The importance of the microbiome in our gut (in general terms - the amount of 'healthy' gut bacteria we have) has been coming more and more into focus over the last decade.
The scientific consensus is evolving to show the importance of having a healthy gut microbiome a cornerstone in a healthy life. Recent research has demonstrated that the microbiome in the gut plays a pivotal role in both preventing disease, as well as promoting overall wellness - including weight loss, digestion, mental health, and more.
In this article we'll touch on a few ways to help you maintain healthy stomach flora with proper nutrition.
1. Prebiotic Fiber: The Foundation
Building a strong house starts with a good foundation. In the case of a healthy gut, the foundation is your prebiotic nutrients. Which is just a fancy way of saying food for the good bacteria in your gut. Stomach flora feeds on what's known as insoluble fiber, meaning fiber that we can't absorb for ourselves. Weird right? We have to eat things that we can't digest to feed little organisms that live inside of us. Insoluble fiber can be found in all sorts of vegetables, but some of the best sources include the following:
With prebiotic fiber, it's about the habit. The microorganisms in your gut will be at their best with a steady stream of nutrients to feed on. By studying fossilized human excrement, researchers have found that our ancestors consumed about 135 grams of insoluble fiber per day. Today we consume about 3.5 grams per day... a very big difference! An ideal amount is somewhere between 25 and 40 grams per day according to most researchers.
2. Kickstart with Probiotic Supplements
If you're experiencing issues that you believe are related to an unhealthy gut, it might be worth supplementing with probiotics. This can be a difficult landscape to navigate, as there is currently no regulation on quality. Meaning you aren't necessarily getting what you pay for. There are, however, some product manufacturers that have subjected themselves to rigorous scientific scrutiny. Sticking to these manufacturers provides the best bet for potency and quality. VSL #3 and Visbiome are two examples of such products. If you're looking for more of a maintenance regimen than a reset, however, then a more affordable probiotic supplement might be a better option.
3. Fermented Foods
For everyday maintenance of gut health, you can't beat fermented foods. These are food sources that often come with both the bacteria you want as well as some food source for them to feed on. It's helpful to think about the flora in our gut like the grass in our yard. Without proper maintenance the grass gets patchy, weeds take root, etc. Similarly, we can develop things like "Leaky Gut" which is basically patchy gut flora. We can also develop candida overgrowth, which would be akin to weeds. It's for these reasons that we want to keep a steady stream of fermented foods moving through the intestines. This keeps the gut well "seeded" and avoids the issues that come with poor flora maintenance.
Here are some fermented foods that should be consumed regularly:
4. Ditch the Sugar
Excess consumption of added sugar can wreak havoc on our gut by feeding unhealthy bacteria and causing inflammation in the gut and elsewhere. Excess sugar is also associated with heart disease, stroke, obesity, diabetes, high blood cholesterol, cancer, and cavities.
Whoa – scary, right? We should avoid it at all costs, right? It’s not quite that simple.
Many things in life are dangerous to consume in excess – even water. It is the dose that makes the poison. Small amounts of added sugars are not necessarily harmful, especially when included in a healthy diet of fruits, veggies, lean proteins, healthy fats and complex carbs.
That being said, our lifestyle and environments tend to be overloaded with an abundance of high sugar foods, and thus we tend to consume too much. The Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada and World Health Organization recommends less than 5% and a maximum of 10% of your daily calories to come from added sugar.
The average 2,000 calorie-per-day diet contains 12 teaspoons of added sugars (ideally you would want it to contain no more than 6). One can of pop contains about 10 teaspoons of sugar! Can you see how we have gotten into trouble over the years with over-consuming excess sugar?
5. Avoid Antibiotics
Last but not least, is the subject of antibiotics. Antibiotics are excellent at killing bacteria and are truly a marvel of modern medical science. However, your gut flora are also bacteria...as are your skin flora, sinus flora, etc. Antibiotics are really good at killing all bacteria. Think about it like this, if you saw a weed in your lawn would you nuke your entire yard with agent orange to get rid of it? Probably not. But this is how we approach lots of germ-related diseases. Doctors will prescribe antibiotics for something as benign as a head-cold, which is like using a sledge hammer when a thumbtack will do. All that being said, antibiotics are appropriate in many circumstances like severe infection, surgery, and more. If you need to take them that is okay of course, just be sure to immediately start on a stout probiotic regimen during taking the antibiotics, and also when you finish (see step 2).
We hope these tips have been helpful for you on your journey to a healthier gut. The human body is a massively complex system, and modern science is just beginning to scratch the surface. Who knew it was necessary to not only take care of yourself, but also trillions of little organisms that live inside of you? Luckily, now you do. A healthy gut has been shown to reduce the risk of depression, Alzheimer's, autism, various cancers and more. So get after it and make that gut flora lawn the best on the block.
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