“...You could point to pretty much any chronic health condition you can trace back to the gut.”.
In this episode, we spoke with Alicia Galvin about the significance of the foods we eat and how it affects our gastrointestinal system. We discuss the impact of nutrition on the gut microbiome and highlighted the potential complications that may arise if we don’t be mindful of what we eat.
Alicia Galvin is an integrative and functionally trained Registered Dietitian and Clinical Science Liaison with Microbiome Labs. She is also owner of her private practice and has practiced in the Dallas/Fort Worth area since 2008. She is also Co-Founder of SIBO Academy, an online educational training platform for nutrition professionals in the realm of functional GI disorders.
Shireen: In honor of National Nutrition Month, join us as we speak with experts to share their insights, tips, and strategies to help you make informed food choices and maintain a healthy lifestyle. Throughout this month, we’ll cover topics such as how to avoid a Vitamin B12 deficiency in plant-based diets, the impact of genetics on your nutrition, and much, much more.
Stay with us.
In this episode, we speak to Alicia Galvin about the significance of the foods we eat and how it affects our GI system. We discuss the impact of nutrition on the gut microbiome and highlight the potential complications that may arise if we don’t be mindful of what we eat. Stay tuned.
Alicia Galvin is an integrative and functionally trained registered dietitian and clinical science liaison with Microbiome Labs. She is also owner of her private practice and has practiced in the Dallas Fort Worth area since 2008. She’s also co-founder of SIBO Academy, an online educational training platform for nutrition professionals in the realm of functional GI disorders. Welcome, Alicia.
Alicia: Thank you. I’m happy to be here.
Shireen: So, Alicia, share with us your journey to becoming the quote, the GI functional dietitian. What does that mean?
Alicia: Yeah. So, I started out at a conventional, just the traditional path of a dietitian. I worked in clinical for a while. I worked in a hospital setting. I actually worked for a while with a home infusion center that dealt with patients who couldn’t eat normally. So, they were on tube feeds and TPN.
And so that really just opened my eyes to just the importance of the GI tract. What can go wrong? What can happen if it goes wrong? What happens if some of these different GI conditions are allowed to progress to being more severe and, what that could look like for people and their quality of life.
And so, during that time, I actually went back to get my master’s degree in counseling because I was very passionate about integrating my counseling degree. And counseling skills with helping people with their diet and nutrition changes. And during that time, I had the opportunity to actually open up my private practice and I just found that GI disorders, things like IBS, Celiac, Crohn’s, IBD, that they are just, they are so rampant and, and especially IBS.
IBS affects about 10 to 15% of the US population, which is quite a large amount of people. And those are just the people who are going and getting an actual diagnosis that doesn’t count the people who are just quietly struggling with GI issues and not being diagnosed.
So, you could argue that that percentage is actually higher. And it doesn’t really, what I have found is that it doesn’t matter what area that I would practice in. It seemed like no matter what people were coming to me for, they were struggling with some level of GI dysfunction. So that really prompted me to want to learn more, to get more training to get additional training in integrative and functional nutrition, which is a whole other realm of training for dietitians that is thinks more about how do all the dis different systems of the body work.
How do they all connect to each other versus looking at them individually? And in that course of that training, the gut is where the source of health really starts. Everything starts in the gut. The gut is actually termed our second brain. And so that further just made me realize how much I wanted to specialize in GI health and be able to integrate all the different systems and understand how the gut affects the thyroid, how the gut affects the brain, the cardiovascular system, and then vice versa.
How do these other conditions then affect the gut in this bidirectional relationship? And so it’s been that journey. That was how it started, and it was through that journey and through my training and then working with clients that I then began to specialize in and really become passionate about GI health and helping people to learn the skills and educate them, so they have the knowledge to understand how they can take care of their gut health.
Shireen: You mentioned something around the second brain. Can you talk a little bit more around why GI health is important and what that relationship is?
Alicia: So, there’s actually there’s a nerve, it’s called the vagus nerve, and it literally connects the base of the brainstem to the GI tract. The vagus nerve actually gets its name, if you think about vagabond and the wanderer, that’s how it gets its name. The vagus nerve because it kind of wanders, it starts in the brain, but then it actually feathers out. It affects the heart; it affects the gut. All different organs within the gut, the liver, the pancreas, the gallbladder, the intestines, the stomach it actually affects the lungs.
