Jenna Volpe is a holistic-minded dietitian, functional nutritionist, clinical herbalist, and energy healing practitioner who helps people “crack their code” so they can finally address long-standing health issues at the root-cause level.
As a “wounded healer” who has gone through her own gut-healing journey for the better, being forced to navigate her way through the mainstream healthcare system at an early age and finding great success, Jenna’s goal is for her first-hand lessons, wisdom, and insights acquired through those experiences to now help to pave the way for many others.
Jenna is a believer in the power of “food as medicine” and the ability of the body to heal itself.
As a student of life, Jenna practices what she preaches and makes time each week to keep up with continuing education so she can stay updated on the latest cutting-edge research for her clients and community!
In this episode, we discuss how to get to the root cause of mystery health ailments by diving deep into your microbiome and gut health. Learn about pre and probiotics and how healing your gut can heal your body overall.
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Welcome to the Sugar Solve podcast where we're demystifying health one gram of sugar at a time. From eliminating excess sugar to cutting back on carbs, diving into keto, or becoming a devout vegan, today's diet landscape can give you a sugar crash just thinking about it. Sugar Solves is here to demystify all the nutrition and health trends you're bombarded with on a daily basis, bringing you unbiased insight, research and real world experiences from experts in the field of medicine, nutrition, health and wellness. You'll gain knowledge and clarity around the biggest trends in health and nutrition and leave each week feeling empowered to make informed decisions in your own life, to optimize your diet and personal wellness for longevity, long lasting energy immunity, improved focus and performance that will leave you feeling better day in and day out. The truth won't be sugar coated here. Welcome back to the Sugar Salt podcast. Today we'll be speaking with Jenna Eveleth, who is a holistic minded dietitian, functional nutritionist, clinical herbalist and energy healing practitioner who helps people to crack their code so they can finally address longstanding health issues at the root cause level. We're talking all about probiotics prebiotics and how we can maintain a healthy gut microbiome.
Hi Jenna. Welcome to the Sugar Solve podcast. Can you give us some background about yourself and what you do?
Sure. Yeah. Thanks for having me. So I am a holistic and functional dietitian by trade. I also am trained in herbal medicine and the healing arts, and I do have a brick and mortar practice in Austin, Texas, as well as I did have a brick and mortar in Boston, Massachusetts, before moving to Texas. But yeah, I've been in this field now. I've had the private practice for eight years, which is crazy. It went by so fast. But yeah, in my practice I help people with different types of digestive health issues and certain types of autoimmune disorders that can be supported with nutrition, basically. And then I've worked with a lot of other people as well, but really the big underlying theme is really helping people to get to the root cause and use food as medicine approach to get to start feeling better.
Have you always been interested in this field, or do you have some personal stories that kind of led you down this career path?
Oh, boy. So it's funny. Like, I actually grew up when I was a kid, I had the biggest sweet tooth and I was like, junk food junky, like, didn't eat vegetables at all, only a pop tarts and whatever else, you know. And then all of a sudden in high school, I was volunteering at a coffee shop and a customer came in and ordered a cup of green tea. This was back in 2004, so it was before green tea was on the market being promoted as like a super food. And I was like, Oh, that's interesting. I don't even know if we have it, but made him the cup of tea. He started talking about antioxidants, which again I had never heard of. And he was like sharing all of this information about all these studies in Japan on green tea, antioxidants, everything from cancer prevention to gut health to just reducing the aging process. And I was like, Oh, that's really interesting. I didn't know we could do anything about any of that. And so something just kind of clicked and went home that day, started researching about antioxidants, fruits, vegetables, started eating fruits and vegetables after that, and it just kind of spiraled from there. So that was what got me into the field of nutrition, was just the idea that, wow, we're actually really empowered. There's a lot we can do to to feel better.
