If you’re not, you should be! These colonies of microscopic bacteria make up about 70% of our immune system, and they outnumber our human cells by 10-fold. This community of over 100 trillion microbes living mostly in your gut helps your body with just about every process, from supporting digestion, to manufacturing neurotransmitters and vitamins, to keeping your hormones balanced and even helping you to think clearly. We’re learning more every day about the impacts that our gut flora may have on health, weight, mood and disease.
Unfortunately, most research suggests that our microbiomes are becoming increasingly unbalanced due to a range of modern food and lifestyle factors. Increased antibiotic use, the “Standard American Diet” high in processed foods and added sugars, chronic stress, less contact with dirt and animals, among other lifestyle and environmental factors, all add to up a microbiome that is less diverse overall and favors the growth of “unhelpful” bacteria over the “helpful” ones. This shift may be contributing to an increase in a wide range of diseases and conditions: everything from metabolic and autoimmune diseases to obesity, asthma, allergies, and even certain psychological problems.
The great news is that you can start to change your microbiome literally overnight! Diet is the most powerful influence on the communities living in our guts, followed closely by lifestyle factors like sleep, stress, and exercise. (Regularly getting “kissed” by the family dog also seems to help!) On average, a bacterium in your microbiome only lives for about 20 minutes, so you have the opportunity to improve your microbiome literally every time you eat.
Love your microbiome, and it will love you back:
Eat more plants, especially vegetables! The “good” bacteria in your body thrive and multiply when you feed them well. Eating a high-fiber, whole food based diet including vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans and lentils is the quickest way to shift your microbiome. Changes can be seen with even one day of healthy eating!
Include “prebiotic” foods in your diet: “Prebiotic” foods contain special fibers that good bacteria love. Some food sources of prebiotic fibers include onions, garlic, leeks, jicama, radishes, chicory root, green bananas, whole grains, seeds, Jerusalem artichokes, berries, and asparagus.
Don’t be too clean: Some probiotics, or good bacteria, come from the soil. So if you purchase organic carrots from a local farm or farmer’s market, don’t worry about peeling them or scrubbing away every last speck of dirt. Just wash them gently to benefit from the helpful bacteria they bring to the table.
Move every day. That’s right, you and your gut bacteria operate best after a good sweat session! New research shows that regular exercise promotes biodiversity of your gut flora by increasing the good bacteria. Can’t make it to the gym every day? Try turning on your favorite song and dancing at high intensity for a few minutes to shake off the day before dinner.
Reach for fermented foods. Fermented foods literally contain beneficial bacteria, so when you eat them, you’re improving the balance of “good guys” in your gut. Try to include one or two fermented foods or beverages in your diet every day. Some options include: sauerkraut, kimchi, pickles, kefir, yogurt, raw cheese, tempeh, miso, and kombucha.
Don’t forget the dark chocolate: That’s right! Eating 1-2oz of dark chocolate per day (aim for at least 70% cocoa) is actually good for your gut and your health. Dark chocolate contains prebiotic fibers and antioxidant compounds that are poorly digested by humans. Luckily, good gut bacteria gobble them up and break them down into easily absorbed inflammation-fighting and satiety promoting compounds, thus “unlocking” the health benefits of chocolate while helping to support a healthy microbiome.
Roses are red,
Violets are blue,
Love your bacteria,
And they will love you, too!
DID YOU KNOW? We accept Blue Cross, Harvard Pilgrim and Tufts health insurances. To find out more information or learn more about what nutrition counseling can do for you, please contact our nutrition team at firstname.lastname@example.org or 781.786.6079