September 19, 2013

Nectarine Dream Ice Cream + The Gut and Your Immune System

I've been following a new healing protocol with a doctor since early spring, and I was getting frustrated that my health was going in the opposite direction than I'd hoped. While my gut healing regimen over the last couple years has been successful, I am experiencing newer pitfalls in health that stemmed from my injured gut. Luckily, I met with another doctor who would help me on the same protocol I've been doing since spring, only she's tweaked it for the better. For years I had hoped to find a doctor like her; she's attentive, proactive, knowledgeable, and practical. She doesn't judge me or speak to me in an accusatory tone. It was really nice to finally be treated like a human being in a clinical setting. I respect her as a doctor, and she respects me as a patient. Why is that so hard to find?

She listened to my current woes and adjusted my treatment accordingly. I'm hoping things are on the upswing. So far, I've noticed some improvement which makes me so happy after months of going downhill. The past couple of months have been really challenging, so I'm looking forward to some relief.

Did you know your gut houses 70% of protective immune cells?

Yes, it's true. Some even estimate that it's as high as 80%. So imagine what can go wrong when your gut is damaged, and how important it is to look at medical issues from a whole body approach. Even if a problem doesn't seem related to a gut imbalance, it is of great benefit to strengthen the gut anyway because that in turn strengthens the immune system.

There are a lot of things that you can or may need to do to build up your gut health. I'd like to do a post in the future that details how I recovered from a severely impaired gut, but for now, here are 3 simple gut-strengthening tips that can benefit everyone.

1. Fiber is friendly, sugar is foe. White sugar and other processed sugars, even 'healthier' sweeteners like agave are best limited to small amounts, if used at all. They are all isolated from the whole food -- stripped of fiber and most (usually all) minerals --, and extracted from the vast matrix that nature has created. Altering foods in this way disrupts the body's natural digestive processes and causes imbalances in gut flora by feeding the bad bugs. The same goes for other refined carbohydrates like foods made with white flour. Eating these foods often is not the best habit to keep if you want healthy gut flora and a strong immune system. 

Focus on nourishing, whole foods: Don't fall into the hype that all sugar is bad. Look to fruits, whole grains, and legumes for solid energy sources. These whole food carbohydrates provide the body with sugar (energy), but do not promote the proliferation of unhealthy gut bacteria. Because they contain fiber, sugar absorption is slowed down so that it is not all dumped in the body at once. In addition, some of the fiber in these foods, like inulin, are prebiotics. Prebiotic (different than probiotic) foods are correlated with an increase in beneficial gut flora and a stronger immune system.

2. Less stress is best. Anyone who suffers from gut impairment will tell you that stress, even seemingly harmless smaller stresses, can cause major flare ups. Stress signals the fight or flight response. In attempt to conserve energy for the fighting or fleeing, the body shuts down any non-vital processes including digestion. Being in a chronic state of stress can wreak havoc on your digestion, leaching valuable energy from your body's stores and interfering with proper nutrient absorption.

The chill pill prescription: Often, meditation and yoga first come to mind when stress reduction is mentioned, but even smaller everyday things can help reduce stress. While I love both yoga and meditation, playing with my dog, going out in nature (even if it's just a 10 minute walk or sitting in the grass), talking with a friend on the phone, singing and playing piano, putting flowers and plants around the house, and making dinner with J are all effective stress relievers for me. If allotting a large portion of time isn't in the cards for you, try sprinkling your day with small things that give you a feeling of peace. And remember to breathe. Everything helps.

3. Sleep long, sleep well. With lack of sleep comes low energy, and with low energy comes the need to conserve. Lack of sleep is known to increase stress in the body. As we know from point #1 above, stress = digestive shut down.

Also, when people are sleep deprived, they often crave processed carbs. It makes sense since the body, lacking in energy, is craving quick fuel. Processed carbohydrates will give you just that. However, those foods are highly refined, which means they have no fiber and will eventually result in a sugar crash. Also, they often have a lot of unhealthy fats added in them. Neither of these factors lead to steady, sustained energy. Look for immediate stimulation, and not only will the stimulation be fleeting, but it will only cause more sleep issues in the future.

I know what not sleeping well can do to one's digestion. When I have a crappy sleep, it really affects the way my food goes down. My stomach feels uneasy and I become so fatigued after a meal, especially the heavy ones. When I have a really, really crappy sleep, I only want blended foods and juice. Otherwise, I feel even more sluggish and tired because my body is lacking energy to digest adequately.

Fuel for the sleep deprived: Think about the foods which are most easily digested. Fruits, steamed vegetables, green smoothies, soup, blended salads. These foods are full of nutrients that will make you feel the best you can after a bad night of sleep, and they won't bog down your digestion. Eat lightly, and then make it a priority to get some sleep the next night.

Now that nectarine season is winding down, I have been eating them morning and night to try and get my fill of this amazing juicy orb of goodness! Nectarines are my most favorite fruit of all time. I dream of the day that I have a backyard with a nectarine tree. It will be heaven, I tell you. Absolute heaven.

I've been making a lot of things with my stash of nectarines, but I had yet throw them into banana soft serve. Bananas are a good sources of inulin which means that they are an excellent food to help support your healthy gut flora.

I have one more nectarine left in the kitchen, and I'm planning on making 1/2 this recipe for an evening snack, though not while I catch up on Breaking Bad. Remember what I said about stress and digestion? And, geez is that show stress-inducing. 

Nectarine Dream Ice Cream vegan, raw, gluten-free, nut-free
makes 2-3 servings

5 bananas, cut into chunks and frozen
2 nectarines, sliced
4 dates, pitted and two of them chopped

-Peel and freeze the bananas overnight. (You can cut them before or after frozen.)
-Place bowls in the freezer to chill them for about 5-10 minutes. 
-Chop two of the dates and set them aside. 
-Blend the bananas, nectarines, and 2 of the dates in a food processor or high speed blender* until smooth. It will have the consistency of soft serve.
-Scoop the ice cream into the chilled bowls and sprinkle chopped dates on top.

*I usually use my vitamix (with the tamper) on a low-medium setting for banana soft serve, but a food processor works just as well if not better. If using a food processor, it will take a little bit longer. First it will ball up into one mass, but it will soon smooth out into a luscious soft serve consistency.

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