It seems that a day doesn’t go by when some kind of report comes out professing the importance of the gut microbiome and those trillions of microbes. The data is fairly overwhelming: what we eat significantly affects the makeup of our gut flora. So what does this mean for personal nutrition, diets and overall optimal health? Will the “Microbiome Diet” replace trending diets like paleo, gluten-free or keto?
With that in mind, have you ever wondered what’s on the menu for the 100 trillion bacteria (about 3-4 pounds) that live in your gut? This diverse ecosystem, known as your gut microbiome, is your greatest ally when it comes to improving and maintaining optimal health. No kidding… these microscopic “giants” do a great deal of the heavy lifting when it comes to ensuring you stay at the top of your game.
Your gut bacteria thrive (or not) on what you eat, so if you eat the right foods, chances are your gut bacteria will be diverse, healthy, and able to fend off over growth of foes like bad bacteria, infections, viruses, etc.
Feeding The 100 Trillion
Luckily your gut bacteria are fairly simple organisms so when it comes to mealtime, they are easy to please. Their foods of choice: veggies and fruits (and the more the better!).
You might ask, “why fruits and vegetables”. The answer is simple: fiber. A little fact here: fiber only occurs in fruits, vegetables and grains because it’s part of the cellular wall of these foods.
You’ve probably heard the terms prebiotics and probiotics. Don’t get these two confused. Probiotics are live bacteria and yeasts that are important in maintaining optimal digestion. On the other hand, prebiotics are undigested nutrients that feed bacteria, especially the beneficial ones that promote good gut health. So from a gut bacteria perspective, prebiotics (or fiber) are number one (from a mealtime perspective).
Remember, if your gut bacteria are not well fed and cared for, chances are you’ll eventually get sick later down the line. So the best advise is to take care of those microbes in your gut… so that they can take care of you!
Fiber is King
Most people think of fiber as a simple solution to the occasional bout of constipation, or reducing weight, or lowering the risk for heart disease. While fiber can do all that to some extent, in reality fiber plays a larger role in maintaining optimal gut health.
Fiber comes in 2 flavors: soluble and insoluble. Think of soluble fiber as foods that basically suck up water (like a sponge) becoming “gel-like”, which helps to move digested food through the gut. On the other hand, insoluble fiber doesn’t break down during digestion; it passes through the gut basically intact and binds food together creating a firm stool.
Ideally, you should be getting fiber from whole food plant sources like green leafy vegetables, root vegetables, fruits with an edible peel (like apples and pears), berries (like blueberries, strawberries), seeds (chia, flax, etc.), and nuts.
Not all fiber is created equal, so stay away from processed foods that claim to be “fiber enhanced” or have “added fiber”. These foods can often be packed with fillers, grains, cereals and artificial ingredients.
The recommended daily fiber intake is somewhere between 25 grams (women) and 38 grams (men) of both soluble and insoluble fiber.
30 grams of fiber would look like:
- 1 c. oatmeal
- 1 banana
- 1 c. broccoli
- 2 carrots
- 1 c. brown rice
- ¼ c. almonds
- 1 apple
The typical Western diet is lacking in daily fiber (even up to 50%) and this can cause your helpful bacteria to die off. Take care not to starve out the good bacteria with a low carbohydrate or fiber diet. This could create sub-optimal populations of beneficial bacteria and increase adversarial strains in the long-term.
What About Probiotics?
Getting your daily dose of probiotics is synonymous these days with the old adage, “an apple a day keeps the doctor at bay“. But while the store shelves are stocked with bottles of probiotics and researchers once believed that taking probiotics was the best way to promote good gut health, it’s not that black and white.
Probiotics along with many other organisms are just one part of the gut flora equation. Your microbiome needs probiotics in order to maintain a diverse internal terrain, but by themselves they don’t make a significant difference when it comes to calibrating for long-term health.
Surprisingly enough, the biggest bang for your gut bacteria is really the combination of probiotics (gut bacteria and yeast) and prebiotics (food for the probiotics/bacteria). So if you’re looking for the best gut remedy make sure you get a good helping of both probiotics and prebiotics as part of your daily diet.
