Of the roughly 40 trillion bacteria living in your body, the vast majority reside happily in your intestines. While some of these can cause illness, the vast majority of your gut bacteria pay rent by keeping your body healthy, aiding in digestion, helping to keep your body rhythms in check, and even elevating your mood. Their ecosystem is entirely unique to you. No two people will have the same species or assortment. This micro-biosphere is generally referred to as your “gut microbiota” or your gut flora.
For all the things they do for you, it’s important to treat them well. They need to be kept well fed, and in relative balance. Here are 5 great ways to tell whether you’ve been being a good host to your gut flora.
You’ve got hundreds or thousands of different species of bacteria living in your digestive tract, and each of them has a particular niche. As such, each of them will thrive, and will do its job best when fueled by slightly different nutrients.
Generally speaking, the best microbiota is the most diverse. The greater the number and diversity of different species, the greater their contribution to your overall health.
The typical Western diet doesn’t do a great job of feeding a diverse microbiome. Standard American cuisine tends to be high in fat, salt, and sugar, and it tends to follow remarkably predictable patterns. Potatoes, corn, wheat, meat, sweet and savoury sauces, dairy, and a relatively conservative number of fruits and vegetables make up the vast majority of most common dishes.
Several studies have found significantly greater diversity in intestinal microbiota in rural regions of South America or Africa, where legumes and whole grains are consumed more commonly, processed foods are much more scarce, and the average meal tends to be much less rich in fats and refined sugars.
Your gut flora love fermented foods such as a few days old cooked beans, kimchi, tempeh, and sauerkraut. Yogurt and kombucha tend to not have sufficient levels of live bacteria to actually add much value. They, instead, create an intense sugar response which may actually feed the bad bugs.
Fermented foods all contain the bacterium, Lactobacillus, which thrives in your digestive tract. Lactobacillus at sufficient levels will limit or starve out other less friendly species like Enterobacteriaceae. Since Enterobacteriaceae is associated with chronic digestive issues and inflammation, limiting its impact is good for your digestive health.
As you eat certain foods, you encourage those bacteria which feed upon them. Sugar, artificial sweeteners, bread, alcohol, and too much natural sugars (i.e., fruit, tomatoes, honey, agave, maple syrup) overfed bad gut bacteria. Overindulging in any form of sugar starve out beneficial bacteria.
Enterobacteriaceae and Clostridium are examples of bacterium species which overgrow when fed sugar and led to poor digestive health.
It can be difficult to avoid refined sugars in a standard Western diet, as they’ve become so ubiquitous. Dressings and condiments, many bread or grain products, dry spice blends, all processed foods, corn starch, and virtually every common drink are high in sugars, so try and steer clear. Instead, consider making your own alternatives from scratch. Condiments are quick and easy to replicate; salad dressings are often very simple as well. Choose whole grains like oats, millet, amaranth, and quinoa over breads. Buy quality spices rather than relying on pre-packaged mixes. You’ll be amazed the amazing difference in taste, quality, and health you will immediately experience when you make choices to support your gut microbiota’s health.
Eating fresh green vegetables or whole grains (not refined and turned into flour) are high fiber and an excellent way to nourish your microbiota. These foods contain lots of bioavailable protein, nutrients, and vitamins. While most carbohydrates are converted to sugars and fed into your system, these foods are rich in fiber and complex carbohydrates which are broken down by bacteria in the large intestine. This process is one of the best ways to nourish the bacteria in your large intestine, commonly including Lactobacilli, Bacteroidetes, and Bifidobacteria.
As a side benefit, foods rich in fiber and complex carbohydrates are great for your digestive health. They help balance out your blood sugar, help you feeling full and satiated, while decreasing your risk for disease.
Polyphenols are plant compounds that humans don’t easily digest or metabolize. As a result, most of them make their way to the colon where they are absorbed by your gut flora, which gets a huge boost from them. Foods that are particularly high in polyphenols include lentils, berries, leeks, spring onions, leafy green vegetables, and broccoli.
Keeping your gut flora happy by feeding them polyphenols regularly. It will keep inflammation, cholesterol level, and blood pressure in check.
Besides these foods in particular, a plant-based diet, where meat is an indulgence rather than a staple, also radically improves your gut floral diversity and health, as well as your own.
At Advanced Health, each of our staff comes together to support a patient’s total wellness, in mind and body. That’s one of the core principles behind the integrative medicine we practice. For anything ranging from obesity and inflammation to lethargy, digestive or gastric issues, sleep disturbances, and mood swings changes to your diet to promote a healthy microbiome can help.
Our integrative functional nutritionist Nicole Bianchi and integrative functional medicine physician, Dr. Payal Bhandari M.D. specialize in the philosophy that “food is medicine”. We both take the whole-person approach to nutrition and health, and work closely together so that we can optimize the health of each of our patients. With a variety of diagnostic tools and methods, Nicole and Dr. Bhandari can get you started towards symptom relief and long-term health. Book a consultation today!