One of the biggest buzzwords in current media refers to the smallest subject: the human gut microbiome. This microbiome is a collection of microorganisms living in the human intestinal tract; aka the “good gut bugs.” These good gut bugs help our gut produce compounds needed for digestion and absorption of other nutrients. They also provide protection against harmful “bugs” and support our immune system. These good gut bugs have also been shown to promote brain health.
There is communication between the human microbiome and the brain, called the gut-brain axis. This means the health of your gut microbiome may impact the health of your brain—a healthy gut leads to a healthy brain.
The best way to take care of your gut microbiome is to focus on your overall eating pattern.
- Eat a variety of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
- Choose fiber-rich foods because increasing fiber can promote abundance of gut bugs.
- Try fermented foods and foods with pre- and probiotics to improve the variety of your good gut bugs.
- Prebiotics are plant fibers that promote the growth of healthy bacteria. They are found in many fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, including apples, asparagus, bananas, barley, flaxseed, garlic, jicama, leeks, oats, and onion.
- Probiotics contain specific strains of healthy bacteria. The most common probiotic food is yogurt; other sources include bacteria-fermented foods, including sauerkraut, kombucha, and kimchi.
- Shreiner AB, Kao JY, Young VB. The gut microbiome in health and in disease. Curr Opin Gastroenterol. 2015;31(1):69–75. doi:10.1097/MOG.0000000000000139.
- Foster JA, Lyte M, Meyer E, Cryan JF. Gut microbiota and brain function: An evolving field in neuroscience. Int J Neuropsychopharmacol. 2016;19(5):1–7. doi:10.1093/ijnp/pyv114.
- Jandhyala S, Talukdar R, Subramanyam C, Vuyyuru H, Sasikala M, Reddy D. Role of the normal gut microbiota. World J Gastroenterol. 2015;21(29):8787–8803.
• 1/2 orange
• 1/2 lemon
• 1/2 grapefruit
• 1 cup ice
• Cold water
- Add fruit to a two-quart pitcher.
- Gently press fruit with a spoon to release some of the juices.
- Add ice to the pitcher, then fill with cold water; stir.
- Serve immediately or chill, covered, in the refrigerator.
Get creative or try these seasonal combinations:
Apple + Cinnamon Stick
Cranberry + Orange
Recipe used with permission from West Virginia University Extension Service.
Fruit-infused water has become popular in recent years. It’s a great way to drink more and stay hydrated. With no added sugar, it’s a good alternative to juice or soda. The endless flavor combinations are tasty and refreshing. There are some important food safety tips to remember, however. To avoid increased bacteria growth and foodborne illness, follow these tips:
- Start with clean hands; wash hands with warm water and soap for 20 seconds.
- Wash produce thoroughly under cool running water. Use a clean produce brush on firm items such as oranges or lemons.
- Use clean cutting boards and utensils to avoid crosscontamination.
- Store infused water in the refrigerator at 40°F or below in a sealed pitcher.
- If you are taking your infused water on the go, make sure to drink it within four hours. Infused water at room temperature must be used or discarded after four hours to prevent bacteria growth.
- For best results, drain fruit solids within 24 hours and refrigerate water up to three days.
- Always start with clean equipment for new batches; avoid refilling the same pitcher.
Source: Michigan State University Extension
The holiday season is a busy time of year, which may make it hard to get in the recommended 30 minutes of moderate physical activity five days a week. Even when these recommendations are met, there is an increased risk for chronic disease when you are sitting for a prolonged period of time. There are plenty of ways to get moving, though. For instance, take the stairs instead of the elevator, walk the hallways at work on breaks, stand while you’re on the phone, or stretch a couple minutes for every hour of prolonged sitting. At home, complete floor exercises during commercial breaks or march in place while you’re cooking in the kitchen. These are small steps to reduce sedentary time and increase activity.
You can even enjoy the winter weather while getting in some exercise. Activities like ice skating, snowball fights, sledding, and making snow angels count toward your daily physical activity minutes.
Food portions can be a challenge, but choosing sensible amounts of all food is important for achieving and maintaining a healthy weight. The best way to achieve and maintain a healthy weight is to make small, long-term changes in what you eat and drink, along with getting daily physical activity.
Follow the MyPlate healthy eating food plan:
- Make half your plate fruits and vegetables—think variety and make it colorful.
- Make half your grains whole grains.
- Choose low-fat and fat-free dairy products.
- Vary your protein—poultry, seafood, meat, eggs, nuts, and beans.
Other helpful tips:
- Avoid portion distortion—read labels, measure, and place servings into containers or baggies.
- Record the amount of food you eat with a three- to five-day food journal—you might be surprised!
- Use smaller bowls and plates at mealtime.
- Choose foods with less saturated fats, sodium, and added sugar.
- Cook more often at home to control the ingredients in your food.
- When dining out, look at nutritional information before ordering.
- Drink water or low-calorie beverages with meals.
- Get the recommended 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity each week.
Set realistic and achievable goals for your health. Remember, if you slip up one day don’t dwell on it, just press on with your health goals in mind. Download Key Nutrients from the Extension Store for additional information.
