Chef Kim Vo arrived as a refugee in Canada at the age of 2. She now runs a plant-based Vietnamese ghost kitchen and catering concept. Her experiences with food at a young age were the inspiration behind the launch of her innovative take on classic Vietnamese dishes. Learn more about her story of overcoming adversity and breaking tradition to chase her dreams.
“Ever since I switched to a plant-based diet, I feel a lot better and more energized. It’s also a more sustainable choice as a chef.“- Chef Kim Vo
🎧 Listen to the full episode to learn more about her journey and the benefit of a plant-based diet!
Multiple health issues, from stress to chronic disease, are associated in one way or another with sub-optimal gut health. So, tending to our digestion and maintaining a healthy gut can help us optimize our overall well-being and steer clear of unwanted disease.
When we talk about “the gut” we are referring to the GI tract and all the living microscopic entities that live within it known as gut flora or gut microbiome.
Here are 10 rules (five “do’s” and five “don’ts”) to support your gut microbiome to keep healthy levels of bacteria and other necessary agents that keep our guts functioning well.
What is the gut microbiome?
The terms gut microbiome, gut flora, or gut microbiota, all refer to the microscopic organisms that live within our bodies. Each one of us has billions if not trillions of live organisms that live symbiotically within us. The gut microbiome is specifically the lot of microorganisms that reside in the GI tract.
The digestive tract is all colonized by living organisms that support digestion as well as other processes in the body. These include bacteria, fungi, and archaea and are all referred to as “healthy bacteria” among other names.
Our bodies are colonized by these microorganisms through many natural processes including natural childbirth, breastfeeding, exposure to nature, and consuming probiotic-rich foods.
The gut microbiome plays a key role in many bodily processes from the proper metabolism of food, to immune defence and brain function.
The risks of a weak gut microbiome
A healthy gut microbiome will generally maintain the body’s processes and can keep us healthy and lively. However, when the gut flora is disturbed, decreased, or threatened, many health issues can arise.
When healthy, our gut microbiome keeps unhealthy bacteria at bay. But if threatened through factors like unhealthy diets, stress, medication, and other elements, it can be significantly reduced or weakened.
The condition of having a reduced or imbalanced gut microbiome is known as dysbiosis. A state of dysbiosis allows space for unhealthy or irritating agents to take over and colonize the GI tract. This disbalance of healthy and unhealthy gut microorganisms can lead to developing gut-related issues like SIBO (small intestine bacterial overgrowth), intestinal candidiasis (yeast overgrowth in the gut), leaky gut (the permeable gut lining that allows toxins to leak into the bloodstream), and other digestive system dysfunctions.
These digestive disorders at first glance could seem like not much of a threat, but if left unattended for enough time they can lead to major health issues.
Poor functioning of the gut microbiome has been linked to many conditions on a physical and mental level. Leaky gut syndrome for example is known to increase the risk of developing chronic diseases like autoimmune disease, metabolic syndrome, and even cancer.
On a cognitive level, poor microbiome health has been linked to conditions such as ADHD, ASD, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and even Tourette’s syndrome.
Mood disorders like anxiety and depression also seem to have a direct correlation with gut microbiome levels.
Needless to say, taking care of our gut health can bring great rewards to our overall physical and mental health. So let’s dive into what we can do to strengthen our gut.
Gut health “don’ts”
There are several things that can be aggressively detrimental to gut health and that you might want to avoid as much as possible. Let’s look into some of the biggest threats to gut health:
Although useful (and necessary) in acute cases, antibiotics should not be taken lightly, and in most cases should not be taken long term. Antibiotics kill all bacteria and microbial life (both good and bad) in your gut.
If you are prescribed antibiotics, talk to your healthcare provider to see whether there are any alternatives for treatment. Antibiotics are often over-prescribed and taken with less thought than they should, and unfortunately, many health care professionals won’t address the adverse effects that these can have on your health. Often, if the situation is not an urgent case, a second opinion might be insightful in this area.
Many people who have been on long-term antibiotic treatments pay the price heavily with all sorts of microbiome-related issues. In fact, the long-term use of antibiotics is a significant predisposing factor in the development of autoimmune diseases.
If an antibiotic regime is indeed necessary, a healthcare professional might suggest adding a probiotic supplement regime to counteract the damage. Sticking to this regime is crucial for proper damage control.
