Food, Lifestyle

Clearing Constipation with lifestyle changes

Constipation is an issue that has become very prevalent in recent times. This is primarily due to the sedentary life that we lead and the processed/refined foods that we eat . Missing or not excreting our wastes in the morning can result in physical and mental discomfort like irritiability, bloating, low energy levels, and if continued onto long term can cause acne, hairloss, bad breath, impaired immunity, nutrient deficiencies and more.

Using laxatives that are available over the counter is not a solution as it doesn’t address the root cause of the problem. Moreover, using laxatives over a long term can lead to colonic infections, electrolyte imbalance and mineral deficiencies.

Let’s look at some of the root causes of constipation and their remedies.

Wrong diet

Overeating , eating when not hungry , eating mindlessly when bored or stressed, not drinking enough water, eating late at night, consuming heavy ,refined ,fried and processed foods like chips, juices, bread, popcorn, donuts, cakes, meat and other items made with refined flour etc can lead to constipation.

Remedies

  • Eat only when hungry.
  • Drink 2 glasses of warm to hot water as soon as you wake up. Using coffee , stimulants or tea for this will not only create addiction and dependence, but also nutritional deficiencies.
  • Eat light, warm and moderately spiced freshly cooked foods.
  • Eat a light dinner before 7pm and avoid cheese, refined foods, sweets, paneer, meat and fried food for dinner.
  • Consume foods that naturally has fibre and are unprocessed like raisins, prunes, dates, fresh fruits, cooked vegetables and not refined and packaged foods with added fibre – biscuits, cookies, breads, juices etc.
  • Include good fats like coconut/ ghee/ sesame with every meal.
  • Avoid cold and raw foods likes salads and green smoothies.
  • Drink warm water often , enough to make sure your urine is clear- mild yellow.

Stress

When we get stressed, more blood is pumped to our limbs than our digestive system as part of the flight or fight mechanism. Hence digestion, absorption, assimilation and excretion will not be optimal and partially digested food starts building up in the digestive system. Stress can also reduce your insulin sensitivity and metabolism.

Remedies

  • Do not focus on food to divert your stress.
  • Deep breathing exercises and some yoga poses like viparita karani, Vajrasana etc will help improve the blood flow the intestines.
  • Focus on destressing activities that will also make you physically active to help you relax.

Sleep

Poor quality or insufficient sleep due to night outs, sleeping late etc also affects excretion. Sleep is the biggest detox program that we get on a daily basis and if that is compromised, the toxins and wastes stay in our system i.e excretion doesn’t happen. Read more about how to improve your sleep quality.

Remedies

  • Have a relaxing evening routine to help you go to bed early.
  • Fix a regular bed time , closer to 10pm and stick to it.
Clearing constipation with simple lifestyle changes

Inactivity

We need to move well to move wastes out of our system. It is not just about working out everyday for 30 minutes, but also about moving often through the day. This will improve our blood circulation, metabolism and digestion.

Remedies

  • Workout for atleast 30-45 minutes everyday or 5 days a week. Include strength training, cardio and yoga .
  • Move around for 3 minutes once every 30 minutes.

Medications

Certain medications like antibiotics, pain killers, iron supplements etc are known to cause constipation. Antibiotics should be used as a last resort as using it often can give rise to antibiotic resistant bacteria and also destroy a good part of our gut bacteria , which can take 6-12 months to get replenished.

Remedies

  • Focus on getting nutrients and nourishment from whole food sources and not isolated supplements.
  • Consume buttermilk everyday for a few weeks following the consumption of antibiotics.

Resolving constipation like any other health problem becomes easy once we know the root cause and its triggers. Treating health issues with over-the-counter medications doesn’t solve the issue and could complicate it with unwanted side effects.

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Food

Do carbs make you happy or heavy?

Gave up carbs ; now feeling cranky?

Most nutritionists, doctors and food companies come up with their own diet making one nutrient popular and another nutrient the villain. Being desperate to lose weight, we try all possible fads and diets just to realise it doesn’t work in the long term.

We shunned good fats like coconut, ghee , butter for a few decades, and embraced fat-free foods and refined oils. This resulted in a generation of people with issues like Vitamin D deficiency, cardiovascular diseases, Diabetes, PCOS, Thyroid and many other chronic lifestyle diseases.

Now we know that good fats like coconut, ghee, butter, avocado etc are extremely important for health and doctors are recommending it too.

The current fad is shunning carbs. Will we become a generation that is cranky , depressed and devoid of peace?