So, yeah, I feel like a lot of us have that like a ha moment, like where we grew up eating all this sugar and just kind of like refined foods and stuff. And we didn't really obviously we didn't know better because also our parents generation, all of that, they grew up like totally different time. You know, food was never villainized in so many ways, especially sugar and carbs and things like that. And then as we start to like have that education or have those where we're curious about it, we see it, then something switches and we're like, maybe there's something wrong with the way I've been eating for so many years.
It's so fascinating. It's like food has evolved so much from great grandparents to grandparents growing their own food, and then the baby boomers kind of that was kind of when the fast food industry, I think, was introduced and TV dinners started getting more popular. And but yeah, with every generation, it just kind of keeps spiraling or getting a lot more prevalent. But yeah, everything was pretty great until I was actually in almost finished with college when I started getting sick with some chronic health issues. And at that point I was already eating really healthy and doing all the things. But I think there was probably a lot of added sugar in my diet at the time and didn't realize, you know, there wasn't really much of an emphasis on sugar. There was and there wasn't, but it was more about like for diabetes or blood sugar control, that kind of stuff. And there was really at that time, even in college, there really wasn't much talk about like the gut, the gut, microbiome, things like that. Probiotic prebiotic foods. It was more about. You know, eating in a certain way that makes people feel better, which is so important, but more like an acute kind of level like symptom management.
And yeah, so with that said, I kind of was at a loss of what to do. And I hired a holistic nutrition coach as a nutrition professional. I was already coaching clients and working in a hospital, and I was actually a dietitian. By the time I decided to hire someone, I was like, You know, there's really a lot to learn about all of this holistic nutrition. So we work together, we overhauled my diet, and I definitely learned a whole lot more about sugar, and it was really eye opening. And I don't like to villainize sugar, you know, I still eat dessert every day, but the kinds of stuff I eat now are way different than what I was eating as a kid or even in college. So it's not so much that sugar is bad, it's just that, you know, we need to find our sweet spot, pun intended, because, yeah, sugar is, you know, whether people want to hear this or not, it does make a difference in a lot of situations for health conditions.
I think even throwing it back to our grandparents and things like that, it was a luxury fine. Types of sugar. So obviously natural sugars in fruit are completely different than these mechanically processed sugars and things that are used to preserve foods or to make up for the low fat claims and things like that. So I think it's just so different and then how those sugars or chemicals react in our body. You know, we're still learning about the effects, the long term effects.
Yeah, absolutely. And I mean, even just to to go on a quick tangent, right. The diet heart hypothesis, saturated fat fats were blamed as being the culprit for heart disease back in the 1960s. And so then, like you said, they started cutting all the fat out of the food and then loading it with sugar and salt. And then people just continue to get sicker and sicker. Because I mean, the problem is not fat. People have been eating fat since the beginning of time. And it's really about the bigger picture. I think people are just not eating nearly enough fruits and vegetables day to day. A whole other. Yeah.
So when we talk about like the microbiome, what exactly is that? So like when we're eating, what happens? Like we swallow the food, then what happens to our body? How do we start absorbing the nutrients and what happens when we are absorbing the not so good things like those processed sugars and stuff? How does that actually affect our entire digestive system and everything?
Oh my goodness. Yeah, so much to say about that. So I'll try to keep it keep it contained. But yeah, our microbiome is basically our ecosystem of microbes, which are bacteria and fungus and even viruses. Those are all microbes and they all live in our body. We probably have as many microbes in our body as we do human cells, if not more. And most of them live in our gut in the colon. So even though it sounds creepy and scary, we actually need them just as much as they need us. Most of them are good or most of them should be good. So the good bacteria are what people call the probiotics. Those are the supplements and all of that. There are so many different types of good bacteria and probiotics, and most of them actually coat the gut lining. They cover the mucous membrane of the gut lining to protect it. So they serve as a first line of defense where they're keeping bad stuff out and they're nourishing it and actually making nutrients and nourishing and supporting the gut lining. But what's happening is with each generation, and especially with the addition of all the added sugar into the food and even like overuse of antibiotics, I think is part of it too, and so many other factors. But with each generation, the microbiome is becoming less and less healthy at baseline to start it, right? So babies are born without any microbes in their gut and they get their microbes from mom. But with each generation they're starting off worse. And that's just an entire epidemic right now. But yeah, long story short, so we eat something and the good bacteria are supposed to help to break it down and digest our food. And they take what they need and they make it easier for us to digest and observe our food, our nutrients. And what's happening is when we don't have enough good bacteria, then it creates space for bad bacteria, harmful stuff to start over. Growing out of control, I don't know if that.