Cut Out The Snickers
If your good bacteria like fiber (fruits and vegetables), what do you think the bad bacteria like to eat? I’ll give you a hint: it’s not fiber. It’s sugar! High-sugar diets (in particular those containing refined and processed sugars) are one of the biggest microbiome disrupters.
When you eat a high-sugar diet, things like undesirable bacteria, yeast, and other by-products start to grow out of control, while your beneficial bacteria wither away. One study noted that, “switching from a low-fat, plant-rich diet to a high-fat/high-sugar Western diet” shifted the structure of the microbiota within a single day, changed the representation of metabolic pathways in the microbiome, and altered microbiome gene expression.1
So ditch the candy, cakes, cookies and soda, and eat a carrot instead! Your gut microbes will thank you for it.
The Modern Microbiome Diet
It can’t hurt to take inventory of your diet and eat a bit healthier. Surprisingly, the recommendations for good gut health align with what most nutrition experts have been recommending for years that people do to improve overall health and reduce risk for disease.
Here are some ways you might alter your diet for better gut health.
Gut Bacteria Don’t Thrive in a Vacuum
Think of your body as an interconnected matrix of complex systems… what happens in one system or part of the body affects all the others in some way. Your gut microbiome responds in kind to the surrounding biological “disruptors” such as stress, inflammation, hormone imbalances, neural responses, etc. If your gut microbes live in a hostile environment or a neighborhood that is run down or not cared for, chances are they won’t take kindly to the management (if you get my meaning).
Don’t worry you have lots of opportunities to make friends and have a lasting “good” relationship with your gut microbiota.
Studies show that exercise may change the composition and activity of all those microbes in your gut.2 Fascinating how exercise can affect even those portions of your body that seem so far removed from working out at the gym.
Stress can also deplete your friendly flora and promote other kinds of “dis-ease” in the gut. So in the long run, it pays to keep a lid on your stress. You can do this by simply being mindful of certain triggers that cause you to get stressed out and finding ways to slowly reduce or eliminate them from your life.
If you want to have a healthier microbiome, get off the couch and away from the computer and make exercise (any kind for at least 20 minutes a day) a priority. Don’t forget to be mindful, breath deep and fully, and take time to relax.
Recapping What To Feed Your Gut Microbiome
- What you eat really matters to your gut microbes
- Get enough fiber in your diet
- Consume fermented foods and prebiotics, since these may help prevent the occurrence of things like food allergies (esp. in children), bacterial overgrowth, leaky gut, etc.
- Get a diverse strain of probiotics in your diet (or supplement). Beneficial strains are: bifidum, B. lactis, B. animalis, L. salivarius, L. paracasei, and L. rhamnosus
- Don’t forget that what you do is just as important to your gut microbiome health as what you eat.
Need more fiber in your diet? Try this delicious stewed apples recipe that is packed with wholesome fiber. Click HERE to download.
1 Turnbaugh P., J., et al. (2009). The Effect of Diet on the Human Gut Microbiome: A Metagenomic Analysis in Humanized Gnotobiotic Mice. Sci Transl Med. Nov 11; 1(6):6ra14.
2 Monda, V., et al. (2017). Exercise Modifies the Gut Microbiota with Positive Health Effects. Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity. Volume 2017, Article ID 3831972. https://doi.org/10.1155/2017/3831972
Disclaimer: the views and nutritional advice expressed in this publication are not intended to be a substitute for conventional medical advice. No information provided should be interpreted as a diagnosis of any disease, nor an attempt to treat or prevent or cure any disease or condition. All information in this publication is for educational purposes only and Aine-Marie and Advesta Health encourages its clients and members to continue to work in a partnership with qualified medical professional. If you have or suspect that you have a medical problem, promptly contact your health care provider or seek medical assistance. Reading, sharing, or downloading this publication does not establish a doctor patient relationship with Aine-Marie or any Advesta Health employee or consultant including any of our licensed health practitioners, coaches, dieticians or nutritionists.