Our gut is our bodies largest immune organ, it houses more inhabitants than your body has it's own cells, it helps us absorb all the necessary components for life including water, food, and vitamins, it is your bodies first access point for many invaders and houses the largest surface area of your body. Your gut is so, so, so vitally important- and having a healthy gut can assist in enjoying optimal wellness. We talk a lot about the microbiome that lives in our gut, however, we don't often talk about the cells that line our digestive tract, and the topic of today's blog is an important component of protein that these cells rely on: Glutamine.
Protein is made of amino acids, and glutamine is just one of twenty our bodies require. Glutamine, that amino acid from above is an important "food-stuff" for the cells of the gut lining. 20-30% of the bodies glutamine is used by these cells alone. It is an essential component for the maintenance of gut metabolism, and function especially during periods of trauma or when gut health is compromised.
If an individual is lacking adequate glutamine they may experience fatigue, weakened immune system, and even chronic inflammation. When gut cells lack the necessary glutamine, cell function decreases, and our first line of defense (in terms of immunity) can become severely compromised. Glutamine supports essential healing processes and works to regenerate and repair the cells of the intestine.
It is also an important amino acid used for removing toxins from our body - in this way it removes excess ammonia. It is also important in the production of a neurotransmitter known for calming effects on the body and mind in stressful situations (GABA).
Conditions (or habits) that can compromise gut health and function include:
Since glutamine is so important, even if you are not experiencing one of the above listed conditions or habits it is important to make sure your body is provided enough glutamine.
Food sources of glutamine include:
Dairy - ricotta cheese, cottage cheese, yogurt
Meat- chicken, beef, pork
Dark Leafy Greens - spinach, cabbage & parsley
You can buy glutamine as a supplement, If you walk into a healthfood store they will probably think you are trying to be a bodybuilder, that is why most people take glutamine. This amino acid won't bulk you up, instead it helps slow muscle catabolism (or breakdown), which is partly why it is so helpful for those intestinal cells. If you think that you would like to supplement with glutamine, all supplements are not created equal, and I recommend consulting your functional medicine dietitian (ME!) before adding it to your routine.
One of the key first steps I ask my clients to take is incorporating a small, healthy and reasonable bedtime snack. Why? To boost their metabolism! I know you are thinking, but bedtime snacks make you fat. Or: Don't eat past 8 pm.
Why are you thinking that? Because this is the information you have been fed by the diet industry. It is true choosing the wrong bedtime snack (ie icecream, cheesecake, or a slice of bread) may have negative effects on your waist-line, however choosing the right foods can lead to a metabolism slowly burning through the night.
In a Florida State University study, fit college-age men who consumed a 150-calorie carb- and protein-rich shake 30 to 60 minutes before bed increased their metabolisms. When researchers did the same experiment with young obese women, they saw improvements in blood pressure and metabolic function. With the men, they found it didn't even matter what the men were eating, they had increased metabolic function.
Why does increased metabolic function provide a benefit? If your metabolism is burning more calories it will be easier to capitalize on this for weight loss. Now, it didn't matter what these young, active men ate at night, they still had quicker burning metabolisms, you won't find me telling my clients to eat ANYTHING. Partly why the diet industry stressed no food late in the evening, is this is when people tend to reach for more caloric, fattier, more craving-driven choices that do not aid an individual in weight loss efforts.
Ready for some free tips? It's better NOT to choose fruit as a dessert right before bed. If you like fruit after dinner, eat it right after dinner (or with dinner). It is better to choose a mixture of a complex carb and protein. And it's best to eat this meal 2-3 hours after dinner but before bed. Examples of late night snacks I recommend to my patients:
I know for some this seems counter intuitive, however the metabolic benefits yielded from a portion of protein and some good carbohydrates being burned as fuel while you sleep provides you with an engine that is still slowly burning when you wake up.
