in phosphorous, and a whopping 75 percent decrease in vitamin A. Tomatoes had fallen 15 percent in protein, 30 percent in ash, 45 percent in calcium, 12 percent in phosphorous, 25 percent in iron, and 50 percent in vitamin A. Kohlrabi dropped 20 percent in protein, more than 50 percent in calcium, nearly 10 percent in phosphorous, 44 percent in iron, 17 percent in thiamin, and 40 percent in riboflavin. Celery saw a loss of 60 percent in protein, 30 percent in fat, 25 percent in calcium, more than 60 percent in phosphorous, 20 percent in iron, and 20 percent in niacin. Radishes and tomatoes were diminished by 10 percent in ascorbic acid, which is a cofactor to vitamin C. These numbers may seem shocking, but they are only a few examples of how our produce has changed over the last several decades.

This has happened largely because, as soil is farmed too regularly with no time to replenish, each crop sponges more resources from the bankrupt ground. Soil ecology is vital to the nutritional value of our food, yet sadly has been left out of the equation far too many years. In turn, as discussed previously, the crops yield plants with less and less to offer in the way of nutrients. Even when fertilizer is used, often the result is an apple or a tomato that looks like the ones our grandparents ate, but that doesn’t pack the same nutritional punch. When dangerous farming chemicals such as weed killers are added to the mix, we see a cruel conundrum: Those who are tricked into thinking they have taken the healthy route by purchasing fresh produce are still at risk of developing chronic illness.

Local, Organic Food

This is where the argument for locally grown, organically raised food becomes the most compelling option when it comes to eating for good health. These foods, obviously, are grown in nutrient-rich soil that hasn’t been depleted by over-farming for several decades. Additionally—and, again, obviously—the organic methods of farming keep chemical exposure to a minimum. And the benefits of local, organic foods aren’t limited to gardens, crops, and orchards; even when it comes to fresh meat, locally raised is best. (For further information on that, please see Joe’s book, Timebomb, which covered the issue at length).

There is another plus, however, to purchasing locally grown, organic food. Consider, for example, an apple. When you eat an apple that has been harvested in your area, it has survived and thrived by adapting to the environment, thus in a sense “inoculates” you with its benefits based on its own ecology. Think about it: The fruit or vegetable will have been farmed to strengthen you for thriving in your own environment and surroundings! Many understand how locally produced honey helps them deal with allergies: Bees use pollen from a specific region’s plants to create the honey. When we eat that honey, then, our bodies receive small exposures to the properties of the pollen producers. In response, our bodies create proper response for the allergens—and we no longer suffer. This is an example of our own ecology feeding us and arm us against local hazards.

This is another reason our systems are sabotaged when we eat foods that have been shipped in from another country—or worse, sprayed with chemicals. Food, until it’s removed from its life source, is, of course, living. Thus, it literally becomes stronger as it survives environmental hardships, and that strength is passed on to us. When we can step back to look at the bigger picture, we see that our indigenous location provides what we need to be healthy.

Additionally, when food is shipped in from other areas of the world, we have no way of knowing how long it was harvested before we eat it. This may seem insignificant, but let’s look at the example of an apple again.

When we pull an apple from a tree, we cut it off from its life source, and it immediately starts to die. Every moment after that, the nutritional value is diminishing and waste is increasing proportionately (fruit’s version of the same decomposition process that happens to everything that dies). Food industry practice is to modify the fruit so that it looks fresh (for example, by waxing the fruit), but regardless of cosmetic efforts, the apple is dead. When produce has been recently picked, it is safe and even beneficial to eat because it’s early in the breakdown course. However, the rotting continues until, eventually, the fruit is no longer safe for consumption, and we throw it away. Often, eating something that is still merely “safe” (not rotten) isn’t the same as saying it’s still full of beneficial nutrients. When produce has been removed from its life source for a significant length of time, its nutrients died long before it reaches our kitchen countertop. We may think we’re eating fresh fruit, but in actuality, we’re eating dead waste.

Canned Food

Some people shy away from canned foods because of the added sugar. While we encourage everyone to minimize sugar intake, this concern can be misplaced. In earlier generations, when people primarily raised their own food, there was a period each year when no fresh food was available. That’s why they preserved much of their harvest with sugar, salt, or fermentation. When food is canned (even though sugar is often added), it’s placed in liquid that cuts off contact with oxygen. This arrests the decomposition process, because oxygen is what triggers the breakdown. In this way, canned, homegrown food—even containing sugar—can be healthier than eating produce purchased at a big-box grocery store. However, it is always best to avoid sugar when possible.

Fermentation

Fermentation, a process developed in the days before refrigeration, is a great way to preserve food—and it provides beneficial bacteria. In fact, it’s one of the healthiest ways to take in nutrition, because the beneficial bacteria produced during fermentation promote healthy gut microbiota. Thus, the colon is replenished with healthy bacteria that fortifies personal ecology. The health and flora of the gut is one of the most vital ways we can boost immunity, fight chronic illness, and keep our bodily systems functioning properly (more on this in a bit).

Are You Malnourished?