No unprocessed food that we term as ‘Carbs’ are made up of only carbohydrates or starch. They also contain some amount of amino acids/protein. Carb sources also contain the amino acid Tryptophan which helps in the production of neurotransmitter Serotonin.

Serotonin is the hormone that regulates our appetite, mood, anxiety, happiness, mental well-being , sexual desire and sleep. Tryptophan is the amino acid that is a precursor to the feel-good hormone serotonin.

Most protein sources also have tryptophan though only when there is release  of insulin can this amino acid reach our brain. Wholesome carbs and nuts like cashews are the easiest way to get tryptophan and make serotonin.

In other words, Serotonin is the reason why we feel nice after a bowl of yogurt rice/pongal/pulao/idly or khichdi and in some worst cases a piece of cake or pastry.

Any South Indian who has tried losing weight or controlling blood sugar levels, would have tried giving up rice totally or switched to brown rice, only to realise that they are attached to rice more than they realised.

Most women who have PMS also have refined carb sources to make them feel good before and during their periods. Blame serotonin , as your brain knows the quickest way to feel good is to load with refined carbs. However, the serotonin secreted quickly this way  goes down quickly too.

Are carbohydrates bad?

Yes, if they are from ultra processed refined sources like bread, bagels, breakfast cereal,  burgers( even if its plant based ), noodles, pizza, biscuits , cookies, chips, soft drinks, bottles juices and fruit bars.

No, if they are from wholesome sources like wheat, rice , millets, fruits ,  yams, tubers,  and other vegetables.

What makes the wholesome carb sources different?

The wholesome carb sources contain resistant starch.  These resistant starches are fermented in our large intestine by gut bacteria and produce Short-chain fatty acids (SCFA) like butyric acid. Short chain fatty acids are also known to boost intestinal and brain health.  By the way, butyric acid is one of the main ingredients in keto foods and fat burners.

Resistant starch in diets are known to reduce risk of Irritable bowel syndrome, cardiovascular diseases, colon cancer, lower triglycerides, LDL cholesterol and improve insulin sensitivity.

There are populations that live in the blue zones of the world, who have some of the longest lifespan on earth like Okinawans(Japan) whose diets are made up to 80%  by  rice  and tubers.

Prebiotocs/Resistant starch , Probiotics and Vitamin B12

Prebiotics, also known as resistant starch are the favourite food for our gut bacteria – probiotics.

Probiotics is the latest in the nutraceutical industry . Its marketed now in supplements, bottled juices, breakfast cereals, flavoured yogurts, fruits bars and the list goes on.

Good bacteria can survive in our intestine only if we feed them with their favourite food Resistant starch/prebiotics.  The wholesome carbs mentioned earlier are rich sources of prebiotics and they support varying species of probiotic bacteria.  

Prebiotics, probiotics and Vit b12

Probiotics are the good bacteria that our body needs to keep us healthy and help us produce vitamin B12.

Poor memory, dementia, depression, and neurological symptoms like numbness and tingling sensations can be symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency.

How to improve Vitamin B12 levels in body?

If you have heard or read that you might be deficient in Vit B12 if you are a vegetarian, its not true. Most meat eaters are also equally deficient or even worse in B12 levels.  B12 can be produced in your own body by your gut bacteria if you have a healthy digestive system. What is needed to improve B12 is different species of gut bacteria and food to support them – Wholesome carb sources.

In other words, just by gobbling juices/drinks/supplements of probiotics, we cannot improve gut health or B12 levels in a long term.

If a food can make us happy, calm and feel nice along with improve the health of our gut and brain , assist in burning fat in addiion to optimizing other health parameters, how can it ever be called as a villain? Above all, why should we  avoid it?


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Food

Winter Grocery List and Food Guide with PDF


Most vegetables and fruits are now available throughout the year . Hence it is not so easy to know what grows and what to eat during winter. Winter Grocery list and seasonal eating guide and the downloadable PDF help you end that confusion , even if you live in India or outside.

Why should you eat according to season ?

The gut bacteria in our body varies as per the season. It will not be the same in the summer and the winter.

A deer that eats green leaves during spring summer will eat the barks of trees during winter. If it tries eating the bark during summer, it will end up with digestive issues.

Similarly, if we eat spring or summer foods during winter, we will also end up having digestive issues, blood sugar imbalances, hormonal problems, lowered immunity and other health issues. Winter by itself comes with its own woes . These woes can be reduced to a large extend by eating according to the season.

Here is a comprehensive list of vegetables, fruits, nuts +seeds, spices, grains and pulses to be included in winter.

 

Tastes to favour – Sweet, salt, Sour, dense( starchy), oily, moist and hot.