This is part of why my clients have such success with weight loss. We are turning the diet world upside down. My clients are eating more than they were before and losing weight while not feeling hungry. It does take discipline to make the right choice of food right before bed, and I admit it isn't the sexiest thing to grab a handful of peanuts as you march towards your room, however you will feel better as your body changes as it takes advantage of your new metabolic rate.
Okay, maybe it has everything to do with diet, but perhaps not quite so directly. People always want to know that quick fix to losing weight and especially belly fat. I can tell you, a quick fix doesn't exist that will keep weight off. Sometimes people will ask me, "what's the number one thing you would have me do to lose weight?". When I respond, "sleep more", I often think people want to slug me or at the least they think I'm crazy. Admittedly, I am no sleep expert. However, I do know how poor sleep slows down weight loss.
The average American adult does not sleep enough. Most studies show that an individual needs 7-9 hours of sleep per night, which by and large, we are not getting. In 2013 the average American adult got 6.8 hours of sleep per night, in 1942 7.9 hours per night. So what?! You may be thinking. What could that have to do with weight loss, metabolism, or weight maintenance? SOOOO MUCH!
If you have sleep problems, you really have 24 hour problems. Your cognitive ability from storing and accessing memories is compromised. Your ability to be creative is impacted. It can affect your physical safety, social interactions, mental health, and for the purposes of this post: YOUR PHYSICAL HEALTH. People with sleep difficulties are more likely to be obese, they have an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, and higher levels of inflammation.
I know you are saying, come on, why is this the 1st thing you will recommend? Let's talk hormones. You have a hormone called 'Leptin', this is secreted to say "I'm full, I'm satisfied, You don't need any more food". It's your satiety hormone. And in sleep deprivation, you have LESS OF IT. That means your body has a decreased ability to know when you have eaten enough. You also have a hormone called 'Ghrelin'. I like to remember it as 'yellin ghrelin'. It's your hunger or "hanger'' hormone. It is secreted when your body is telling you, I need MORE food. This hormone is increased with sleep debt. That means you have more of it telling you eat, EAT, EAT! You also have an increase in the hormone cortisol. This is a stress hormone, and your body secretes more of it when you are stressed, or when you are sleep deprived. It tells your body to STORE BELLY FAT!
So poor sleep = hormones telling you YOU HAVEN"T EATEN ENOUGH, YOU NEED TO EAT MORE, AND STORE BELLY FAT. No wonder this is the first thing I will recommend to someone.
Simply by adding 30-40 minutes of sleep per night will affect a cascade of hormones that help you decide when and how much to eat. Aside from hormones, motivation to exercise is shown to decrease with lack of sleep, and poorer performance with less sleep. One study showed sleep deprived people eat an average of 263 calories (for men) and 329 calories (for women) more per day than their less sleep deprived selves. At the end of a week that could be the difference of an additional pound gained.
That 30-40 minutes of extra sleep may pay more dividends in terms of weight goals than 30-40 minutes at the gym. What! Yes, you read that right, if I had to choose between gym time or sleep, Sleep would win every time. You will be rewarded with better hormone balances, better food choices, and being more effective with tasks at hand.
Here are some tips to improve your sleep hygiene.
1)limit light at night, set your phone to limit blue light or take it out of the room altogether
2) take time to wind down, do relaxing activities before bed, and limit conversations about stressful things in your life, avoid task oriented activities
3) set up an ideal bedroom (cool, dark, quiet, clean, no clock, good mattress, no pets)
4) When you wake up, try to get in full spectrum light for 30 minutes first thing in the morning like 1-2 hours of waking up (get outside in the sun)
Sleep and stress management is a HUGE part of weight management. If you have any more questions about sleep or weight loss, please consider my weight loss coaching program. We will train your metabolism to chug along at the fastest pace possible.
Caitlin Johnson is a dietitian, wife, lover of ice cream, chef wannabe, California-girl, Christian, liver eating, "food-avore."
218 W. Carmen Lane, Suite 108
Santa Maria, California 93458
Hours: Tues and Thurs 9-5 PST