Dr. Will Cole is a favorite pro here at TCM and a health advisor to Gwyneth Paltrow, Cameron Diaz, Sophia Bush, and more. A leading functional medicine practitioner and New York Times bestselling author, Will has dedicated his life to teaching people to apply skepticism to nutritional trends and, instead, pay closer attention to their intuition.
His new book, Gut Feelings, Dr. Cole demystifies the gut-brain connection and provides a framework to repair the relationship between what you eat and how you feel.
In this excerpt, he outlines the benefits of whole food carbs for stress and anxiety, how fruits and veggies can impact your mood, and provides a full list of produce to add to your meal plans in meaningful ways…
Carbohydrates—*Not* Your Mortal Enemy
If you’ve read anything about nutrition lately, there’s a good chance you left thinking that carbs are your mortal enemy. As has happened many times before—such as when we vilified anything with fat in the 1980s and 1990s—we’re currently in a phase of making carbs our mortal enemy. But I want it on record right here and right now that carbs are not your enemy. While I agree that as humans, we are eating way too many carbs on average—mostly in the form of added sugars, refined grains, and simple carbs—carbohydrates aren’t inherently bad. In fact, when it comes to your health and happiness, carbs are pretty darn important. Let me explain.
Carbs make you happy. And I’m not talking about the consumption of mass amounts of sugar or white bread making you feel good at the moment. Carbohydrates help your body produce important brain chemicals like serotonin. Answer me this: Have you ever tried to cut out carbs and felt anxious and sad or been so amped at night you can’t sleep? That could be due to the sudden decrease in carbohydrates. Serotonin plays a key role in your nervous system and in your ability to sleep; it fends off negative thinking and anxiety. There is even a strong connection between carbs and sleep, because serotonin is made from carbohydrates but melatonin—also known as your sleep hormone—is made from serotonin. Therefore, some people try to cut out all carbs too quickly or for too long and end up staring at the ceiling at night, overcome by anxious thoughts. Pretty interesting, isn’t it?
Fruits and Vegetables—Fiber and Polyphenols
Fruits and vegetables are full of beneficial nutrients, antioxidants, and beneficial fibers that feed your gut and your brain, which means a healthier gut-feeling connection. Study after study shows that if you want a healthy gut and a healthy brain, these plant-based foods are key. For example, a systematic review that analyzed the results of almost 6,000 studies found that people with a high total intake of vegetables and fruits seem to experience higher levels of optimism and self-efficacy. This may be the first time you’re hearing the word self-efficacy, but it means “an individual’s belief in his or her capacity to execute behaviors necessary to produce specific performance attainments,” as defined by the American Psychological Association. In other words, eating your fruits and veggies is linked to a higher likelihood of believing in your own strengths and abilities. That gives new meaning to the phrase plant powered, doesn’t it? Even more, the same review showed that high fruit and vegetable intake is associated with lower levels of psychological distress and depressive symptoms. Another study showed that people who eat at least 470 grams of fruits and vegetables a day had 10 percent lower stress levels than those who consumed only half of that amount. For reference, 470 grams of blueberries is about 2.7 cups!
Dr Will Cole Gut Feelings
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The sneaky but great thing about fruits and vegetables is that the more of them you eat, the less room you have for the other stuff, like refined sugar and inflammatory oils. As you’ll see in chapter 8, the foundation of all the recipes in this book is made of colorful fruits and vegetables. Why? Because they really are the key to a long and healthy life. And the good news is that, unlike with carbs and fats, it’s hard to go wrong with fruits and vegetables. In fact, the key to healthy fruit and veggie intake is consuming a diverse array. Why? Because the bacteria in your gut feed off the fibers, called prebiotic fibers, found in these plant-based foods. A study published in Nutrients showed that a diet rich in vegetables and other high-fiber plant-based foods improves gut bacterial diversity within two weeks. I find that patients who are trying to heal their sensitive guts often do better at the beginning with more soft, cooked vegetables, like soups and stews. Digesting food requires a lot of energy, so this makes it easier for your gut to process everything and focus on healing instead. Even fruits can be cooked down into a compote, making them gentler on a healing digestive system.
We tend to focus on the evil side of carbohydrates, like how they can spike your blood sugar or be addictive, while ignoring the clear benefits of having some type of carb in your diet. The key to healthy carbohydrate intake is to focus on healthy, nutrient-rich carbs over empty, blood-spiking carbs like simple sugars and refined grains, which is what we’re doing in the 21-Day Gut-Feeling Plan. For patients who have blood sugar problems, macro-stacking can be a great way to bring clean wholefood carbohydrates into your meals. Macro-stacking involves consuming carbs, such as fruit or potatoes, after proteins and fats. In this way, you can buffer any blood sugar spike that can happen even with healthy carbs.
Below you’ll find a great list of healthy fruits, vegetables, and gluten-free grains. These foods are high in antioxidants, fiber, and some whole-food-based carbohydrates that are key to a stress-free diet.
Garbanzo beans (chickpeas)
Great northern beans
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This excerpt from Gut Feelings is copyrighted © 2023 by Will Cole. Published by goop press/Rodale Books, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC. Dr Will Cole Gut Feelings
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