For those of us striving for ripped abs or the coveted six-pack, let’s take time out to look at what’s underneath those abdominal muscles. The gastrointestinal system, also known as your GI tract or gut, has a lot to do with how healthy you are.
“Our gut plays a major role, not only in our gastrointestinal health, but in the health and well-being of the entire body,” says Dr. Lisa Ganjhu, a Clinical Assistant Professor of Medicine at NYU Langone Medical Center.
Get to Know Your Gut
Your microbiome is as much your body’s footprint as your DNA. It is unique to you.
Your microbiome is an ecosystem that resides inside your gut, specifically your large intestine (colon). You are the host to 100 trillion microbes and you want to keep the good microbes happy so they proliferate and stick around. On the other hand, like a bouncer at your favorite nightclub, you want to discourage the trouble maker microbes from getting out of control.
Without taking a deep dive into human anatomy or advanced nutrition, the gut is often referred to as our second brain. Your gut and your brain are constantly communicating. Your gut sends a message to your brain which then helps us to determine what, when, how much and how fast to eat and drink.
Your gut is where 90% of the body’s serotonin (the happy hormone) is produced. In fact most of our emotions are generated in our gut, not our brain. Since serotonin regulates our appetite, body temperature, sleep cycles and sexual desire, we definitely want more of this happy hormone.
Taking Care of Your Gut
So what foods can you eat to increase your levels of serotonin naturally to keep your appetite in check, body temperature regulated, sleep like a baby and boost your libido? Consuming foods that contain the essential amino acid, tryptophan, which aids in production of serotonin are lean protein like: salmon, chicken, turkey, eggs, spinach, nuts and seeds, dairy and soy products.
Regular exercise and exposure to light can also help increase your serotonin levels. In South Florida, we get plenty of natural sunlight, so get outside to soak up those rays for a minimum of 20-30 minutes per day. If you have any history of skin cancer, then obviously take precaution. People who hail from more Northern states can experience a depression known as SAD Seasonal Affective Disorder, during the winter season due to shorter days of light.
How to Reward Your Gut
Another hormone generated in our gut is dopamine also known as our reward hormone. Dopamine is a brain chemical or neurotransmitter that influences your mood, and is associated with pleasure and reward. And who doesn’t like to be rewarded? When your brain is expecting to be rewarded, the hormone dopamine is released. An imbalance in the levels of both of these hormones have been linked to anxiety, aggressive behavior, and depression.
For your body to make dopamine, consume foods that contain the amino acid Tyrosine. Tyrosine containing foods include almonds, bananas, avocados, beans, fish, chicken and eggs.
Balance the portion of animal protein on your plate by adding lots of plant-based foods: cruciferous veggies like cauliflower, cabbage, bok choy, broccoli and Brussel sprouts and don’t forget your leafy greens like arugula, collards, kale, microgreens, spinach, Swiss chard and watercress. All of these plant-based carbs help feed the good gut bacteria so they will stick around. Ditch the processed, refined foods full of fat and sugar to discourage those trouble making microbes from proliferating so they don’t take over the party.
You have put in the hard work to get those abs in primo shape, so be a great host to your gut microbes and eat the food that keeps them in balance and happy. Trust your gut, your body will thank you for it.
To find out more about how the Downtown Miami YMCA can help you achieve your health and wellness goals, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.