When I traditionally think about gut health, I think it’s easy to put food first. And in some cases that certainly may be true. However, it’s equally if not more so important to also consider the behaviors and mindset surrounding food and nutrition.
Over the past few years I’ve felt a collective shift towards stress, overwhelm, and fatigue. To put frankly: it’s been HARD. And with those feelings, I’ve personally felt and professionally seen many feel stuck in sympathetic overdrive. The sympathetic nervous system is protective – it shifts you into the ability to fight or flee when danger approaches. Physiologically, the heart rate quickens to pump blood and oxygen more efficiently throughout the body, pupils dilate, and bronchial passages widen to breathe deeper. A LOT of adrenaline is released.
This also means that digestion slows due to a decrease in saliva production and inhibition of intestinal motility. So if you’re in a constant state of sympathetic overdrive, your gut health will be affected from top to bottom. You likely will experience changes in appetite prior to eating, as well as changes in digestion after eating, think: bloating, stomach pain, constipation, and diarrhea just to name a few.
It takes active thought and intention to shift back into the parasympathetic, which is the other side of the nervous system. This enables rest and digestion.
Here are a few ways I like to tap back into parasympathetic to improve digestion and gut health:
- Avoid skipping meals. It’s important for your brain and body to know nutrients will be coming at regular times throughout the day. Skipping meals can add further stress on the body and drive sympathetic nervous system. I’ve been LOVING a warm oat bake in the morning featuring California Prunes. These pack a powerful punch of important vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fiber that support gut health. See recipe below!
- Don’t multitask during meals. Multitasking is the thief of the nervous system! If you’re constantly focused on many different things at once, it can be really difficult to get into a place of calm prior to or during eating. Put the to do list down if only for a few minutes prior to eating.
- Add mindfulness to meal times. Mindfulness utilizes all of the senses to focus on the present moment. Pay attention to the appearance, smell, texture, and taste to each bite.
- Take a deep breath. Seems so simple right?! You may not even notice how shallow your breathing is when stressed. Continuous shallow breathing perpetuates stress. Whereas big, diaphragmatic belly breathing encourages relaxation! Try a few rounds of 4-7-8 breathing prior to your next meal. Inhale for 4, hold your breath for 7, exhale for 8. Try this 5-10 times.
- Practice a grounding exercise prior to eating. Grounding exercise can help soothe distressing thoughts and recenter on the present moment. Savor a scent, hold a piece of ice, do a few stretches, physically feel your body or try the 5-4-3-2-1 method: think about 5 things you can see, 4 things you can touch, 3 things you can hear, 2 things you can smell, 1 thing you can taste.
- Vagal nerve activation: This is a major component of the parasympathetic nervous system (rest, digest, relax) and connects the brain to the gut. Here are a few easy ways to activate it: singing, humming, laughing, chanting, gargling , deep and slow breathing , cold exposure (try placing an ice pack on your chest for 15 minutes!).
This oat bake feature California Prunes. Prunes are high in polyphenols, which include antioxidants that protect against damage to DNA and decrease overall inflammation. Prunes also contain compounds that may inhibit bone resorption ad stimulation bone formation. Read more about bone health here.
Blueberry Prune oat bake:
- 1 cup oats pulverized into a flour (or oat flour if you have it)
- 1 cup almond flour
- ½ tsp baking powder
- ¼ tsp cinnamon
- Pinch of nutmeg
- Pinch of sea salt
- 2 eggs
- 1/3 cup maple syrup
- ½ cup almond milk
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- ¼ cup butter, melted
- 1 cup blueberries
- ½ cup prune jam (recipe below)
- Preheat oven to 350F. Combine dry ingredients in one bowl (oats, almond flour, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, sea salt). Combine wet ingredients in another (eggs, maple syrup, almond milk, vanilla extract, melted butter). Pour wet into dry and mix thoroughly until batter forms. Fold in blueberries.
- Spray or line a tray or pan – I used a 9.5 in x 6 in pan.
- Place in oven for 20 minutes.
- As oats are cooking, making prune jam and granola crumble, as below.
- Remove from oven, top with prune jam swirls and granola crumble (recipes below).
- Place back in the oven for 15-20 minutes, until top is set or you can place a knife in the middle and remove cleanly.
- 1 cup dried California prunes
- 1 cup water
- Pinch of sea salt
- Add prunes and water to pan over low heat. Cook for ~15-20 min, stirring regularly.
- Once softened, mash prunes with fork to create jam consistency.
- ¼ cup oats
- 1 tbsp maple syrup
- 2 tbsp butter, melted
- Few dashes of cinnamon and nutmeg
- Combine all together and mix thoroughly.
Thank you California prunes for sponsoring this post!