So when we eat like normal food, so how do we start getting that first dose? So babies obviously don't have anything if they have their mother's breast milk, things like that, they get that nutrients. But how do we start accumulating the good bacteria if we start out so fresh? How do we get that good bacteria? And is that in just typical foods like fruits and vegetables, where does all that come from?
Yeah. Great question, actually. It's supposed to come through like during the birth process, like through the birth canal and with C sections. That's something that's bypassed. And sometimes that can be a good thing if mom doesn't have healthy bacteria. So it's kind of, you know, it's hit or miss. But yeah, typically babies get their first bacteria like going through the birth canal and then through breastmilk is another way for them to get probably most of their bacteria.
So and then how does it get so out of whack? So is it really just the things that we're eating? And then how does the good bacteria, does it get killed off or does it just get so overcrowded by these harmful bacteria?
Yeah, that's a good question. It's actually probably a little bit of both. Probably just all of the above. So it's so many different factors that are all just happening at the same time. And for each person individually, we don't really know exactly like what is the the grain of rice that's going to make the difference, that's going to tip the scale in another direction. And everybody's microbiome is as unique as their fingerprint. So to kind of contain so a lot of these probiotic supplements that you see on the market, they all have a lot of the same strains in them, but we don't really know. Like, are these the two strains out of billions that everybody's going to need to flood their body with? And not necessarily. But I will say another a lot of these kind of cultural lifestyle shifts in society also make a really big difference, right? So our ancestors, before they had refrigerators, when they were growing their own food, they would really they would ferment a lot of their vegetables into things like sauerkraut or really any kind of fermentation process. But yeah, they stopped people stop fermenting their foods for a while and they used to make bone broth, which supported healthier gut lining, and they stopped doing that for a while. So the absence of that, and I think combined with the addition of sugar, with the addition of antibiotics, not just in medicine but in our food, in our livestock.
So is it better to you see all these things on the market? Obviously, these pills have like billions and trillions of strains of probiotics and a lot of them are like shelf stable. But, you know, I've always heard that you should only get like refrigerated ones because then the cultures are alive, you know, should everyone be taking a probiotic supplement or no? Is that only something you take when you're taking an antibiotic to replenish that gut bacteria? Or can you have too much can you overdose on taking probiotic pills?
Yeah, that's a great question. So there's so many different products on the market and I think I wouldn't say that everybody needs to just go out and take a probiotic. You know, in a perfect world, we get them from our food, we get them we're eating fermented probiotic foods, whether it's yogurt or kimchi or sauerkraut or something else. Fermented pickles that are probiotic, which not all fermented food is probiotic. That's a whole other tangent. But yeah, long story short, I think probiotics can be really helpful. And then I also see a lot of people taking them and just feeling like it's not really doing anything and they're wasting all this money and they're like, I'm taking this. But I don't know, I don't feel any different. And that's, you know, to take it just for wellness purposes. I don't that's not really how nature intended things to be.
I feel like that's most yeah, like most vitamins. You usually typically shouldn't be taking the supplement unless there's a drastic medical need but getting it through the foods. So I would love to talk more about the foods that we can include in our diet that are the best sources of probiotics.
Yeah. So some of the ones that I mentioned, like sauerkraut, kimchi, yogurt, kefir, what else? Fermented pickles. So all of those could be a great source of probiotics. And unfortunately, just to kind of build on what we talked about with the way the food industry has changed in the last few decades, most of them on the shelves are not probiotic anymore.
How do you know then? How do you know what's good or not?
