Beyond the Plate: Unveiling the Unconventional Foods Impacting Your Gut

Beyond the Plate: Unveiling the Unconventional Foods Impacting Your Gut

Jade Mesquita is a board-certified Holistic Nutritionist and Clinical Herbalist that specializes in gut health. She is also a Restorative Wellness Practitioner and completed The Art and Science of Gastrointestinal Healing.

Leslie: Can you tell us how you began your journey? How did you end up working in this field?

Jade: So when I was in high school, I used to have debilitating stomach pains. I would unbuckle my jeans, every sixth and seventh period, every single day, cancel after school plans, and just lay on my bed at home crying to my mom. We went to countless doctors, all of them kind of gave me the same answer where they were like, “Here's a pamphlet. You should start learning how to eat healthier”, but never really gave me tangible tips. It ended up coming back. I went vegetarian for a little bit. That was honestly one of the worst decisions I made for myself. I started having thyroid concerns and more gut problems. And then– I've always been very fascinated with health and nutrition– I went to college, not having anything to do with health and nutrition. That field, what I did in school, just turned out not to be my passion. So I ended up going back to school, and now I love what I do: I try to teach people and help people in the same position that I was in. 

We didn't really have Instagram back then, or I guess we did, but it wasn't the Instagram we have now. It was just people taking photos of the beach and that kind of stuff. So there wasn't that much access to educational content.

Leslie: So really quick before we dive into the gut issues, you mentioned really briefly that you went vegetarian for a minute and that it was not a good decision. Can you just tell us more about that, because I'm sure there are a lot of people out there that are like, “Wait, I thought being vegetarian was the healthiest thing”. So just tell us a little bit more about that, and then we’ll dive into the good stuff.

Jade: Yeah, so there's two sides to being vegetarian– there's the one side where it's like “I'm eating a lot of plants” which is the healthier side, and then there's the side where it’s just, “I'm just gonna substitute meat with a bunch of fake meat products”, and these fake meat products are essentially filled with just a bunch of crap. You just look at the back of the ingredients of a Beyond Beef burger, and you just see a laundry list of things that are just not good for you. I think the only good thing there is water, and then the rest of the ingredients are soybean oil, flavorings, food dyes, and whatnot. So I was in the middle. I was eating a lot of plants and fruits and just generally a lot of healthy things. But then I was also substituting for fake beef, and I wasn't getting proper nutrition. 

My blood work was low on protein, which is obvious because plants don't contain all of the essential amino acids that meats do. Even the protein found in plants or the vitamins and minerals found in plants are great, but they lack a lot of the bioavailable nutrients.

A lot of plants have anti-nutrients, which is their protective mechanism to not get eaten, and that lowers the nutrients in our bodies like calcium, for example, is a big one. Someone can say, “There's iron and spinach, there's iron in spirulina”, but those are non-heme sources of iron; so, they're not as bioavailable as heme iron found in beef. So I was just overall lacking a lot of nutrients and very low on protein, my thyroid started struggling, my hair would just fall out in clumps. I think that was my biggest, “I think I need to eat meat”, just so I can have my hair back. 

So once I went to school– because when I started going to school again, I was still vegetarian– that completely changed my mind. I was like, what am I doing? I'm just starving myself of essential nutrients and the healthiest foods on the planet are things like meats.

Leslie: So, getting back to the gut problems, tell us about what clients come to you with– what are some typical issues or symptoms that you hear about? And what would give someone a clue that they need to look into this?

Jade: Okay, so we have our common symptoms that people directly relate to gut health, which is the gas, constipation, diarrhea, and acid reflux. But then we have symptoms that are related to gut health that a lot of people don't kind of connect the dots with. They could be fatigue after eating; poor sleep; metabolic issues; skin conditions like acne, eczema, and psoriasis; low mood; brain fog; poor sleep; and even autoimmune conditions. All of that is related to gut health.

If my clients come to me with a thyroid concern, for instance, I will always take the gut health approach. First, there's no sense in trying to pack on nutrients for your thyroid if you’re not absorbing them. So I start them off with focusing on a gut protocol, and then we continue on with whatever their concern is. Again, if it's a thyroid concern, focus on the gut and then that’s helping with the liver. Essentially, when you're working on the gut, you’re also kind of working on the liver at the same time. But with pretty much all of my clients, I start them off with the gut first.

Leslie: One thing you kind of touched on really briefly was mindful eating. How does that play into this?

Jade: So, you have two modes of your nervous system, your parasympathetic which is your rest and digest, and your sympathetic which is your fight, flight, and freeze. For a majority of us, I would say due to what's going on in the world– work, stress, bills, inflation, all of that– we’re constantly in that fight, flight, and freeze mode of our nervous system. Based on the name, that's the opposite of where we want to be, which is rest and digest. So we're either sitting with our food, on the computer working, or in a rush– we're eating while we're driving somewhere or we're at the dinner table and we're arguing with our family and our friends over things when we're eating. That, again, puts you in that fight, that sympathetic nervous system. So mindful eating just goes back to taking a deep breath and forcing your body to relax. And I think deep breathing does an excellent job at this. You want to be eating in a calm state. Another amazing way to trigger your parasympathetic response is listening to birds.

Leslie: So then, what foods do you suggest for clients to add into their diets?

Jade: Mainly gelatinous meats, which are very beneficial for gut health. So that is bone-in cuts or just meat with lots of connective tissue. They contain all three collagens and other compounds, like your minerals and amino acids such as glycine, which place such a strong role in fortifying and repairing the gut’s protective barrier. This helps prevent leaky gut and reduce inflammation. So I'm a big fan of gelatinous meats.

Sometimes amino acids in excess can be inflammatory when we don't balance them out with other needed amino acids like glycine, proline, and glutamine. If someone's here listening and they're like, “I eat a steak or I eat ground beef and I don't feel well, instantly my stomach starts hurting or I just know that doesn't pair well with me”. Then, next time you go to eat, pair it with a cup of bone broth which does contain all those collagens and amino acids in there, and see how you feel. Because sometimes it's just too much of certain amino acids and it's not being balanced out with the other amino acids and collagen.

Leslie: So, it's funny when you were talking about eliminating certain foods, I didn't hear you mention some of the usual culprits like alcohol, caffeine, and processed foods. What's your take on all that?

Jade: No, 100% alcohol needs to go. But my take on coffee is hard because I'm a huge coffee drinker, I love my ritual of my morning coffee. My rule with that is to drink only after breakfast. Always. And you can also make it a little bit more supportive by adding some whole milk in there, or if you're going non-dairy, then some sort of fat in there. And again, going back to the collagen, I add a scoop of collagen into my coffee as well for some extra support.

For clients, it depends on the person. I have a lot of clients who are like, “Please don't tell me, I'll do anything. Just not my cup of coffee. Please don't take that from me”. And I'm like, “Okay, that's fine. But we're just gonna have some rules to it. It'll be after breakfast, never before” And if they're in a state where their digestive system is just not having it, I would say it would be beneficial to cut it out for a little bit to see. But I kind of leave that to the client because I know, coffee can sometimes be untouchable.

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