2. Sugary Foods:
Unhealthy gut bacteria thrive on simple sugars, and when unhealthy bacteria thrive, healthy bacteria start to lose territory. Limiting foods such as desserts, pastries, candy, sweet drinks, and added sugars can help starve some of these unhealthy bacteria so that they don’t overpower healthy organisms.
Alcohol also disturbs gut health by feeding unhealthy bacteria and hurting healthy bacteria. In excess it acts as an inflammatory agent, creating inflammation in the body by disrupting the gut barrier (leading to that dreaded leaky gut syndrome mentioned above).
4. Processed Foods:
Heavily processed foods like fast foods, artificially flavored foods, and many “diet” foods are full of added chemical ingredients that disturb microbiome balance and contribute to inflammation. Staying away from heavily processed products as much as possible is generally a good rule to support gut health.
The relationship between the gut and the nervous system is bilateral, so the gut affects the nervous system as much as the nervous system affects the gut. Chronic stress has been shown to contribute to gut dysbiosis and inflammation.
Taking time to rest and recover, and practicing healthy stress coping skills can help your gut flora stay strong amidst stressful moments.
Gut health “do’s”
1. Eat Real Foods:
Healthy bacteria is designed to thrive on healthy, real, and natural foods.
Diets with plenty of fresh vegetables, quality protein sources, healthy fats, and moderate whole grains and legumes are best to help support gut health.
The mediterranean diet for example is known for its anti inflammatory, and nutrient rich characteristics.
2. Supplement With Probiotics:
Probiotics are live bacteria you can consume through food or supplements. Taking probiotic supplements can help recolonize the gut with healthy bacteria after it has taken a toll. Taken regularly these supplements can also work as a preventative, maintenance regime.
Talk to a healthcare provider to see if this is a good option for you and what sorts of probiotics you would do best with; this is important because randomly taking probiotics can actually dysregulate gut microbiome balance.
3. Know Your Prebiotics:
Prebiotics are basically food for your gut bacteria. Prebiotic rich foods include garlic, onions, apples, fresh vegetables, chicory root, flax seeds, and more.
There are also prebiotic supplements in the market. Although these can be helpful and convenient at times, sticking to eating real, unprocessed foods is always the best call for overall health.
4. Fermented Foods:
Fermented foods are a powerful source of prebiotics and some of them like yogurt even contain live healthy bacteria. Eating fermented foods like kefir, yogurt, kimchi, sauerkraut, and kombucha, can help support healthy gut organisms.
In the case of having known colonization of unhealthy bacteria (conditions like systemic candidiasis and others), these foods should be limited until the unhealthy agent has been eliminated or is under control, as many of these foods also feed and strengthen unhealthy bacteria.
5. Get Good Sleep:
The quality, efficiency, and duration of our sleep can affect our gut microbiome. Studies have shown that significant changes to sleep-wake cycles can affect the balance of the gut microbiome.
Gut flora is sensitive to circadian rhythms, so a sleep routine with a steady bedtime and wake-up time can help maintain the balance of our gut microbiome.
What does a productive day at work look like for you? Is it getting all your tasks done in the morning and having time to spare? Or maybe finding a state of flow where work seems to just get done effortlessly? Now think of your least productive day. A day when it’s hard to focus, short tasks seem to take forever and you feel drowsy and unmotivated. We all have these days, but what if we told you that you can hack your days to be as productive as possible just through your eating habits and choices? We’ve put together a few quick, science-backed tips to help you boost productivity and make the most out of your days .
What does food have to do with productivity?
Our bodies are constantly reacting to what we consume. Think of it this way: When you’re feeling tired and need to wake up and get some work done, you make yourself an espresso and 10 minutes later you’re already feeling the effects. You know the coffee will give you a boost of energy. On the other hand, think of your last five-course thanksgiving dinner, how were you feeling after your feast? Most likely sleepy and ready for a nap right? Probably not the best time to sit and write a novel or pound out all of those emails you still need to send.
Here are 4 tips to help you get through your workdays with max productivity and minor energy crashes:
1. Ditch the sugar!
I know, this is always a tough one to hear. However, reducing your sugar intake is one of the best ways to avoid that dreaded energy crash throughout the day. Consuming simple sugars will quickly spike your blood sugar levels which can give you a temporary boost of energy, but the short-term effect will quickly fade away, and after the sugar high comes the crash.
What exactly are simple sugars?
When we talk about simple sugars we are referring to the foods that consist of mostly added sugars with minimal or no other nutrients. The molecules in simple sugars like sucrose (common table sugar) have simple bonds that are very easily broken down in the body in order to turn it into glucose (blood sugar), which can be used as an immediate source of energy.
