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What is Gut Health?

GUT Health

Gut health is becoming more and more popular these days, but, what really is it?

The gut is referring to the gastrointestinal (GI) tract.  This tract starts at the mouth and ends at the…other end.  So, it includes the mouth, esophagus, stomach, small intestine, large intestine, rectum, and anus.

The main function of the gut is to absorb nutrients from the food we consume while ridding the body of solid waste.  Yet, it has many other important functions like keeping harmful substances out of our bodies and cultivating a bounty of useful bacteria.  If it does these things well, then it is healthy.  If it does not do these things well…illness ensues.

Bacteria is normally thought of in a negative manner, but a healthy gut is filled with millions of different types of healthy bacteria.  This bacteria can aid with the digestion of nutrients, support a healthy immune system, and even stimulate the nervous system to function properly.

Negative bacteria does find its way into the gut and when it does, it cause some major symptoms…diarrhea/constipation, excessive gas, intestinal inflammation, and even acne.  More and more research reveals a connection between negative bacteria in the gut and conditions such as depression, diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease, and obesity.

How to avoid negative bacteria in the gut

There are many causes of an imbalance between positive and negative gut bacteria.  Some of them cannot be helped such as aging or being ill.

Stress, unhealthy dietary habits, and the use of antibiotics are among the causes that can be helped.  Reducing and managing stress does wonders for gut health.  Avoiding antibiotics unless absolutely necessary saves healthy bacteria from being wiped out for months to years.  That’s right…one week-long treatment of antibiotics can clear out all the good going on in the intestine.

Healthy eating is key to good intestinal health.  A variety of plant foods is necessary to have a variety of strains of health bacteria in the gut.  Consuming prebiotics and probiotics promotes gut health too.  Prebiotics are food components that promote bacterial growth. They are found in a lot of plant foods including asparagus, onions, garlic, and some legumes.  Probiotics are foods that contain live bacteria such as yogurt and kefir.

Conclusion

More and more evidence indicates that a healthy body is dependent on a healthy gut which is dependent on a healthy diet.  Eat well!

About the Author

Devon L Golem PhD RD

Devon L. Golem, PhD, RD

Dr. Golem is the Professional Education Chair of the VAND.  She has founded the Institute of Continuing Education for Nutrition Professionals this summer.  She lives in Charlottesville, VA with her husband, Alex, and their dog, Lunch Lady Doris.

Combining Services to Increase Access to Local Produce

Summer Vegetation for Everyone

Summer is a wonderful time to buy fresh produce- everything seems to be in abundance! The juicy tomatoes are making their mark on every sandwich and salad, the summer squash add their bright color and flavor to any dinner dish, and the bountiful fresh herbs can be thrown into every single meal to add a flavor profile that is complex in taste but easy in practice. What an opportune time to fill up on the local Virginia produce!

But, what about those that cannot always afford to purchase fresh produce or shop at local farmer’s markets?

The Farmers Market Nutrition Program

The Farmers Market Nutrition Program (FMNP) is supported by the VA Department for Aging and Rehabilitation Services-Division of Aging, the VA Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, and the USDA. The FMNP provides checks to Seniors and WIC families for the purchase of local produce at Farmers Markets. The Augusta-Staunton Health Department, one of seven serving the Central Shenandoah Health District, began issuing Farmer’s Market checks 2 years ago to their WIC participants hoping to enable them to obtain fresh fruit and vegetables. This Health District is in fact the largest in Virginia, in terms of square mileage, and is filled with rural areas.

Another Challenge – Access

For some living in rural areas, access to food assistance programs is a major challenge. Through a survey the Augusta-Staunton Health Department conducted with their WIC clients, they came to understand that while their clients were enthusiastic about the possibility of receiving local produce, many did not have the time nor means of transportation to travel to their nearest Farmers Markets during their operational days.

Increasing Access – The Farmer’s Market Initiative

To address this issue and increase access to produce, the Augusta-Staunton Health Department WIC Program decided to bring the farmers market directly to the WIC location. The goal is to bring the local farmers to the Health Department on a day when WIC clients will already be coming to the Health Department for other WIC services, thereby reducing the difficulty of transportation issues.

Along with several partners:

  • Project GROWS, a non-profit farm located in Verona
  • Troyer’s Produce located in Waynesboro
  • JMD Farms located in Staunton

Project GROWS, who acts as the Fiscal Manager, was chosen for this joint venture

  • both Project GROWS and the WIC Program have common goals of improving the health of young children through access to nutritious foods
  • because of their experience is successfully running two other Farmers Markets in Augusta County.

 

The WIC participants are able to come in for their appointments, check-ups and nutrition education programs, receive their Farmers Market Vouchers, and then proceed to spend their Farmers Market checks to purchase fresh produce from the farmers right there on the Health Department property!