Yeah. So if the food is pasteurized, then it's been sterilized. Pasteurization, again, is something that they intended. It started out with really good intentions because it prevents, for example, with milk, it prevents listeria food poisoning. So they pasteurize the milk and it doesn't have all the microbes and whatever else in it anymore, which again know there's pros and cons to both sides. It's kind of a cost benefit analysis, but with things like sauerkraut and pickles, sometimes what companies will do is they'll pasteurize it so it can just sit on the shelf. And that seems to preserve it for longer, I guess, longer shelf life. Another thing they can do is if they add vinegar that actually interferes with the lacto fermentation, which is how the good bacteria or the probiotics are made.
What about things like yogurt? Isn't that all pasteurized? And a lot of people are always like, Oh, you need to have some yogurt. Like, if you're sick, take me on antibiotic. Oh, just have some yogurt with it or something to replenish that good bacteria. But if it's pasteurized, is that.
Oh, interesting. So the milk is pasteurized before they make the yogurt.
So technically, all yogurt is probiotic.
Okay, that's good to know.
Yeah. What about.
Non-dairy yogurt? So obviously it must be the same way. But let's say since so many people are cutting dairy out of their diets, you know, we have coconut yogurt. Almond yogurt, all those. Are those still beneficial?
Yeah. So here's the thing is like whether it's dairy yogurt or non-dairy yogurt, again, pros and cons like yes, they all have probiotics which are beneficial, but some of these products are loaded with sugar or they're loaded with I think some of these non dairy products are loaded with fillers, which, you know, there's still I think we need more research on like what exactly are they doing to the gut and the gut microbes? It's very controversial. I'm just not a big fan of the fillers. You know, there's a lot of controversy. And I'm just I like to keep things really simple. You know, carrageenan, I'm definitely not a fan of that, can do some bad things to the gut microbes. But yeah, there's a lot of different additives and fillers to kind of give non-dairy yogurt a certain texture. And does it counteract the probiotics? Maybe, maybe a little bit.
So now on the flip side, there is prebiotics and that has been coming to light, I think over the past few years that's been getting a little more like press. Instead of just probiotics taking the center stage, there's something called probiotics. And a lot of people don't really know what probiotics are and they're definitely not as interested in them, but they obviously play a very important role. So can you tell us about those?
Sure. Prebiotics are basically the food. They're the different constituents in certain foods that actually feed the good bacteria that live in the gut. So that is one way to have healthier bacteria, is to feed them and nourish them. And that kind of helps them to grow and populate and stay healthy. So prebiotics again, nature didn't really intend for us to kind of extract these things out of the food and then flood our body with them. Does it work? A lot of times yes and sometimes no. They can be kind of hit or miss because certain types of prebiotics will feed. They tend to feed certain types of microbes. So again, you know, a diet that is really abundant and diverse in different types of fruits and vegetables will usually provide the prebiotics that we need. And if you wanted to add in some, you know, some matcha or some cocoa powder, those are prebiotic, too. But most fruits and vegetables are natural sources of prebiotic.
Is there a post biotic that we should be consuming?
Yeah. Sometimes I actually do this with some of my clients. So post biotics are the product that good bacteria make. They release it into the gut and it actually helps to regulate the PH or the acidity level of the gut. It's really important to have a certain PH in your gut because that's going to determine what kind of bacteria can grow and survive versus which ones can't. If that makes sense. So post biotics, they're called short chain fatty acids. Those are different types of post biotics that these bacteria produce and they're very beneficial. I find some people that actually have medical conditions where they like small intestinal bacterial overgrowth or IBS. Some people actually can't take prebiotics or probiotics without getting sick.
How do we keep that gut microbiome balance? How do we how does that affect our immune system as well?