So, it’s a nerve. It’s one of your main nerves that really connects the brain to the whole rest of the peripheral system. Including the GI tract and there’s a whole nervous system. We think about the central nervous system, but we also have the enteric nervous system, which is the enteric means gut or the GI tract.
So, it’s all the nervous system within the gut. And when you look at the signaling pathways, you actually have more nerve and neurological signals that go from the gut to the brain than you have from the brain to the gut. The gut also is a place where you have different neurotransmitters that are produced like serotonin.
Serotonin is one of the neurotransmitters that we think about in the brain. It’s your feel good neurotransmitter. It helps with things like sleep. It, it converts to melatonin, but we also have a very large percentage of serotonin that’s made it within our GI tract. And then we have the whole, so there’s the nervous system, and then we have the whole complex of our microbiome.
And there’s this whole world of what’s called psychobiotics that is gaining more and more attention, and it’s basically these probiotics, these different bacteria that are within our GI tract that play a huge role in that communication and that signaling from our GI tract up to the brain. So, there’s this whole world of research that’s really evolving and has been evolving over the last several years that looks at this connection between the gut and brain health and mood health and also certain memory conditions like Alzheimer’s and dementia. And just looking to see how much of this world within our GI tract and how that is affecting our brain.
Shireen: Oh, that is so fascinating. And can you help us understand? And just going back a quick step, how does nutrition impact the gut microbiome?
Alicia: So nutrition is everything. Our microbes are living organisms. They like to feed off of certain nutrients just as we as humans like to feed off of certain nutrients. The primary fuel for our microbiome is fiber.
So, all different types of fibers. So, fiber from nuts and seeds and fruits and vegetables and whole grains and, and all of that is fuel source for our bacteria. Unfortunately, in America even for those of us that in that tend to eat pretty healthily, we tend to be very deficient in fiber intake. The goal for fiber is between 25 and 35 grams of fiber a day.
But there’s a very large percentage of the population that is not meeting that. So, what that means is that we are essentially not fueling our gut bacteria in the way that we really should be feeding, because that is what they feed off of. And so, if they are not getting the right fuel sources, then they can’t do all of their metabolic functions efficiently.
And part of what they do when they consume that fiber is they give off these very. Inflammatory, very beneficial byproducts called short-chain fatty acids. One of the main short-chain fatty acids is fatty acid called butyrate, which is the fuel. It feeds our colon cells. So, when we eat fiber, and that fiber’s going through our GI system.
Bacteria ferment it, they eat it, they give off these byproducts like butyrate, and that butyrate feeds our colon cells, and it helps to maintain our colonic health. So, things like low butyrate status has been linked with IBD colon cancer, that type of thing. And butyrate also has a big part to play with insulin signaling and helping with managing and regulating blood glucose levels and having a tie-in with things like diabetes.
Butyrate also affects the brain. It goes through our blood brain or the blood-brain barrier of the brain. And it can actually affect brain health. So, if we don’t have enough fiber, if we don’t have the right kinds of foods and those whole foods that we’re consuming to help to fuel and maintain a really good robust gut microbiome, then we aren’t getting all these beneficial byproducts that have really systemic influence on our health.
Shireen: And so, let’s talk about, and I do want to come back to fiber in just a quick second. What factors upset a person’s GI tract. So, I want to start there. And then how does someone know they’re having problems specifically with their GI system?
Alicia: Yeah, so if you’re not eating fiber, then there’s probably other foods that are playing a role in its place that are being consumed in its place.
So, your simple carbohydrates, things like sugar, highly refined carbohydrates, highly processed foods those types of carbohydrates actually decrease our fiber diversity and that decreases our butyrate production within our gut. The other thing is certain chemicals, so food additives, food preservatives, those have been shown to really disrupt the gut microbiome.