Since the start of the Health Department Farmers Market Initiative on July 8th, the return rate of the Farmers Market checks has increased dramatically. This successful initiative means that

  • WIC participants are able to have easier access to fresh produce that promote their good health
  • local farmers are finding a new way to increase their selling capacity, which ultimately enhances the local economy.

You can find pictures from their Farmer’s Market on Facebook at the Central Shenandoah Health District and you can contact the Staunton Health Department at (540) 332-7830 to find out more information on who is able to receive these Farmers Market checks as well as ways you can help enhance their initiative.

You can also contact Project GROWS at http://www.projectgrows.org if you are looking to volunteer your time on the farm harvesting and tending to their beds!

It always feels good doing something to help out your community and volunteering with a local farm can provide a whole new appreciation for the fresh local food we are able to enjoy here in Virginia!

Jenna Clark from Project GROWS

Photo 1: Jenna Clark, from Project GROWS, sets up for the first Health Department Farmers Market. Credit to the Facebook page of Central Shenandoah Health District.

 

Trayers Produce and Project GROWS

Photo 2: Troyer’s Produce and Project GROWS attract some happy clients during the Farmers Market. Credit to the Facebook page of Central Shenandoah Health District.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kat Huntley

Kat Huntley is a senior at James Madison University, where she majors in Dietetics and serves as the Vice President of the Dietetics Association. She enjoys being an engaged community member and looks to stay active in her volunteer work geared towards improving the equity of healthy food access. She has a passion for advocating for the health of the vulnerable and believes that food is a fundamental part of life that has the power to bring people together! Contact: huntleks@dukes.jmu.edu

Kids Eat Right in August

Kids Eat Right logo

This infographic is from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Visit eatright.org for more information on healthful eating or to find a registered dietitian nutritionist.

August is Kids Eat Right month!  The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Foundation sponsored this campaign to promote public education.  The Foundation is dedicated to providing  new resources to help kids eat better and move more.  Funding and resources are provided to active members to use in schools and in the community.  Take a look at some of these resources.

Many of these resources are available online.  Take a look at these links to learn how to encourage children to live healthy.

Webinars  (Free CPEU opportunities for dietetic professionals!)

Toolkits (Learn how healthy living is incorporated at home, school and during recreation.)

A Kids Webpage  (For all ages.  Tips, recipes, and helpful information.)

May you have a happy and healthy August!

 

About the Author:

Devon L Golem PhD RD

Devon L. Golem, PhD, RD

Dr. Golem is the Professional Education Chair of the VAND.  She has founded the Institute of Continuing Education for Nutrition Professionals this summer.  She lives in Charlottesville, VA with her husband, Alex, and their dog, Lunch Lady Doris.

Taste the World: Iceland

cold icelandIceland is known to be ‘The Land of Extremes,’ located in the North Atlantic Ocean close to the Arctic Circle. It is a magical place where the sun only comes out for 4 hours in the winter season and never sets in the summer. It is known to be one of the most peaceful countries with a top measurement in quality of life according to The Global Peace Index (Visions of Humanity, 2016). Iceland’s culture is tightly bonded with a strong sense of religion, tradition, and unity with nature. There is no doubt that the people of Iceland are one with their land. Iceland’s three main natural resources are fisheries, renewable energy, and water. Due to their exceptional and unique diet, health conditions in Iceland are outstanding with life expectancy in the 80’s and low infant mortality.

Iceland’s Plate and Dietary Guidelines

Icenland PlateIcelandic people love to keep it simple! They incorporate many fresh foods into meals including seafood (cod, salmon), lean meats (lamb, pelican), and grass fed cattle products (yogurts, cheese).

 

Iceland uses a Myplate similar to the U.S.; they call it the Food Circle. It consists of 6 food groups:

  1. Fruits & Veggies
  2. Cereal Products
  3. Dairy
  4. Animal Sources
  5. Nuts
  6. Oils & Fats

 

Water is found in the center of the circle. Icelanders believe in the health benefits of water therapy. They utilize their natural hot springs (Blue Lagoon), fresh tap water without the chemicals, and increasingly growing market of pure bottled water.  The area around the Food Circle emphasizes the importance of physical activity.

Shots of oil

Iceland’s Dietary Guidelines recommendations:

  • Eat a variety of foods.
  • Eat fruits and vegetables daily (500 g a day, at least 200 g vegetables and 200 g fruit).
  • Eat fish at least twice a week.
  • Eat wholegrain bread and fiber-rich foods.
  • Prefer low-fat dairy products with as little sugar as possible.
  • Use oil instead of butter and margarine.
  • Use salt in moderation.
  • Take cod liver oil or other vitamin D supplements.
  • Water is the best drink.
  • Maintain a healthy body weight.
  • Eat in moderation.
  • Be physically active every day.

(Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO), 2016)

No Sun No Problem!