A surge in these simple sugars will create that blood sugar spike that we commonly refer to as a sugar high. Once this dramatic spike is over our energy levels nosedive. When foods have other nutrients (like fats, proteins, or fiber-rich carbohydrates) the breakdown process is slowed down. This results in a much slower rise in blood sugar, and energy levels are sustained for longer.
Sources of simple sugars include fruit juices, desserts, soft drinks, candy, and other sugar-filled treats. Simple sugars, especially those that are refined and processed, have a range of negative effects on the body. But we understand that sometimes you just have to treat yourself (it’s all about balance after all right?). So in order to avoid the crash and to keep your blood sugar levels healthy, follow this rule: If you must have a sugary treat, don’t eat it alone. Accompany your treat with a balanced meal or at the very least some healthy fats, a fibre-rich bite, or a source of protein to help control the rise and fall of blood sugar levels and maintain a steady source of energy for longer.
2. Eat lighter, balanced meals
A big reason why we crash after a heavy meal is that digestion takes a lot of energy. Let’s go back to the Thanksgiving meal example: After three servings of turkey casserole and sides, and a few slices of pie you probably feel ready to hibernate for at least a couple of hours right? This is the normal reaction to a heavy meal.
When we are digesting a big meal our bodies are sending most of the blood to our digestive system in order to take in the nutrients we just ate.
This is when our metabolism is working at full capacity to break down and digest the food. As such, many cultures have a post-lunch nap time scheduled in their daily endeavours.
Having lighter meals is a good way to minimize that killer post-lunch crash. Sticking to balanced meals with quality protein, healthy fats, and complex, fibre-rich carbohydrates is the best way to provide the nutrients your body needs to keep moving. As much as possible try to stay away from processed foods, and refined carbohydrates.
What makes a balanced meal?
A balanced meal is one that has a proper amount of proteins, fats, and quality carbohydrates. A properly balanced meal will also be full of micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) that support your body.
Create a balanced meal in 4 steps
Choose a good variety of vegetables. The more the merrier! Leafy greens, cruciferous vegetables, peppers, tomatoes, beets… you name it!
If you want more carbs in your meal add some whole grains, starchy vegetables (potatoes, squash, etc) or some beans or legumes. The key here: Keep the foods real and limit processed products. Feel free to skip this step if you thrive on lower-carb diets.
Always add protein! Whether you eat meat or not your body needs protein. Choose a high-quality protein source whether it is fresh fish or meat, some tofu or beans. Avoid processed meats such as lunch meats, and overly processed vegan meat replacements (these may be in the health food section of your grocery store, but a lot of them have plenty of additives and are highly processed). For more on healthy vegan protein sources check out this post.
Don’t forget healthy fats! Drizzle your dish with olive oil, add some avocado, or top it with nuts and seeds for an extra crunch. Whatever floats your boat!
3. Make your lunch break a break
Having a designated lunch break is one of the best things you can do to keep your productivity and your health in check at work. If you often find yourself having lunch while still typing away you may be actually hindering your productivity. Schedule your lunch breaks so that you have the time to sit, disconnect from work and enjoy your meal.
This will allow you to recharge, focus on one thing at a time, and come back to work with much greater productivity. Studies have shown that creating separation from work and lunchtimes can support productivity and improve work satisfaction. By mentally taking a break from work and allowing the space to eat, socialize, and recharge, you can come back refreshed and work more efficiently. This study from the British Psychological Society states that a deliberate lunch break can “reduce afternoon exhaustion and enhance afternoon work engagement” (Bosch, C., Et al).
4. Stay Hydrated
You probably know that proper hydration is key for physical endurance and performance. But you don’t need to be sweating in the heat or running a marathon to keep your water intake up.
Dehydration can impair basic cognitive functions like memory and focus. A 2005 study observed the effects of mild dehydration in a group of adult volunteers. At the end of the study, the participants reported feeling less alert, more tired, and having difficulty concentrating. Carrying a water bottle with you is a good habit to keep your brain sharp and your body healthy.
A quick note for the coffee drinkers out there: Caffeine is a diuretic, which means it quickly flushes water out of your body and therefore contributes to mild dehydration. The general recommendation is to simply drink a cup of water for every cup of coffee you have. This should offset the slight dehydrating effect of caffeine and keep your body hydrated throughout the day.
So bottom line: next time you are feeling a little drowsy or out of sorts at work try having a glass of water or two.