Do you sit at a desk for prolonged periods during the day? If so, try deskercising to reduce the harmful effects of sitting for long periods of time. Deskercise includes 20 short bouts of cardiovascular, strength, and stretching exercises that can be performed at your desk throughout the day. To download a free poster—Deskercise! 20 Ways to Get Moving While You Work—from The National Center on Health, Physical Activity and Disability (NCHPAD).
Other ways to get moving at work include the following:
- Take a quick walk around the office every time you need a refill of coffee or water.
- Instead of emailing your coworker a few offices down, get up and go converse in person.
- Pace while on long conference calls.
- Have a walking/pushing meeting.
- Take the long route to the restroom.
- Swap your office chair for a stability ball.
Source: Desker-what?, NCHPAD
Does your favorite holiday recipe include raw eggs as an ingredient? Raw eggs may contain Salmonella bacteria. These bacteria cause food poisoning, especially if consumed by pregnant women, young children, older adults, and those who may have a weakened immune system.
To safely adapt recipes containing raw eggs, try one of the following options:
- Add the eggs to the amount of liquid called for in the recipe, then heat the mixture until it reaches 160°F on a food thermometer.
- Use store-bought versions of the home-prepared item. Check the label to be sure items are already cooked or pasteurized.
- Purchase eggs labeled “pasteurized.” Options include the following:
— Fresh, pasteurized eggs in the shell (found in the refrigerator section)
— Liquid, pasteurized egg products (found in the refrigerator section)
— Frozen, pasteurized egg products (found in the frozen food section)
— Powdered egg whites (found in the baking section)
Source: Food Facts, FDA, January 2017
Serving Size: 1 1/2 cups | Serves: 8
• 1 tablespoon oil (canola or vegetable)
• 4 cups vegetables (like onions, carrots, and zucchini) (chopped or sliced)
• 1 can (14.5 ounces) diced tomatoes with green chilies
• 1 can (14.5 ounces) low sodium vegetable or chicken broth
• 2 cups water
• 1/4 teaspoon salt
• 1 tablespoon Italian seasoning or dried basil
• 2 cups small whole wheat pasta (shell or macaroni)
• 6 cups fresh spinach leaves (about 1/2 pound)
1. Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat until hot. Add onions and carrots. Cook until they are softened. Stir often. This should take about 3 minutes.
2. Stir in zucchini and canned tomatoes. Cook 3–4 minutes.
3. Stir in the broth, water, salt, and Italian seasoning or dried basil. Bring to a boil.
4. Stir in the pasta and spinach. Return to a boil.
5. Cook until the pasta is tender using the time on the package for a guide.
Nutrition information per serving:
130 calories, 16g total fat, 6g saturated fat, 1g trans fat, 100mg cholesterol, 210mg sodium, 21g total carbohydrate, 3g fiber, 2g sugar, 35g protein Recipe courtesy of ISU Extension and Outreach’s Spend Smart. Eat Smart. For more information, recipes, and videos, visit the Spend Smart. Eat Smart site.
During the holiday season, don’t forget to make time for family meals. Children who often eat dinner with their families are more likely to do well in school, have positive peer relationships, and resist the harmful effects of substance abuse. In addition, regular family mealtime improves communication and nutrition, builds stronger family bonds, and is an opportunity for parents to teach important skills to their children. Furthermore, meals prepared at home are often less expensive and more nutrient rich.
Here are ways to enjoy family mealtime during busy holiday schedules:
- Make family mealtime a priority. Set aside specific times of the week when family members will eat together.
- Be creative and flexible about when and where you eat. Make the most of opportunities instead of worrying about following a strict timetable.
- Make mealtime pleasant. Children learn social skills from listening and watching their parents. Parents can set a positive tone for family meals and set a good example by listening and sharing.
- Eliminate distractions. Turn off the electronic devices (cell phones, television, etc.). Commit to device-free meals on or during the week of December 3, 2018, by participating in the initiative “Dining In” for Healthy Families, from the American Association of Family and Consumer Sciences.
- Keep meals simple and easy. Use a slow cooker to prepare a meal that can be ready to eat when the family is ready to eat.
- Use family mealtime Conversation Cards.
Source: Adapted from PM 1842, Say “Yes” to Family Meals, Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, March 2015
Not a big fan of warm or hot yoga? Don’t sweat it! A new study published in the Journal of Experimental Physiology showed that participants who worked up a sweat in hot yoga got the same heart health benefits as those who did yoga at room temperature.
Bikram (hot) yoga has been increasing in popularity. It consists of 26 yoga poses done in a room heated to 105oF. Researchers compared adults who took three 90-minute yoga classes a week (either hot or at room temperature) over 12 weeks. These adults were also compared with a control group of people who did no yoga at all. The hot-yoga group did decrease their body fat more than the room-temperature yoga or control groups. However, people in both yoga groups showed improved heart health. So, if health and vitality are your goals, you can choose either form of yoga.
Source: Hunter SD, Laosiripisan J, Elmenshawy A, Tanaka H. Effects of yoga interventions practiced in heated and thermoneutral conditions on endothelium-dependent vasodilation: The Bikram yoga heart study. Experimental Physiology. 2018;103:391–396.