Chemicals like glyphosates, so the pesticides that are sprayed on a lot of our crops, a lot of our grains and legumes like soy, those are all, and wheat, are all sprayed with glyphosate. And glyphosate has been shown to also change the gut microbiome to decrease our diversity of our microbes. To lower our short chain fatty acid production, as well as to change the pH level within our intestinal lumen.
And that change of pH that acidity level when that shifts and that environment changes, it also tends to promote the growth of more negative bacteria. The ones that we don’t really want to have a lot of. All these other factors that we can get in our food and food additives and processed foods. Those have a very detrimental effect on our GI tract and our gut health.
Shireen: You mentioned fiber. What sources of food really keep our gut balanced?
Alicia: So, you want to focus on whole food as much as possible. So whole fruits and vegetables, whole nuts and seeds or nut butters. Things like flax seeds and chia seeds and hemp seeds. Those are all really great. Things like beans and legumes and dips, like hummus and bean dips and whatnot, as long as they’re primarily just the beans and some spices, those are all really great healthy foods like avocados that are really high in good, healthy fats.
There’s actually some research on Omega-3’s., And Omega-3’s playing a role as almost, not necessarily as a prebiotic fiber, but more as also a fuel to help feed these good bacteria. So, making sure that you’re eating things like, good quality cold fish. With good omega cold water fish with that high Omega-3 content. So those are the types of foods that you really want to try to be focusing on.
Shireen: You mentioned the legumes, but you also mentioned that it gets sprayed with some stuff. Are there certain types of legumes we should look for?
Alicia: So pinto beans, black beans are great. Lentils are great. Chickpeas are great. White beans, great northern beans. Any of those types of legumes are wonderful. Soybean you want to try to get organic. So, if you are going to eat soy, you definitely want to get organic as much as possible just to reduce that pesticide load. So that could be another option as long as you’re choosing more of an organic type.
Shireen: Now, what major complications can result if we are not mindful of what we eat to keep our gut healthy?
Alicia: So how much time do we have…?
Shireen: in two minutes tell us all the different complications, right?
Alicia: In two minutes tell us all the different complications! So yeah, it’s really, you could point to pretty much any chronic health condition you can trace back to gut.
So cardiovascular disease that can be traced back to the gut. There’s a lot of data on that. There’s actually a certain compound called TMAO. Which is a compound that is produced from our gut microbiome. That if you don’t have the right types of gut bacteria in there, and they’re producing this TMAO From different foods that we’re eating, then that can have a very negative effect on our vascular health.
And it can lead to things like atherosclerosis, which can then lead to cardiovascular disease. PCOS, endometriosis, there’s a huge growing body of research on the connection between altered microbiomes states and poor gut health. And PCOS and endometriosis, which affects many, many women and can lead to fertility challenges in that population.
IBS has a root, a large proportion of IBS patients actually have something called SIBO, which stands for small intestinal bacterial overgrowth. And it’s essentially when you have this imbalance and this overgrowth of normally occurring bacteria within the GI tract. They’re just in a much higher level and a much higher count than what is typically normal.
And when that happens, eating certain foods and fibers actually can cause a lot of gas, can cause a lot of bloating, diarrhea, constipation, abdominal pain, nausea, reflux. So that’s a large percentage of the IBS population that could be struggling with those types of symptoms. And actually an underlying root cause of that could be a gut microbiome imbalance.
IBD, Crohn’s, those also have research tied to them with microbiome imbalances diabetes. The list goes on and on. So really pick any chronic condition and…Alzheimer’s, like I mentioned. Alzheimer’s and dementia and brain health. Huge correlation with that too. So, if you don’t take care of your gut, If you don’t take care of the gut microbiome and fueling it with the right types of foods, then the risk of chronic health disease is definitely tends to be, when you look across the literature, tends to be much higher and increase in that percentage population.
Shireen: And what I’m hearing you say is kind of like we are what we eat. Like what you’re putting in has a huge impact on your health. And so how does gut health change with age? Are there any age groups that need to be more mindful of their dietary choices for gut health?
Alicia: So, for those of us that are over age 65, as you age, what happens is your natural digestive secretions, so gastric acid output, your enzyme output tends to decrease.