Things to avoid – Raw veggies, salads, smoothies, chips, caffeine, energy drinks, refined ultra processed food, breakfast cereals and cold food like ice cream, slushies, soda etc .

 M – If winter is mild for you or if you live in a tropical area, have these vegetables/fruits . If you have a harsh winter, save those for Spring.
* denotes the foods it is a winter superfood.

Fruits

Fruits should never be combined with the main meal, or be ground into juice or smoothies. Have fruit by itself as a snack.  
 

  • Banana
  • Tangerine *
  • Persimmon
  • Dates *
  • Figs
  • Tomato ( yes, tomato is a fruit)
  • Oranges *
  • Grapefruit
  • Lemon
  • Lime
  • Pomegranate *
  • Berries (M)

    Avoid grapes, mango, water melon, cantaloupe, cherries, plums and peaches during winter.  
     

Cooking oils

  • Sesame oil *
  • Ghee *
  • Avocado oil *
  • Mustard oil *

    Coconut oil is suitable for mild winter and if you traditionally cook with it .
    Always avoid refined oils like sunflower oil, canola oil, corn oil, soybean oil/vegetable oil and rice bran oil .

Vegetables

Avoid bitter gourd, raw greens,  salads and cucumbers.
Go for the vegetables that grow near you and not around the globe. Visit a farmer’s market or a farm near you.

Tubers are meant for winter

Cook these vegetables into a stir fry or any local recipe of your region.

  • Avocado
  • Pumpkin *
  • Squash
  • Ash gourd/Winter melon *
  • Peas
  • Brussel sprouts
  • Onion
  • Carrot
  • Okra/Ladies finger
  • Yucca/Tapioca
  • Potato ( Go for Organic variety)
  • Taro root/Chembu/Arbi *
  • Chinese potato/Koorka *
  • Arrow root/ Koova *
  • Purple yam/Kaavithu *
  • Elephant yam/Chena  *
  • Plantain
  • Turnip
  • Radish *
  • Sweet potato
  • Corn ( Over 93% of Corn in the US is Genetically modified. choose Organic , non gmo variety)
  • Mustard Greens *
  • Flat beans/ Avarakka
  • Methi/Fenugreek leaves
  • Spinach ( M)
  • Dill leaves ( M)
  • Cabbage ( M)
  • Cauliflower (M)
  • Bell Peppers (M)
  • Garlic
  • Ginger *

Grains

  • Rice
  • Wheat *
  • Amaranth *
  • Corn ( Choose only  organic non gmo variety)
  • Finger millet/Ragi ( cooked with ghee or milk )
  • Little millet / Samai/ Chama
  • Buckwheat *
  • Pearl millet/Bajra /Kambu *

    Avoid Jowar/Sorghum and Thinai/Foxtail millet during winter.


Pulses/Legumes

                Most pulses and legumes are good or winter as long as they are soaked and cooked well. Soak the pulse for 6-8 hours in water and discard the water. Cook it generously with spices and pair with rice/wheat/any grain listed above.

 If your tummy finds it difficult to tolerate pulses, go for the split and husked variety. ( for eg : yellow moong dal instead of green moong ).

Nuts + seeds

Nuts and seeds are rich , dense and perfect for winter.
  • Almonds
  • Flax seeds *
  • Brazil nuts
  • Sesame seeds *
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Cashew (Fall/early winter)
  • Garden cress seeds/Aserio/Aliv
  • Coconut
  • Pistachio
  • Walnuts
  • Pecan

Spices

Be generous with spices in your winter diet. It is important to temper spices over food . They regulate your digestive fire and keep your immunity higher. Small amounts of home-made pickles or preserves that does not contain Class ii preservatives or additives are good to be a part of winter diet.

Jaggery and honey are warming and good for winter. Honey should never be mixed with any food that is above 40C or 104F.

  • Pepper *
  • Ginger *
  • Nutmeg
  • Saffron
  • Cinnamon *
  • Cardamom
  • Fennel
  • Dill *
  • Cumin
  • Turmeric *
  • Mustard
  • Coriander
  • Clove

Raw/ Unpasteurized, Grass-fed Dairy

  • Butter
  • Ghee *
  • Milk
  • Yogurt
  • Buttermilk *
  • Cottage cheese/ Paneer
  • Cheese
  • Cream

Meat

Most meats are good for winter as long as they are under 20% of your weekly diet.

 

Winter is a good time to increase physical activity and flexibility. This will help in reducing depression, joint pains and SAD(seasonal affective disorder) that usually comes with winter and its gloomy days.

When days are dark outside, its better to look inwards and find the light inside.

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