As creatures of habit, the idea of diversifying our diets can be daunting. We like routine, and we like sticking to our “usual’s” on the menu. Although familiarity can be comforting, research shows that our gut thrives on a diverse variety of nutrients and the secret to having a healthy gut microbiome is feeding our microbes, by eating combination of foods.
What is a microbe?
A microbe is a tiny living organism (also referred to as bacteria) that is found in water, air, soil, and the food we consume. In fact, our bodies house trillions of these microorganisms.
We have been conditioned to think that being hygienic is the first step to living a healthier life, but not all bacteria are harmful. It may be to your surprise that our immune systems are dependant on a multitude of bacteria/microbes for the shaping and managing of their well-being. This is because more than 80% of your immune system inhabits the lining of your gut, which is in permanent exposure to your microbiome.
The key to a well balanced microbiome?
1. Diversify your diet.
The consumption of a variety of nutrient-rich foods, guarantees an abundance of microbes. Microbes are just like us, they all have their specific preferences. Different foods for different needs. Eating a diet rich in prebiotic fibre like legumes, grains, seasonal fruit and veggies makes it more likely you will nourish more of them.
2. Grow your own food where possible.
The food we purchase in stores has gone through multiple phases of cleaning, extracting all the good soil bacteria and may even contain pesticides. If you are unable to grow, try to support local growers, buy from a farmer’s market or subscribe to a weekly veg box.
3. Get outside.
Even if you live in an apartment with limited garden access, regular trips to the park, beach, or a day out in the mountains will do wonders for your gut bugs. Outdoor activities are great for improving gut health as research has shown that the microbiomes of folks living in rural areas are superior to those of urbanites.
4. Eat Fermented Foods
Fermented foods are foods altered by microbes.
The process of fermenting usually involves bacteria or yeasts converting the sugars in food to organic acids or alcohol. Examples of fermented foods include:
5. Avoid artificial sweeteners
Artificial sweeteners are widely used as replacements for sugar. However, some studies have shown that they can negatively affect the gut microbiota.
Another study found similar results in mice and humans. It showed changes in the microbiota made artificial sweeteners have negative effects on blood sugar levels.
6. Stress less.
Stress can affect digestion, and what nutrients the intestines absorb. Gas production related to nutrient absorption may increase. The intestines have a tight barrier to protect the body from (most) food related bacteria. Stress can make the intestinal barrier weaker and allow gut bacteria to enter the body. Adopting a regular mindfulness practice can be a great way to counteract the impacts of daily stressors
Embarking on a culinary adventure of colourful hues and variety is a simple resolution we can embrace wholeheartedly in 2021. As Hippocrates once said “All disease begins in the gut” and if there is anything that 2020 has taught us, it’s that health is the most important ally we can have in a world that’s constantly changing.
Here’s to a health-filled, gut- loving, immune-savvy year ahead! 🙂
Image reference: Mor Shani