Imagine waking up to a midnight sky and never actually seeing the sun! When asking a hotel receptionist about how the Icelandic people cope with no sun they reply, “Well, we never really get used to it” (McGovern et al., 2016). With no sun, Iceland has decreased access to the recommended intake of Vitamin D, which can lead to deficiencies and other health problems.

What is vitamin D? Vitamin D is a multifunctional fat-soluble vitamin. It works to keep the body’s bones, brain, and immune system strong. Vitamin D can be created in the body when sunlight touches the skin, it can also be consumed from other food sources such as:

  • Fatty fish – cod, salmon, trout, tuna
  • Fortified milk, cereal, and juice
  • Egg yolk
  • Beef liver
  • Fish and olive oil

Iceland consumes fish products almost 3 times a day. This high intake of fish allows them to receive high levels of iron, vitamin D, omega 3 fatty acids, and protein. In the winter months, when sunlight is scarce, it is common to find Icelandic people taking shot glasses of olive oil.

These shots will help Icelanders get all the vitamin D they will need throughout the day, but it is certain knowing their culture they will be eating some sort of fish for breakfast, lunch, or dinner.

Fish, fish, and more fish!

 

About the Author

FullSizeRender

Sigourney McGovern is a senior at James Madison University (JMU) with a major in Dietetics. During her freshman year in college she attended Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) pursuing a Psychology major. After a year at VCU she discovered her love for nutrition and human anatomy. In 2014 she transferred out of VCU to JMU where she pursued her passion for Dietetics. This will be her third year dancing as a Dukette, the official dance team at JMU. This dance team is currently ranked 1st in the Nation for the second year in a row. Sigourney has also traveled to over 20 countries around the world, which has allowed her to learn about new cultures and their day-to-day nutrition. Upon graduation, her goal is to obtain a dietetic internship and fulfill her interests in women’s health and infant nutrition.

My Culinary Experience in Iceland

icelandic-flag-at-thingvellir-1344246-1279x1925

In 2015 at the end of December, I traveled all the way from my hometown of Stafford, VA to the absolutely stunning city of Reykjavik, Iceland. In this last short segment I want to share a couple of memorable experiences, pictures, and interesting nutrition related events I encountered on my New Years visit.

 

There is without a doubt that Iceland is one of the most extreme and magical places I have ever been privileged to visit. The views were beautiful, the people were kindhearted, and my goodness the food was AMAZING!

Sigourney in Iceland

On our way to the hotel from the airport (semi jet lagged) my father asked the true Icelandic cab driver, “What kind of fast-food restaurants do you guys have here?” He smiled replied, “Fast food was banned back in 2009. Although we only had few the government decided it was not only bad for us and made us fat, but it was too expensive to maintain.” To my surprise I did some research upon my return to discover that in 2009 Iceland had a financial crisis and closed down all three of their McDonalds branches along with 7-11 and Starbucks. It turns out it was too expensive to import fast food goods. That’s not such a bad thing; after all why import fattening Big Macs when Iceland can harvest their own food and save a couple thousands of dollars. It was delightful to hear that on this trip I would be encountering true traditional food.

“Fast food was banned back in 2009.”

One of the local dishes I ate in Reykjavík was at a café called Fish and More. It was very small with only one woman running the whole café! Looking closer at the menu it lists:

  • Fish of the dayDining in Iceland
  • Fish stew (fishpie)
  • Salmon
  • Salmon Pesto
  • Fish Soup
  • Sub with Salmon
  • Slice of cake
  • Juice

It is safe to say if you didn’t like fish then Iceland wasn’t going to be your favorite place to eat. To the left is a picture of what my sister’s plate looked like. From a dietitian’s perspective it is a very balanced plate consisting of a protein (salmon), starch (brown rice), and vegetables (broccoli, radish, and sweet potato). This meal is very nutrient dense and high in iron, vitamin D and C, omega 3, folate, and fiber.

 

Iceland cuisine

After a 7-day visit my family and I were pretty fished out, but it was great to try new foods and witness the true beauty of mother nature. It is important to study other cultures and discover how their diets reflect their lifestyles. I can’t wait to go back to Iceland when I can actually see the sun!

 

 

 

 

About the Author:  

FullSizeRender Sigourney McGovern

Sigourney McGovern is a senior at James Madison University (JMU) with a major in Dietetics. During her freshman year in college she attended Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) pursuing a Psychology major. After a year at VCU she discovered her love for nutrition and human anatomy. In 2014 she transferred out of VCU to JMU where she pursued her passion for Dietetics. This will be her third year dancing as a Dukette, the official dance team at JMU. This dance team is currently ranked 1st in the Nation for the second year in a row. Sigourney has also traveled to over 20 countries around the world, which has allowed her to learn about new cultures and their day-to-day nutrition. Upon graduation, her goal is to obtain a dietetic internship and fulfill her interests in women’s health and infant nutrition.