By now you probably know, or have at least heard about how important your microbiome is for overall health. If not, it’s time to start paying attention.
Your microbiome is the mini-ecosystem of microorganisms that make up part of the human body. Our whole bodies are covered in microorganisms, but the majority of them reside in the large intestine in our gut. Gut microbes are key to many aspects of our health including immune, metabolic and neurobehavioral traits. For us to be as healthy as possible, we need our microbiome to be as healthy as possible. You can’t have one without the other.
There are multiple factors that contribute to the health of your gut microbiome, including how you were born, your environment, medications you’ve taken, how much sleep you and get, and of course, stress. However, the number one factor that determines what microbes live which microbes die off is your diet. While there is no ‘perfect’ diet for everyone, there are a few key factors that we should all be focusing on for a healthy microbiome.
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An important part of a healthy diet is fibre. It is estimated that the majority of people are only consuming a measly 10% of the daily fibre recommendations. Fibre-rich foods include vegetables, fruit, legumes and whole grains.
Fibre is categorised by its structure and how it behaves in the body. There are a few different types of fibre, all of them beneficial for various reasons, but there is one in particular that stands out for microbiome health and that's resistant starch. Resistant starch basically resists digestion and provides fuel for the bacteria at the end of the gastrointestinal tract. Resistant starch is found in green banana flour, cooked and cooled potatoes, rice and some al-dente cooked grains.
Include fermented foods
Fermented foods are rich in probiotics, which feed the beneficial bacteria in your gut and help to improve the overall health of your microbiome. Some examples of fermented foods are natural yoghurt, kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi, tempeh, kvass and natto. Try to have a couple of serves of fermented foods each day, for example, some kimchi with your salad, a blob of yoghurt with your porridge or tempeh in a stir fry. If you are new to fermented foods, start small and gradually increase your serving size.
Diversity of foods
Eating a diverse diet rich in whole foods helps to create a diverse microbiota, which is beneficial for your health.
I think we can all be a bit guilty of getting into a bit of a routine with our go-to meals each week. What we want to make sure is that there is diversity in our diet. That doesn’t have to mean cooking from a new cookbook every night, instead just mixing up the produce you buy and how you prepare it. Foods are so diverse in terms of the vitamins and minerals they provide, especially fruit and vegetables, we want to be getting as much nutrient diversity as possible.
Pesticides and chemicals
Our microbes and their genes are very sensitive to chemicals, so consuming foods that are made with chemicals and heavily sprayed with pesticides can lead to disruption in their metabolism and the important chemicals they produce, which affects the health of our microbiome and in turn, us.
Check out the Environmental Working Groups ‘Dirty Dozen’ Guide to help you prioritise what to buy Organic and what products are safe to buy conventional.
In Addition to Your Diet...
In addition to a wonderful diet, there are some other aspects of your wellbeing that you need to consider if you want to keep your microbiome healthy. As powerful as a healthy diet is, stressors such as environmental toxins, too much time indoors, a sedentary lifestyle, lack of sleep, too much stress, and illness can undo all the hard work or the amazing food your putting in.
Addressing the underlying problem. Suspect you have parasites, allergies or intolerances? Work with someone who can help you identify any underlying dysfunction that could be preventing your gut from functioning optimally.
Reduce stress. Stress is inevitable, it’s how we manage it that matters. Identify your main stressors and find ways to reduce or release them. Research shows that prolonged periods of stress can impair your gut bacteria and make you more susceptible to infections.
Prioritise sleep. Sleep and gut health is a two-way street. Research shows are microbiota have an effect on how we sleep and in turn, sleep and circadian rhythms appear to affect the health and diversity of the important bacterial world that lives in our gut. There’s a lot more to learn, but it is now known that lack of sleep can have a negative impact on microbiome health.
Avoid over sanitising. While being clean is fine, overly sterile environments don’t promote biodiversity of your gut bacteria. Don’t be afraid of getting dirty and skip the hand sanitiser, this is especially important when it comes to children.
Get outside. Make an effort to spend more time outdoors, even if it’s just a walk in the park at lunch. Not only will you expose yourself to more microbes, but spending time outside, especially in nature will help you feel less stressed. Remember lower stress levels lead to a healthier microbiome, which in turn leads to even lower stress, which then boots the microbiome. It’s a positive feedback loop.
A Note on Probiotics
There is a common misconception that an unhappy gut or an imbalanced microbiome can be fixed with a simple round of probiotics, but unfortunately, it’s not as simple as that. While probiotics can be extremely helpful and beneficial, they can’t do their job and have a lasting impact on the microbiome if the environment of the microbiome itself isn’t able to support them.
If your gut could do with a bit of help, reach out and book in a free 10 minute call me with to find out how I can help.