The Gut Microbiome: A Key Player in Your Health
Photo from Unsplash
The Gut Microbiome: A Key Player in Your Health
As a functional nutrition coach, I can tell you that when it comes to feeling well and looking good, one of the most important things you can do is focus on your gut microbiome.
This community of trillions of bacteria is essential to keep you healthy, handling much of the digestion of your food, metabolizing nutrients, making vitamins, producing powerful essential compounds, and protecting your gut lining from springing leaks by fortifying the gut’s cell wall.
And that’s not all – your gut – both the human cells and their bacterial allies – is home to roughly 70% of your immune system! With so many critical functions relying on your microbial world, taking care of your gut is vital.
One key element of a healthy gut is microbial diversity – having lots of different, health-supportive strains of bacteria inside you. Having a wide variety of microbes in your gut microbiome makes it stronger and more resilient.
Gut microbial diversity helps enable the microbiome to work at its peak, ready to come to your defense and fight off the opportunistic invaders that would otherwise make you sick. Your gut microbial troops work with your human immune cells to recognize and resist any pathogens that come down the intestinal pike, so the more diversity you’ve got to tap into, the better. It’s the bacterial equivalent of having all of the military branches together at the ready, versus just one branch to fight your battles.
Dysbiosis: How an Unbalanced Gut Can Affect Your Health
Unfortunately, many people suffer from dysbiosis, an out-of-balance gut lacking a diversity of healthy bacterial strains.
Classic clues include feeling tired much of the time, catching colds easily and more often, allergies, food sensitivities, and having frequent gastrointestinal issues like gas, bloating, diarrhea, and constipation (and back again).
For some, dysbiosis may also manifest as brain fog, anxiety, itchy skin, and/or depression. These symptoms are not ‘normal,’ and they’re big clues that you need to take action.
Dysbiosis can occur due to frequent antibiotic use, a processed-food-filled diet, the use of herbicides, pesticides, and pollution.
In my practice, I see clients who are being dogged by these issues almost every day. The conventional medical treatments that they’ve tried before, usually pharmaceuticals, often aren’t offering relief but typically are Band-Aids, and for some, maybe making matters worse.
In the majority of these cases, some type of dysbiosis is causing much of the trouble. There may be too much of one or more strains of bacteria, and nowhere near enough of another – leaving the gut prone to those distressing symptoms and your immune system vulnerable to attack.
All too often, unwellness follows.
The good news is that there’s a lot you can do to encourage more microbial diversity in your gut.
The two most important influencers are the food you eat and your lifestyle habits.
Nutrition DO’s and DON’Ts for a Healthy Gut
- Eat clean, organic produce and clean protein sources – always avoiding conventionally grown in order to sidestep dangerous pesticides and antibiotics. Organic and/or farmers’ market products tend to be raised with more small-batch TLC (though they may use some natural pesticides) – and without the harmful to your health antibiotic pesticide Roundup which is detrimental to gut flora.
- Eat more probiotic fermented foods – sauerkraut, pickles, miso, natto (fermented soybeans) kefir (fermented milk), goat or sheep yogurts, kimchee (Korean fermented vegetables), or Kombucha. Fermented foods help repopulate your gut with beneficial bacteria.
- Eat prebiotic foods – foods that contain the fiber on which friendly bacteria feed. Key prebiotics includes tomatoes, garlic, onions, radishes, leeks, asparagus, and Jerusalem artichokes. Always remember to eat the stalks and stems as that’s where a lot of the fiber is which is what the good bacteria use for their food.
- Go deep on fiber – with every meal, and, in particular, add more resistant starch like the kind you find in nuts, seeds, legumes and cooked then cooled sweet potatoes or rice that “resist” being broken down to glucose and feed the bacteria in your gut the stuff they thrive on.
- Drink bone broth – to help heal and soothe the gut and help seal the leaks.
- Consume GMOs and glyphosate – beyond the cancer link, the deleterious gut-microbe-bashing antibiotic effects of glyphosate are a must to avoid, so stay far away from genetically modified foods and foods raised or treated with glyphosate.
- Eat sweets and simple starches – which feed the overgrowth of bad bacteria in the small intestine, which can lead to a leaky gut, ultimately weakening immunity and triggering inflammation. Focus on gluten-free grains like wild rice or quinoa, sweet potatoes, and purple potatoes.
- Consume unhealthy fats – like trans fats and industrial seed oils (corn, canola, and soybean are the worst), which trigger inflammation. Focus on healthy fats like extra virgin olive oil, avocados, nuts, and seeds.
- Eat junk food and processed food, almost all of which contain trans fats, GMO corn, GMO soy, or industrial seed oils. Plus they are typically devoid of any beneficial nutrition. Focus on eating a whole food nutrient-dense diet instead, which your gut buddies love.
- Consume gluten, preservatives, artificial ingredients, and sweeteners – any and all of which disrupt your gut’s microbial balance and drive diversity loss.
To reduce the negative impact of modern life and start reversing the microbial tide, there is a lot you can do to encourage more microbial diversity. Remember, a healthy gastrointestinal microbiome depends on dietary diversity.
Think of it this way: it’s like giving your gut bugs a workout.
If you hoist the same kettlebells every day in the same way, the muscles you’re working will coast along, without getting much stronger. Changing it up and surprising your body will yield much greater benefits. Same with your diet, and keep in mind that what you avoid eating matters too.
