Chicken, Broccoli and Bacterial Diversity

 

Do you ever feel sleepy after eating a meal? Even if it is a “healthy” meal? This might explain why…

Very often when someone embarks on a healthy eating program is can become repetitive. Often you see food plans written like this:

Meal 1: Steak and Almonds

Meal 2: Chicken, Broccoli and Sweet Potato

Meal 3: Whey protein, oats and honey

Meal 4: Chicken Broccoli and Sweet Potato

Meal 5: Salmon, Spinach and Brown Rice

Meal 6: Casein protein, oats and honey

I don’t know if that’s exactly right but you get the idea, 11 different foods.

What we can also see is someone who is experiencing digestive issues they may start an elimination diet plan. They may begin to exclude gluten and dairy, this may extend to all grains and dairy type foods (including goats or sheeps dairy) or even cut out some vegetables and fruits if following a low FODMAP food plan.

The problem in this case is that because of the perceived “limited amounts” of food one can eat, they often start to overly simplify their diet, which can start to create reactions to foods that used to be safe foods in the long term. Over time, the variety diminishes even further and one of the reasons for this is that a healthy bacterial diversity is not encouraged and underlying imbalances are not being addressed head on.

I often have clients say to me;

“My digestion is okay but if I eat a lot of the same thing then I notice I start to feel bloated or tired”.

[as a side note, if you feel tired after eating, it is not because your digestive system is using energy to digest, it is likely because your immune system is reacting to whatever you have just eaten and is taking energy away from the brain to stay active. This is probably a good sign you need some more diversity in your diet]

I am not advocating that all of us should be eating wheat or gluten but some of us would probably tolerate small amounts of these foods in combination with a wide variety of other foods. Lets look at why a limited and repetitive diet is a problem…

THE PROBLEM

There has been increasing awareness about gut health in the fitness communities over recent years. Generally, research into the microbiota (the ecological community of commensal, symbiotic  and pathogenic micro-organisms with which we share our body) is booming.

It is now accepted amongst many, that the number of bacterial cells in our body outweighs that of our own human cells. Moreover, these bacteria are in constant communication with our immune system which really means that they are the controller of our health.

Our digestion system a big hole. A long tube that runs from mouth to anus. Although we perceive it to be inside us, it is actually on the outside (kind of like the centre of a doughnut). Therefore, in the pursuit of health, bearing in mind that a healthier body breads a healthy athlete with a longer shelf life, the best place to start looking is on the outside. And they say that health comes from within!

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THE IMPORTANCE OF A DIVERSE DIET

Digestive health and the immune system are large and complex topics. However, we don’t necessarily need to understand the detailed mechanisms by which these systems work to understand how we can support our body in the best possible way. When it comes to gut health, the diversity of the bacteria which reside primarily in the colon seem key.

Diversity is the key word here. I always say to my clients:

“A diverse diet gives you bacterial diversity and a bacterial diversity means good health.”

Therefore, a repetitive 11 food body building diet is not supporting good health. And if you are eating this way to get leaner, what you really want to be doing for leanness long term is ensure your gut is healthy!

Specifically when we consider this idea of diversity what we are looking at is a diversity of plant based foods. Recently the idea of nutrigenomics has suggested that each food we choose to eat has the potential to interact with our genes, influencing our genetic expression. When we consider, digestive health, the foods we eat are also interacting with the DNA of the bacteria we house.

Yes, plants contain vitamins and minerals, but they also contain phytochemicals which are natural chemical substances which may offer health benefits. One of the reasons plants contain chemicals is for their own protection. Part of which is protection against damage from bacteria, insects or the sun.

[As a side line, sprayed crops do not need to cultivate their natural defences because the man-made chemicals are doing the job for them. This provides an argument for organic food]

One of the reasons we want to consume these phytochemicals is because they offer our body anti-oxidant protection. But additionally they offer protection against free radical damage associated with “exertional endotoxemia”, which I have written a lot more about here.

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DIVERSITY TASK

It can be very common for athletes to eat out of convenience. Food can become repetitive and the diet restrictive. This is especially seen in those who have digestive issues and are eliminating foods from their diet or in those who are eating restrictively to control weight. Check the diversity in your diet by writing down all the different foods you eat in one week. This includes herbs, spices, meats, vegetables, grains, pulses, nuts, seeds, dairy, different types of oils, different types of eggs etc.

If you get:

Less than 50 – you need to increase your diversity

Between 50 and 75 – you are doing okay but there is room for improvement

Between 75 and 100 – you are doing pretty good

100+ – you have good diversity in your diet

TIPS

When I first started working on the diversity in my diet I found it pretty tough. These are some of the things I did to improve:

  1. Just aim to be better than last week.

If last week you were on 46 foods, this week aim for 50 or 55. Slowly you will get used to naturally adding more foods into your diet. It is also a great way to try new flavours and add more fresh herbs and spices to your diet.

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  1. Start a herb garden

I planted a small herb garden outside which contained 7 different types of fresh herbs; basil, parsley, mint, sage, thyme, rosemary and chives. There are obviously many more that you could plant.

  1. Explore your health food store, asian supermarket or local food and farmers markets

Turn food shopping into a fun adventure. I had great fun exploring different stores seeing what they had to offer. Did you know there are so many different types of spices, seaweed, types of rice and lentils? I bought several different types of seaweed to add to different dishes and I bought rice which is a combination of several different types. Don’t forget all the different nuts and seeds. I created a nut and seed mix in a big jar with sunflower, flax, chia, pumpkin and sesame seeds. You could also add many others; pecans, hazel nuts, almonds, brazil  nuts, walnuts, pinenuts, cashews etc.

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