As our world continues to face the impact of a pandemic, we are being reminded of the need for good immune health. You will often find featured health products on the end cap of grocery aisles like wellness shots, vitamin packets, and probiotic sparkling drinks. These types of products are bringing attention to the significance of gut health and immunity, as our main defense system against pathogens and infections. Inside the gut, there are trillions of living microorganisms that promote normal GI function, protect the body from infection, and regulate metabolism. In fact, these microorganisms comprise more than 75% of our immune system. This is where your grocery shopping comes into play. It is essential to find whole foods that support our inner ecosystem so our GI system can function properly.
Prepare for your shop
To help make your grocery shopping trip as quick and painless as possible, create a shopping plan ahead of time. Not like traditional grocery lists that are a list of items, instead, think in terms of categories of foods. Such as produce, seafood, frozen, canned goods, etc. This will help prevent you from running back and forth through the store. Also, allow yourself to improvise based on what ingredients are available. For example, instead of shopping for a specific type of grain, have a rough idea of your menu and be flexible in trying new items. Maybe you try black rice instead of brown. It could be a real gamechanger for your next stir fry!
Food is Medicine
You’ve most likely heard Hippocrates quote, ‘Let thy food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food’. Food truly has the greatest power to heal the gut and improve overall health. You can lower inflammation in the body and lower your risk of chronic diseases through good nutrition. I am not saying that it is the be-all, end-all but it’s definitely a great start to better health.
Gut-healthy foods often get a reputation for being expensive but that is not always the case. Many people such as myself, have to keep to a strict budget, meaning you have to be cognizant of prices. With the right shopping strategies, you can keep to your budget while eating gut-friendly foods.
- Farmer’s Markets: While it might not be available to everyone, shopping at a local farmer’s market is one of the best ways to get fresh produce and eat foods that are in season.
- Online Shopping: For convenience and bulk discounts search for online markets such as Amazon, to stock up on nonperishables.
- Cook at home: Home-cooked meals not only gives you the power to know exactly what your eating, and how much (portion control) but it is way less expensive than eating out. Some people find it best to cook for the entire week on weekends, while others like to cook one meal at a time. Find the method that works best for you!
- Leafy Greens: I am a big fan of leafy greens. Greens tend to be the preferred superstars as you get a lot of bang for your buck. They are full antioxidants, phytonutrients, vitamins, and minerals our bodies need to function, heal, and sustain life. Mix it up the next time you’re at the grocery store, try a new green such as watercress, rainbow chard, or dandelion greens. All these green varieties provide an excellent source of prebiotic fiber that will feed the good bacteria in your microbiome.
- Cruciferous Vegetables: Such as broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage have been found to provide specific compounds that the gut bacteria utilize. Researchers found a significant difference in the gut bacterial community among participants after 2 weeks of eating cruciferous vegetables daily, compared with a vegetable-free diet.
- Coconut Milk: As dairy alternative beverages continue to trend, the rich and sweet flavor of coconut milk has really started to be a popular choice. Coconut milk is not only lactose-free but full of healthy fats. Medium-chain triglycerides (MCT) found in coconut has shown to improve your inner ecosystem and permeability in the single-cell intestinal wall. Look for organic, BPA-free can varieties for a more economical option.
- Berries: These seeded fruits are packed with polyphenols that improve your gut microbiome and a great source of prebiotics for colon health.
- Flaxseeds: Flaxseeds are a plant-based type of omega-3 fatty acid called alpha-linolenic acid which has been tied to improving circulation and used as an anti-inflammatory food. One to two tablespoons of ground flaxseeds can be a great addition to any breakfast smoothie or yogurt bowl to aid in digestion and keep you full longer.
- Walnuts: Similar to flaxseeds, walnuts house a rich source of anti-inflammatory alpha-linolenic acid and fiber. Research shows that walnuts help beneficially alter your gut microbial community. Swap in walnuts for a crunchy salad topper or make your own nutty trail mix!
Do your research
Each year the Environmental Working Group analyzes USDA data on what chemicals are found in grocery stores produce. Then they compile a list of fruits and vegetables to contain the most and least amount of pesticides. Let’s review the top produce found with pesticides for 2020 This list consists of the dirty dozen and clean fifteen which can guide you towards finding organic varieties to cut down on exposure to chemicals and toxins. Dirty 12: It is recommended that the produce found on this list are purchased for organic and/or local sources.
Clean 15: The produces listed tend to have less exposure to pesticides, but it is always a good practice to wash your fruits and vegetables once you get home from the store.
- Sweet Corn
- Sweet Peas
- Honeydew Melon
The final takeaway is to prepare ahead for your grocery shop, always go in with a plan and aim to purchase mostly whole foods. The more diverse selection the better for a nutrient-rich diet. In return, your inner immune system and gut will thank you and be able to function optimally.