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The best thing to do for your health

I’m just back from a nutrition, cooking and yoga retreat at the Iguana Lodge in Costa Rica and overflowing with new information and ideas to share and write about.

Costa Rica is an absolute delight for all the senses. From the vivid colours of the plants and wildlife, to the constant buzzing and humming of the aliveness of the rainforest, to the warm clear blue waters to swim in, the hot sand between your toes to walk on, and the fresh local foods to smell, taste and savour.

I feel transformed, refreshed, well nourished and excited to take my own personal nutrition to the next level. So much of what I’ve been doing myself and coaching my clients about, was reinforced. I feel reassured I’m on the right path when it comes to nourishing our whole bodies with real whole foods.

One of the themes that was woven through the lectures and the food we cooked and ate, was the importance of a variety of different plant foods everyday. Whether you’re vegan, vegetarian, or paleo – the focus is on eating an abundance of plant foods.

I know, this is not new information or shocking to anyone. Plants are good for us. What is enlightening to me was the underlying reasons why and the incredibly wide ranging benefits they bring to our entire bodies.

If you’re looking for a blueprint for optimal health, the foundation is plant foods. And it all starts with our gut health.

About 80% of our immune system is in our gut, and having a strong immune system is one of the best defenses against disease, so to maintain optimum health you must look after your gut.

We each have trillions of bacteria, hundreds of different species, which can amount to four to five pounds of microorganisms, living in our large intestine. And we need to feed this microbiome the right foods to keep it flourishing. The wrong foods can cause an imbalance in the flora which can lead to all kinds of health issues.

The three types of foods our gut needs everyday to flourish are:

1. Fermented foods

These foods actually add new good strains of bacteria to the microbiome. Things like sauerkraut, kimchi and raw unpasturized full fat yogurt and kefir from grass fed cows or goats.

2. Resistant starch

This is a type of starch that isn’t fully broken down and absorbed, but turned into short-chain fatty acids which are the preferred fuel source of the intestinal lining. This includes root veggies cooked al dente (slightly undercooked) and well cooked beans and legumes.

3. Additional fibre

This category includes almost all other fruits and veggies that provide good fibre to feed the microorganisms. Think dark leafy greens, broccoli, cabbage, brussels sprouts, squashes, apples with skin, grapefruits, berries, cucumbers, zucchini, onions, garlic, ginger, and salad greens.

This is one of the best things you can do for your overall health. Eat more plant foods. Shoot for a rainbow of colours. Eat them both raw and cooked. Put them in smoothies, soups and stews. Eat a big shredded and green salad everyday.

Here’s your challenge – Try to eat between 30 and 40 different plant foods each week. This includes all your fruits and veggies, beans and legumes, herbs and spices, seeds and nuts. I guarantee if you can get close to 30 you’ll start to notice the difference and, not only will your gut thank you, but your whole body will too!

* This post was originally published in the Herald Community on March 12, 2014

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