So, people who, as they age, are gastric acid barrier is less. So, what that translates to is you have to have a proper pH, a proper acidic environment within the stomach to activate the digestive enzymes that help you break down protein. So, when you have lower stomach acidity, you can’t activate those enzymes.
So, people tend to have a harder time with breaking down protein and being able to digest and absorb those proteins. Now that doesn’t always translate to digestive issues, but we also know that as we age, muscle tone tends to decrease. The protein needs in the elderly population is actually higher than younger population because to account for that protein loss and also that muscle loss.
So that’s one thing to keep in mind that as you get older. I actually recommend for some of my older patients to take digestive enzymes with their meals to not necessarily work on any sort of digestive symptoms, because they might have perfectly symptom wise, a perfectly functioning digestive system, but they may not be absorbing and digesting their proteins as efficiently as they could. And so, I usually recommend that, that they do supplement with those just to account for that decrease in digestive output.
Shireen: And then how do food allergies or sensitivities such as lactose intolerance, you mentioned celiac impact the GI health, and what can people do to manage these conditions through their diets?
Alicia: So, food allergies, a lot of times people think of that when they’re kids and usually that is the case that most of the time if you’re going to have a food allergy, you’re going to identify it younger in childhood. However, clinically there are adults who do have food allergies that either develop over time or that they never really were able to identify.
And so that can be an issue for people who are adults is to have these food allergies or food sensitivities. Now, a food allergy and a food sensitivity are very different. A food allergy is typically a very it’s a quick response. You eat a food and usually within, 20, 30 minutes to an hour, you’re having a reaction.
It might be vomiting, it might be a skin breakout, it might be just some digestive issues; bloating, it could be a headache. So, there can be a few different reasons for why you might feel an allergy type reaction. Food sensitivities are much harder to figure out because they can have a delayed response, so they can have up to 72 hours of a delayed response, which means you could be eating something for dinner on a Friday night and not know the effects of it until Sunday or Monday.
And so, it’s much, much harder to identify a food sensitivity than a food allergy. There are food logs, looking at journals, looking to see if there’s patterns. Working with a trained nutrition professional who’s able to help you maybe go back and look to see if there are those patterns.
I mean, that can be helpful. IGE food allergy testing is available. For through most labs that you can do to see if you have any food allergies to anything that’s a typical either a skin prick test or a blood test, is how those are typically done. Food sensitivity testing is a little bit more controversial.
There’s some pros and cons to it for sure. But you know, for some, if you have a trained professional that you’re working with and you discuss that with them and they feel that that’s appropriate, then there are a few options out there. But it can sometimes be a challenging process to figure out without any sort of guidance. So, I do recommend working with someone who has training in that realm.
Shireen: You know, knowing everything that you know about nutrition and how it affects GI health. What are, if there are any, foods that you say absolutely no to?
Alicia: Oh, that’s so hard because even though I talk about the whole foods and stuff, I do promote that there is balance.
I think that it would be totally unrealistic to say everyone, anyone’s going to be a hundred percent on any one thing. So, I do, I do promote the, you know, 80-20 rule or the 90-10 rule that most of the time you’re eating well and the other times you can have wiggle room for fun. I think the one thing that I just don’t see having any real positive benefit in any certain way, doesn’t it provide any nutritional value is sugar.
The added sugars, high sugar foods, trans fats. I mean, that has absolutely no place in the diet because we know now that it is horrible for cardiovascular disease. You really shouldn’t be getting any trans fats, and that’s going to be your partially hydrogenated soybean oils or hydrogenated oils that you’ll find in a lot of your packaged processed foods and breads and crackers and baked goods.
So trans fats have no place in the diet. You should absolutely avoid those. I think sugar and moderation, but I think the problem is that sugar hides in a lot of different foods that we don’t think about. So, it’s not just your candies and your cookies and your cakes. It’s also the salad dressings and the breads and the granola bars and the cereals that are promoted as being healthy.
And so, I think sometimes people end up getting a lot more sugar in their diet than they actually realize. And so that’s something to look at is, if there’s areas that you can cut the sugar that maybe you’re not offering any sort of pleasure. It’s like everyone likes to have a little bit of a bite of cookie or a little piece of dark chocolate, and that’s fine. Like, enjoy your sugar that way, but don’t have sugar in all the other areas too. So that you’re over the course of the day getting a large amount of that added sugar in.
