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What if I told you the biggest contributor to our health and well-being wasn’t even human.
Would you believe me if I said that what determines if we’re skinny or obese is not genetics handed down from our parents?
What if the biggest predictor of degenerative diseases, such as Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s, are little bugs in our gut.
All of this is true.
What we know so far is that the microbiome (our bodies bacteria), impacts disease, mood, immunity, inflammation, and a host of other functions. 80 percent of your immune system is in your microbiome which helps your body with just about every process, including digesting your food, thinking clearly and even maintaining a healthy weight.
Science has now proven that our bacteria make us infinitely more powerful and healthy and that they’ve been essential to our evolution. But due to modern living practices, and our Sad American Diet, they too are suffering.
Let’s look at some recommendations on how to keep your gut and its ‘bugs’ happy and healthy. Here are five ways to feed your bacterial garden in your gut.
5 Ways to Improve Gut Bacteria
1. Eat lots of soluble fiber.
Microbes food of choice is fiber, particularly soluble fiber. This means you want to eat fresh fruits and veggies as often as possible and, if tolerated, legumes and whole grains too.
The average American consumes only 15 grams out of the recommended 29-38 grams of fiber per day.
Each vegetable has various types of fibers. Some get digested slowly, while others, like inulin, aren’t digested by the small intestine at all – but by the bugs in your gut. In general, the best thing for your gut is to eat a large variety of fruits and vegetables.
Fruits and veggies are filled with a type of soluble fiber called oligosaccharides [oh-lee-go-sack-arides] that can help reduce inflammation and endotoxins. Soluble fiber also dissolves in water and is broken down by bacteria, which is why it is their preference. When we feed them soluble fiber, our bacteria can help reduce the risk of obesity. (Some studies say that for every 10 grams of fiber consumed, this can aid in a 4% loss in belly fat – a good thing for all you in weight loss mode!)
The top sources for soluble fibers are vegetables, fruits, beans, oat bran, barley, flaxseed, split peas, lima beans, and black beans.
Inulin is a specific type of soluble fiber. Sources of inulin include onions, garlic, leeks, jicama, asparagus, and Jerusalem artichoke. These fibers also protect against insulin resistance. They seem to be worth the risk of bad breath or weepy eyes!
When the bacteria feed on the fiber you can’t digest, they produce vitamins and short-chain fatty acids that nourish your gut lining. In contrast, when you don’t give your gut microbiome enough fiber, they start to eat the mucous lining, which can create a whole host of problems including inflammation, and we don’t want that.
2. Eat whole grains.
When it comes to grains these days, we lose a lot of the dietary fiber in flour through our modern milling process because the wheat germ, which contains most of the fiber, shortens shelf life. To get it to sit in the pantry longer, we have to process the wheat germ out, taking the fiber content with it. Bran – another great source of fiber – is also milled out to make our favorite white all-purpose flour.
Here’s another negative about processed grains: the finer the powder, the easier to digest, meaning it gets digested earlier and never reaches the microbiome in the colon. Now can you understand why it’s better to eat grains whole and unprocessed?
The bottom line, the fiber we don’t want is white, processed, and refined. These are the “empty carbs” without the healthy fiber and your microbiome doesn’t want these either.!
3. Consume fermented foods.
Another part of the healthy-gut diet is eating fermented foods. These are foods that are filled with bacteria, such as sauerkraut, kombucha, and kefir. There are millions of various kinds of bacteria that can be found in fermented foods, as opposed to the limited selection in probiotics; although, both have value.
It’s great to eat fermented foods in addition to taking a probiotic. I’ll share more about how to choose the right probiotics later in this course.
4. Include healthy fats in the diet.
The right combination of fiber and fats is your best medicine so it’s important for us to distinguish between healthy and unhealthy fats. The Mediterranean Diet is looked at as a balanced microbiome diet, as it includes 40% fat and around 40 grams of fiber! This combination is also helpful for protecting against conditions, like colon cancer. Healthy fats include unsaturated plant-based fats: Coconut oil, olive oil, avocado, walnut oil, sesame oil, and ghee, which contain high levels of butyrate.
Good fiber is even more potent when combined with healthy fats. No matter what diet you subscribe to, it’s beneficial to eat meals that have fresh veggies at the center.
5. Buy local.
In order to increase your microbe intake, shop at the local farmer’s market or as close to the source as possible. Many fruits and vegetables carry natural bacteria that help us digest our food. We miss out on these bacteria when we eat non-organic or sprayed produce that’s treated to last longer on supermarket shelves or look shiny. The best way to get the natural bacteria is to buy as high up on the food chain as possible. Or, better yet, grow some of your own! As my gut health instructor said, “think of it as an external garden for your inner one”.
Note: A microbiome-balancing diet also involves avoiding substances, like NSAIDS, antibiotics, and other substances that damage the microbiome. The goal is to keep the mucosal lining strong by feeding the bacteria fiber so that they can feed the lining and keep away the bad bugs!
Here’s to your gut!