The gut microbiome? Yeah. So about 70% of our immune system actually lives in the gut or exists in the gut. So the microbiome can really make or break our immune system. And I think that we need a lot more focus on that in functional medicine and just in nutrition in general. I actually experienced that firsthand. I had developed a whole bunch of allergies and an autoimmune disorder, and that affected my esophagus. When I was really young and supposed to be healthy, I was in my early twenties and doing all the right things, but I really wasn't doing anything for my microbiome and I developed it's called a synthetic esophagitis. So basically I was getting a lot of scar tissue in my esophagus when I was eating foods that I was like mildly allergic to or sensitive to. And it was horrible. And I used to have to go in and get a surgery once a year. They would go in and do an endoscope and they would have to dilate my esophagus with a tube every year, and they would give me Prilosec. And I was like, Well, what's the solution here? They're like, Well, you just have to keep doing this. And I was like, No, there's I don't believe that. And I just I knew in my gut that that wasn't the solution. And so I kept searching and basically leaving no stone unturned until I found answers. And lo and behold, you know, the gut microbiome is going to affect all of that. And so I really overhauled my lifestyle in ways that supported healthier gut, healthier gut microbiome. And of course, changing the way I eat sugar was a part of that. So after about a year on that lifestyle, the esophagus problems went away. I don't have scar tissue anymore. I haven't had a surgery on my esophagus since 2013, which is almost ten years ago, which is when I started the journey. And what else? I have close to 20 less environmental and oral allergies now than I did in 2013 when I got allergy tested.
So what are some of those changes that you made, either from your diet to your lifestyle? What are some of the really what are the things that you think made the biggest impact?
First, yeah, definitely identifying what am I allergic to? What am I reacting to, what foods am I not tolerating? And then taking those out because those were the foods that were causing inflammation in my body and in my esophagus. That was really my primary driver. There was like, I can't just I couldn't swallow food. I was like, oh, my gosh, this is scary. This is horrible. I was in pain all the time. So yeah, first identify, okay, what's inflaming me taking that stuff out and then looking at my relationship with sugars like, wow, I didn't realize like the tomato sauce, right? Like I'm Italian, I make pasta all the time and the tomato sauce that I used had added sugar in it. Even though it was organic and natural, it had a lot of added sugar in it. Some of this I would go to a cafeteria at work and some of the salad dressings would have had a lot of added sugar. There was just sugar everywhere in things that I didn't realize. And it was like, Well, if I'm just going to change my staple food items, that's pretty easy. So I did. I swapped out those types of things for a more natural alternative. So it's not that I don't eat sugar. I just if you look at the research on PubMed, it's been shown that refined sugar for whatever reason, whether it's table sugar or corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, it feeds bad bacteria in the gut. And I know not everybody likes to hear that. I know there is a place for all foods fit. And if someone is going through an eating disorder, this is not the podcast for them, this is not the approach for them. But in my case, I made that swap and my body started healing alongside the other stuff that I was doing. So yeah, looking at what are some ways that you can find products that don't have the refined sugar. They only use either raw honey or maple syrup or coconut sugar, coconut, palm sugar, things like that.
What are your thoughts on alternative sweeteners like stevia and Erythritol? So some of the the zero calorie, zero sugar, some of them are natural, they are rare sugars. It's some allulose, things like that. But are we still in the early stages of really knowing the effect they have on our bodies? Or is there something that points that they are safe?
But yeah, so many I know there's so many different options out there. Stevia is again, there's a whole spectrum of stevia. It's not all the same. I have a process. It's called the Complete Gut Repair Roadmap. And finding your sweet spot on the sugar spectrum is one component of that roadmap. So I teach my gut repair clients this too. I have a framework, but stevia, basically there's processed stevia, and then there is stevia extract that actually comes from the plant as a tincture or just as a powder. So looking at the ingredient list, is it just DBA? Is it organic stevia or is it again like kind of cut with a bunch of fillers and additives and chemicals? Because you can see not all stevia is the same. It's kind of like how a hamburger is not just a hamburger. Right? There's so many different types out there and they're not all going to give you the same experience.
Yes. Most like CVS. I see. Sometimes it's usually erythritol with like stevia, but yet on the front of the package are like stevia. But it's really not. When you flip it around, you see that it's like stevia extract or like flavoring on something that bulks it up like erythritol.