Lifestyle Habits to Promote Gut Health and Microbial Diversity
To upgrade your daily habits and help your microbial diversity to boot, add the following healthy habits to your must-do list:
- Intermittent fasting – early research indicates that it may help restore gut microbial diversity, reduces the immune system’s overreaction to otherwise not-seriously-harmful microbes, and helps restore the integrity of the intestinal wall. Strive for a 12-hour eating window on most days and target 14-16 hours twice a week.
- Focus on good sleep – make it a top priority, and get enough of it, as in 7 – 8 hours a night. This is when your body focuses on repairing itself, removing cellular waste products, and setting memories. Good quality and quantity of sleep are key to a happy gut.
- Prioritize movement – throughout the day, every day, breaking every hour or two for a stroll around the house or the office or block, or do a few good stretches, in addition to regular, longer bouts of exercise 3-5 times a week.
- Focus on stress reduction – finding healthy ways to unwind, be it meditation, time in nature, saunas, or just a pre-bedtime hot Epsom salt bath, are all fantastic ways to support microbial diversity.
- Take antibiotics – and save them for real emergencies. Instead, opt for herbal antibiotics when needed. They’re better at killing unfriendly bacteria while leaving the friendly microbes alone. If you must take an antibiotic, between doses, take a daily probiotic capsule or powder, containing friendly bacteria to help replenish your gut microbiome.
- Take proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) as they wreak havoc on your gut bacteria by altering your stomach acid production and can increase your population of dysbiotic bacteria.
So, if you want to improve your gut health, follow these dos and don’ts and incorporate healthy lifestyle habits. Remember that microbial diversity is key to a healthy gut, and it’s important to tend to your microbial garden to help it flourish.
A Gut-Healthy Recipe to Get You Started
Kale and Carrot Salad with Ginger-Lemon Dressing
- 1 bunch of organic baby kale, chopped
- 2 medium organic orange and purple carrots, grated
- 1/2 organic red onion, thinly sliced
- 1/4 cup sliced and toasted organic almonds
- 2 tbsp organic hemp seeds
- 1/4 cup organic sheep or goats milk feta cheese, crumbled
- 1/2 lb raw phosphate-free shrimp, peeled and deveined
For the dressing:
- 2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 tbsp organic lemon juice
- 1 tbsp freshly organic grated ginger
- 1 tbsp honey (if needed)
- 1 organic garlic clove, minced
- 1 tsp fresh rosemary, chopped
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- In a large bowl, combine the chopped kale, grated carrots, and sliced red onion.
- In a small bowl, whisk together the olive oil, lemon juice, ginger, honey, garlic, salt, and pepper until well combined.
- Pour the dressing over the salad and toss to coat.
- Saute the shrimp in a hot pan with avocado oil for 2 minutes per side
- Sprinkle the shrimp sliced almonds, hemp seeds, and feta cheese over the top of the salad.
- Serve and enjoy!
This delicious salad is loaded with gut-healthy ingredients like kale, which is a great source of prebiotic fiber, and ginger, which has anti-inflammatory properties. The carrots also provide fiber, while the almonds, hemp seeds, and feta cheese add healthy fats and protein. It’s a great example of how to create a gut-healthy meal that is also tasty and satisfying.
The Journey to Better Gut Health: Small Steps, Big Progress
Taking care of your gut health is one of the most important things you can do for your overall health and well-being. With a healthy gut microbiome, you can reduce your risk of chronic disease, improve your digestion, and boost your immunity. It’s never too late to start making positive changes to support your gut health.
The good news is that there are plenty of simple, delicious, and nourishing foods that can help you achieve your gut health goals. By incorporating a variety of whole foods into your diet and avoiding processed foods and harmful substances, you can begin to cultivate a diverse and thriving gut microbiome.
But the journey to better gut health isn’t just about what you eat. It’s also about adopting healthy lifestyle habits, such as getting enough sleep, managing stress, and staying active. Making small changes to your daily routine can have a big impact on your gut health and overall well-being.
It’s important to remember that improving your gut health is a journey, not a destination. It takes time, patience, and commitment to make lasting changes. But with the right mindset and support, you can achieve your goals and live a vibrant, healthy life.
So why not start today? Try incorporating some of the gut-healthy foods and habits outlined in this article into your daily routine. Experiment with new recipes and activities that nourish your body and mind.
And remember to be kind to yourself along the way – small steps can lead to big progress.
Your gut will thank you for it!
In summary, taking care of your gut microbiome is crucial for your overall health and well-being. By incorporating a variety of healthy foods, avoiding harmful substances, and adopting healthy lifestyle habits, you can support your gut microbiome and promote microbial diversity. Remember that small changes can make a big difference, so start small and work your way up. With dedication and consistency, you can cultivate a healthy gut and improve your quality of life.
Get Personalized Support with Functional Nutrition Coaching
Looking for 1:1 coaching support to help you achieve your diet and lifestyle goals, then please book your free 30-minute discovery call with me today by clicking HERE.
During this call, we will:
- Uncover your story about your health challenges to date
- Get clear on your diet and lifestyle goals to improve your health
- Discuss how I can help you get back to feeling like your old self again
- Share the details of my 3-Month Functional Nutrition & Lifestyle Coaching Program
- Learn about my overall coaching philosophy & what you can expect from me
- See if we’re a good fit to work together
By the end of our conversation, you’ll feel optimistic and motivated to start making positive changes in your life.
Don’t keep putting off feeling better any longer, today’s the day to start making a difference.
You’ve got this!