It isn’t hard to tell if you’re malnourished. In fact, there are many symptoms, and they’re easy to detect, including:  fatigue; physical weakness; frequent illness; extended recovery time after illness or injury; difficulty focusing, remembering, or concentrating; feeling chilly when others are comfortable; experiencing emotional distress; and undergoing psychological or cognitive slumps.[iv] The problem with such obvious signals is that they often go unaddressed under the presumption that they’re “normal” since they are so common. Another way to know if you are struggling with a nutritional deficiency is as simple as noticing an improvement after you begin to take vitamins or supplements.

Also, because the symptoms of malnutrition are so commonplace, it’s easy to assume that they’re not red flags. However, just as stressed in Timebomb, these warning signs are the body’s way of alerting you to problems. Left unaddressed, they will likely escalate. Even without proper nutrition, the body must continue its ordinary functions. As noted earlier, the RMR (resting metabolic rate) burns 75 percent of output in most people. This means that while you’re unaware of the workload your body is carrying, it’s nevertheless a machine that—even in its resting state—has an enormous output that it can’t afford to “slide” on, because your life depends on it. Thus, when your body isn’t getting the nutrition it needs, it will look within your systems for places from which to rob or borrow these resources. Or, it will deprive areas of the body that are trying to heal because it needs those nutrients for life-sustaining functions. Over time, “borrowing from Peter to pay Paul” depletes the physiology’s systems and organs of essential nutrients and eventually compromises the immune system. The result is a body that’s unable to fight chronic illness.

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You can see why proper nutritional intake is necessary for survival.

How can we make sure that getting enough nutrients? The answer isn’t found in some sort of miracle supplement that will answer all of our nutritional needs so we can keep eating toxic or nutrient-deficient food. The key is to contact a natural healthcare practitioner, who can assess our deficiencies and help us correct them through food or supplements. However, we should work to transition to getting any nutrients we’re drawing from supplements to getting them directly from a food source as soon as possible. For many, the body has an extremely difficult time absorbing vitamins and minerals carried via pill, capsule, or powder.

Macros and Micros

At the beginning of the chapter, we briefly discussed that micronutrients are nutrients we can live on in smaller proportions, while macronutrients are those we need in larger quantities. It is critical that we take in both types of nutrients in the proper allotments. When we don’t, key metabolic processes are disrupted, which interrupts healing processes and hinders the conversion of food to energy. This in turn suppresses our ability to burn calories, contributing to the storage of fats that otherwise could have been utilized. Furthermore, inflammation levels can be affected by micros and macros not being consumed in proper amounts, and chronic illness—again—has an opportunity to take root.

The three most commonly noted macronutrients are fats, proteins, and carbohydrates.

Fats

Many people have a notion that avoiding fats is healthy. This is because so many fats in our foods are toxic, and when their evils are exposed, the nontoxic fat—the proverbial “baby”—gets thrown out with the “bathwater.” However, this is a devastating mistake. Fats are vital for brain health, and they assist in cell development and function, insulate and protect the body’s organs, support hormone production and balance, and accommodate nutrition absorption. Healthy fats such as those found in walnuts and almonds, avocados and olives—to name just a few sources—should actually make up about 15 to 20 percent of our diet.[v]

Proteins

Meat is a source of protein, but it’s not the only vehicle that carries this important macronutrient into the body. Beans, seeds, nuts, legumes, and high-quality fresh produce all have protein,[vi] whichhelps the body produce, repair, and reconstruct a variety of tissues, such as bone, skin, and muscle. It and also originates body chemicals such as hormones and enzymes.[vii] Likewise, it provides amino acids, which are a huge contributor to the immune system.[viii] Like fats, proteins should make up 15 to 20 percent of our daily caloric intake.

Carbohydrates

Like fat, carbohydrates have gotten a bad rap in recent years. Many who have successfully (or not so) lost weight during trendy, low-carb diets have embraced the concept that carbs equal excess body fat, thus are the enemy. This couldn’t be farther from the truth—if we’re discriminate about what type of carbs we take in. Generally speaking, there are two types of carbohydrates: complex and simple. The former are found in foods such as fruits, dairy, nuts, vegetables, and legumes, and are constructed mainly of fiber and starch.[ix] Simple carbohydrates are made of sugar.[x]When the body takes in simple carbs, they are converted into sugar glucose, which is subsequently transformed to fat or burned as energy. Complex carbs digest more slowly and carry other elements, causing the body’s processing function to use the energy more easily rather than defaulting to total storage as fat. Because the elements within the complex carb are converted more slowly, blood sugar is more easily regulated, showing fewer “spikes” and “crashes.” Simple carbs, on the other hand, convert to glucose quickly, causing a roller-coaster of blood-sugar imbalance that can be particularly dangerous for those who have type 2 diabetes. We need the energy-providing, complex carbs to make up between 45–65 percent of our daily caloric intake.[xi]