Shireen: So, the action item would be very mindful. Read the nutrition label, understand your ingredients of any kind of processed food so you always kind of know you’re aware of the hidden sugars.
Alicia: If you see sugar as one, if you look at the ingredient list and if you see cane sugar maple sugar, tapioca syrup, you know any of the syrups or the sugar type, even coconut sugar. If you see that as part of the top three ingredients of the product, you really shouldn’t be eating that product because the ingredients are listed in order of the having the highest quantity in the food to the least amount. So, the higher up in the list that you see sugar, especially if it’s in those first three ingredients you really want to try to avoid those kinds of things as much as possible.
Shireen: You mentioned looking at all the different things that poor GI health can lead to. Real quickly in a minute here, Alicia, would you tell us what are some indicators that we should look at? To say, okay, this is consistent for me so there’s probably something going on in my GI. Where does a person go next? So, what are those indicators and then where do we go to get tested or just understand if this is a GI problem?
Alicia: Yeah, so if you’re struggling with…you know what so what’s normal? So, let’s just talk about what’s normal first. So normal is you should have one to two solid bowel movements every day, not every other day.
That’s not normal. You want to be moving your bowels every day. It should look like just a nice log, and it shouldn’t have a bunch of pebbles. I know we’re talking about poop here, but you know, got to look at your poop to know the health of your gut. It’s important. It should be brown. It shouldn’t be yellow. It shouldn’t be green. It shouldn’t be really loose.
So, every day having a good, healthy bowel movement, feeling like you’re fully eliminating, Anything less than that is not healthy, and that’s considered constipation. But I say that because there is a lot of people, I’ve worked with a lot of clients who they just think it’s normal to go twice a week or three times a week, and that’s not the way that it should be.
So that would be one sign. The other thing would be if you’re experiencing a lot of gas and a lot of bloating every day, and if it’s worsening as the day goes on, that is not normal. So having a little bit of gas after you’ve eaten a pot of beans or having a little bit of gas after you’ve eaten a bunch of vegetables with broccoli and cabbage and cauliflower, that might be normal.
But what’s not normal is waking up in the morning feeling okay, and then just feeling like you’re having this gas that’s building up, or this bloating that’s just building up as the day goes on. That’s not normal. And if it’s happening every single day that’s typically going to be a sign of some sort of an imbalance.
So those would be the, some of the main ones. If you’re having any abdominal cramping, obviously, if you’re having these chronic issues, talk with your GI doctor. Get it evaluated, make sure that you get medically evaluated. To ensure that there isn’t a medical condition that’s going on.
But if all of that checks out and if you’re still struggling, and if you still feel like you haven’t quite gotten to the root of the issue, then that’s when, I would recommend seeking out a professional. Maybe whether it be a functional trained dietitian or a dietitian who specializes in GI disorders.
Because we’re trained with that food component too. To help you with navigating the next steps for figuring out what could be going on if it’s more of a food issue. As long as all the medical has been ruled out, you’ve been fully evaluated by a medical professional.
Shireen: Makes sense. Okay. And so, with that, Alicia, we’re unfortunately toward the end of the episode at this point. Can you tell our listeners how can they connect with you and just learn more about your work?
Alicia: Yeah, so my website is aliciagalvinrd.com. So, you can find my website there. That has information about my philosophy and my work. And so that would be the best way to look me up.
Shireen: Okay, great. Thank you so much, Alicia, for your time. We really appreciate it. And to our listeners, you know what to do next. So, we’re going to continue the conversation on our social media, on Facebook at Yumlish and even on Instagram @Yumlish.
Find us there and answer this quick question. Share with us any foods that you say absolutely no to or will say no to, or 80-20 split two after you listen to this episode. So, head over to our Facebook on Instagram, find this podcast post and go comment below and let us know what are those foods for you?
What are those foods that you’re going to start looking at a little bit more closely and understanding exactly how to balance your gut health better. And with that, thank you so much, Alicia. I appreciate your time.
Alicia: Thank you so much for having me.