The secret is out! One of the best ways to achieve a healthier body and mind is to nourish and support the ecosystem of bacteria living inside your digestive system, known as the microbiome. The term microbiome is all the rage within the health world right now and it’s becoming increasingly clear why. As a Naturopathic Practitioner studying Functional Medicine, I’ve been lucky enough to learn from some of the experts in this field. Whilst there’s still a great deal we’re yet to discover, everyone agrees on one thing. In order to achieve and maintain optimal health it’s in our best interest to keep the trillions of microbes residing in our gut, healthy, happy and well fed!
Not only does the gut house a whopping 70-80% of our immune system, there is solid evidence linking the health of our microbiome to the health of our skin, digestive system, body weight, energy levels and mood – practically everything.
Here are my top 5 tips for supporting your gut bacteria to create a healthy, happy, thriving microbiome.
1. Slow Down
It’s been said many times before, that our gut is our second brain and with around 90% of neurotransmitters responsible for mood being produced in the gut, we can’t deny that stress has a pretty significant impact on gut health. The hormones released when we’re under stress (even low-grade chronic stress), can negatively influence our gut bacteria.
If your microbiome is out of balance it’s likely that your mind and mood may be too, contributing to anxiety, depression, fatigue or brain fog. When you understand this connection you can see why I love the saying “a healthier gut equals a happier you”.
Don’t get me wrong, I understand we live in an extremely face paced world where we often forget to stop and breathe. This is often true around mealtimes where I have been guilty of having one foot out the door whilst I gobble down breakfast (I’m sure I’m not alone!). However, taking time to eat mindfully, slow down and be present whilst we eat should become a non-negotiable. This together with a daily stress busting technique such as meditation, yoga, walking in nature or even dancing around to your favourite song, goes a long way in helping support a healthy, happy microbiome.
2. Make Friends with Fermented Food
One of the best things you can do to nourish the good bacteria in your gut is to consume fermented foods. Sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha, kefir and natural yoghurt are trendy for good reason. They all contain natural sources of probiotics which when consumed, help to improve the entire functioning of the microbiome. By populating your ‘gut garden’ with more good bacteria you’re essentially able to crowd out unwanted bugs, creating a healthier balance. All you need is a small amount of any of these foods daily (if possible) to create positive change within the gut. I usually have patients start slowly and include just one tablespoon of sauerkraut or fermented veggies with a salad or even as a side with breakfast.
3. Pop a Probiotic
Although eating fermented foods is the most natural way to benefit from probiotic bacteria and keep your gut happy, there are many situations where taking a probiotic supplement is necessary. In clinic I see patients with complex, chronic digestive conditions and many of them find it difficult to consume fermented foods on a daily basis. Probiotic supplementation is one of my favourite tools for rebalancing the microbiome in more specific conditions such as eczema, candida, IBS or autoimmune disease. The thing to remember is, everyone’s microbiome is unique and will therefore benefit from different strains of good bacteria depending on your health concerns. Speaking to a health practitioner such as a Naturopath or Nutritionist who is skilled in assessing which strain or combination might be best for you is important.
4. Feed the Friendly Bacteria
By now you would be familiar with the concept of probiotics, but what are prebiotics? Simply put, they’re food for the friendly bacteria residing in your gut. I’m a huge fan of incorporating prebiotic foods into the diet and it’s easier than you’d think. Simply increase the variety of green veggies you’re already consuming (the more diverse range of veggies means a more diverse range of beneficial bacteria and in turn one very happy microbiome).
Some of the my favourites include asparagus, artichoke, fennel, dandelion greens, chicory, garlic and broccoli.
Then we move onto resistance starch, which you’ll find in bananas (unripe), potato, brown rice and barley. Resistance starch plays a key role in gut health as it promotes the production of an extremely beneficial substance known as butyrate. It is the preferred fuel source for gut repair, improving metabolism, reducing inflammation and nourishing the gut lining.
5. Step Away From the Sugar
It’s plain and simple, consuming refined, processed sugar wreaks havoc on your gut and creates a very unhappy microbiome. Refined sugar is one of the microbiome’s worst enemies as it feeds the bad bacteria and prevents the growth of the good ones. Similarly artificial sweeteners aren’t the answer. Research shows these fake sugars negatively change the microbiome too, leading to inflammation, blood sugar dysregulation and poor metabolism. The real solution is to ditch the unnecessary sugars and where a little extra sweetness is required, opt for a more natural alternative such as fruit, some raw honey, stevia or fresh dates. Where chocolate is concerned, well, let’s just say a couple of pieces of dark chocolate every now and then for balance gets my tick of approval.
Original article written for www.jessicasepel.com