Micronutrients

Just because micronutrients are necessitated in smaller increments than the macros, they’re not any less important to our health. On the contrary, micro deficiencies left unaddressed can be dangerous. Common deficiencies include iron, iodine, vitamin D, vitamin B-12, calcium, vitamin A, and magnesium.[xii] (Note that many of these correlate with the examples given earlier of produce showing a marked depletion in nutrients since 1950). Shortages in these vitamins and minerals can cause anemia, fatigue, a weakened immune system, cognitive interruption, metabolic malfunction, impairment of brain function or detox, developmental abnormalities, muscle weakness, and bone degradation. Low supplies of these key elements in our systems can even increase the odds that we’ll develop chronic illnesses or diseases such as cancer or Alzheimer’s disease.[xiii]

It would seem that we could simply supplement our diets with micros to ensure we receive enough of them, but this can be dangerous. This is especially true with micros such as iron or potassium, and even more so for those who have underlying methylation/absorption issues (more on this in a moment). It is important to only take supplements when a physician or natural healthcare practitioner advises. This, again, is why we suggest addressing as many deficiencies as possible through modifications in the diet.

Essential Fatty Acids

You may have heard mention of “essential fatty acids.” The phrase can seem confusing, since the word “essential” has a specific meaning in this context. In this case, it refers to the fact that the body literally will not operate without it: We need essential fatty acids to make and dispense hormones, form memories, and maintain metabolic function. These are biologically necessary for basic living.

So, exactly what are essential fatty acids? The body is usually able to convert incoming nutrition into fats, but it cannot manufacture them. We must take them in through diet. They also differ from other fats in that they aren’t stored as energy, but instead perform other key roles. For example, they improve cognitive function and enhance neural communication, which defends against conditions such as ADHD (attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder), combats anxiety and depression, stabilizes moods (even for patients with such conditions as bipolar disorder and schizophrenia), and increases memory storage.[xiv] As such, they reduce our risk of developing such degenerative diseases as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.[xv] They balance cholesterol levels between “good” and “bad” and lower blood pressure, thus improving cardiovascular health.[xvi] Likewise, they contribute to healthier and cleaner arterial walls, preventing blood clots and arterial plaque buildup. Essential fatty acids balance chemicals that contribute to inflammation, keeping this issue—even chronic inflammation—in check. Additionally, they’ve been shown to reduce liver fat, diminishing the risk of illness related to fatty liver (large amounts of fat stored in the liver).[xvii] They also help balance insulin, improve insulin resistance, and prevent type 2 diabetes.[xviii] Because they promote healthy communication amongst the signalers and receptors throughout the body and keep hormones and other chemicals balanced, they reduce the probability of acquiring autoimmune disease, and are even used for treatment in such conditions as “lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease and psoriasis.”[xix] Their role as agents of neural communication ensures hormone balance, which means an imbalance or deficiency of these elements can contribute to malfunction affecting the entire body. Essential fatty acids also have been correlated with a lower risk of cancer, elevated heart health, reduced aging, and even better-quality sleep.[xx]

So how do we go about adding essential fatty acids to our diet? The answer is found in a variety of seafood, nuts, seeds, and plant (non-synthetic) oils such as avocado or flaxseed. By seeking out healthy fats, we can assure that we have an adequate supply of these life-giving elements.

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[i] Alshamah, Asem. “What Is Nutrition?” NutraHalal. May 30, 2017. Retrieved March 6, 2020. http://www.nutra-halal.com/2017/05/30/what-is-nutrition/.

[ii] Ibid.

[iii] Roll, “Food Independence & Planetary Evolution,” Retrieved March 6, 2020. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X3aOQ0N74PI.

[iv] “Malnutrition: Symptoms.” NHS Online. February 7, 2020. Retrieved March 6, 2020. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/malnutrition/symptoms/.

[v] “What Are Macronutrients and Micronutrients?” Natural Balanced Foods Online. 2020. Retrieved March 6, 2020. https://www.naturalbalancefoods.com/community/dietary-needs/what-are-macronutrients-micronutrients/.

[vi] Ibid.

[vii] Osterweil, Neil. “The Benefits of Protein.” WebMD. 2020. Retrieved March 6, 2020. https://www.webmd.com/men/features/benefits-protein#1.

[viii] “What Are Macronutrients and Micronutrients?” Retrieved March 6, 2020.

[ix] Cherney, Kristeen. “Simple Carbohydrates vs. Complex Carbohydrates.” Healthline Online. December 18, 2018. Retrieved March 6, 2020. https://www.healthline.com/health/food-nutrition/simple-carbohydrates-complex-carbohydrates#simple-carbs.

[x] Ibid.

[xi] “What Are Macronutrients and Micronutrients?” Retrieved March 6, 2020.

[xii] Healthline Editorial Team. “Nutritional Deficiencies (Malnutrition).” Healthline Online. February 13, 2018. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/7-common-nutrient-deficiencies#section8.

[xiii]Ibid.

[xiv] Hjalmarsdottir, Freydis. “17 Science-Based Benefits of Omega-3 Fatty Acids.” Healthline Online. October 15, 2018. Retrieved March 6, 2020. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/17-health-benefits-of-omega-3.

[xv] Ibid.

[xvi] Ibid.

[xvii] Ibid.

[xviii] Ibid.

[xix] Ibid.

[xx] Ibid.

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