Yes. Oh, my gosh. So much complexity in these labels and it's so confusing for people that just want to pick something healthy and they don't even know what to look for. I know Erythritol can be really good for people who are managing blood sugar, right? So if someone is looking to get better blood sugar control and they eat something that's sweetened with Erythritol, that's probably fine. I find in my field a lot of people with IBS, with gut issues, with a gut microbiome imbalance, and they're trying to get a healthier gut. They don't usually tolerate erythritol very well. So hit or miss, I know it's really case by case. It's hard, like everybody's so different. So we can't just say something's good or something's bad. But for me, erythritol, like I said, I would say in my field specifically, I'm not a big fan of those sugar alcohols, but yeah.
So what is when someone wants to let's say Cuellar got their nose things just so many problems and what's the first thing they should do? Like, should they just go on some crazy elimination diet? Should they just cut out all sugars? Should they start bombarding their self with probiotic supplements and foods? What's that first step that someone should take when they know that there's something wrong? But they're just they don't know what exactly to do.
So I know I'm a little biased, but I would definitely suggest, like, if you just want to make, if you want the fastest path to healing, work with a practitioner because it's so loud out there and it's I think to try to do that yourself is very confusing. A lot of people waste years and years, if not decades of time trying to figure it out on their own. But if you want it to start somewhere, I think food logging is a nice way to create awareness and then just kind of knowing like. What are you looking for? Like what? What kind of patterns can you see and then looking at? Are there any sources of hidden added sugar in your diet or the fundamentals? Are you eating enough fruits and vegetables? Are you eating tons of added sugar without realizing it? So I think just creating awareness about those kind of fundamental things is the first step. And then of course rule out any medical conditions, rule out get a diagnosis or rule it out and figure out, okay, what's really going on in your body. But yeah, I think it is really important to work with a holistic health care team and not just try to do it by yourself.
So if there is a one major take home point that you want our listeners to come away with, what would that be?
I would say so many different things. I would say, you know, listen to your body, tune in and listen to your body and then pay attention to create awareness around what are what is your body trying to tell you? What are the food blogs telling you? What are the added sources of hidden sugar, hidden sources of added sugar in your diet? And what are some easy swaps that you can make? So figuring out like there are products out there that don't use added sugar, it's tricky because some products that say no added sugar will use something like Sucralose, which is Splenda. They'll use something like that instead. So look at the ingredient list. I would say look at the ingredient list of something before you decide that you're going to put it in your body. If you react to foods, if you're if a lot of things make you sick.
Awesome. Now you can let our listeners know where they can find you on social media, your website, how they can work with you.
Yep. So my Instagram handle is holistic living. It spelled different, but you can put it in the show notes. It's spelled with W, h, l, e, and then my website is holistic living. Same thing spelled different, but feel free to put it in the show notes. I have a free gift. It's got Health Nutrition Guide, so it talks about some common nutrition, gut health mistakes that people can avoid and what they can do instead. So that is also something is I can send it to you and then I can it's on my website as well if anybody wants to download that, just to kind of bypass some of that confusing information and noise out there. And yeah, so if they wanted to work with me, I have different tiers of the complete gut repair roadmap. I have a one on one six month program, and I also do a group program a couple of times a year where we do online Zoom calls in a small group cohort, so weekly support calls. And then I also have an online course called the Complete Gut Repair Roadmap. So basically walking people through my six part framework of identify what's inflaming you and then get into the food medicine approach, figure out, okay, what are your best foods that you can use to nourish your body? The microbiome makeover, that's part three. And then nourish and support with herbs and supplements. And then we talk more about like the non food stuff in the last two pillars but awesome.
We will have all that in the show notes. Thank you so much for coming on. Jenna. Thanks for having me. This was thank you for tuning in to another episode of the Sugar Solved podcast. As always, if you like what you hear. Share it with a friend. Leave a rating and review on your favorite podcast player and tune in next week for another episode of the Sugar Solved podcast, where we demystify health and nutrition. One gram of sugar at a time.