Gut health is one of the trends for 2019 – I can feel it. I’ve already been asked by prospective clients about a gut microbiome diet, so I wanted to dive into some straightforward strategies you could implement to help improve your gut microbiome. Now, I work with people who have GI issues and if there’s anything we need to know about the gut before moving forward it’s that there is no one size fits all and there is no such thing as “the perfect gut.” Capeesh?
Why is the gut microbiome important?
Watch the YouTube videos and read the evidence based research for more details than what I could ever provide here but essentially there is a growing amount of research that supports the idea that a healthy amount and variety of gut organisms (bacteria, yeasts, etc) play a crucial role in our health. Feed these potentially beneficial organisms and not only will your digestive system work more effectively but you will strengthen your immune system and potentially decrease your risk of certain conditions. Pretty cool, right? I think so!
What can I do to improve my gut microbiome?
While we’re still learning about the gut and these organisms, we do know that this is a very complex and intricate system affected by sleep, stress, genetics, exercise and of course what we eat. The food we eat is what feeds these live active organisms who have called out gut home.
So what do the organisms like to eat?
Fiber. Fiber is the number one thing these organisms like to feed off of. And with 100 trillion bacterial cells in our gut, that’s a lot of mouths to feed …which means we need to eat a hefty amount of plant-based high fiber foods to feed all of those mouths!
Oftentimes with clients, we don’t have a consultation that doesn’t include fiber to some degree. Sure, we talk about fiber for many reasons and how to increase fiber joyfully within the constraints of health/gut system/work/family/life balance because the reality is that fiber is great for many reasons and we all need to be eating more of it (generally speaking).
Particular types of fiber, known as prebiotics, are especially important in helping to grow potentially beneficial bacteria including bacteria in the Bifidobacterium genus (family). When we eat prebiotic fibers, it allows potentially beneficial bacteria to ferment and become more prolific – crowding out the potentially harmful bacteria.
In the fermentation process and growth of these potentially beneficial bacteria, short chain fatty acids are produced that make it more difficult for the potentially harmful bacteria to thrive and grow. This process is also what helps strengthen the gut barrier, keeping the cells healthy and actually makes them able to absorb more nutrients. Pretty cool, right?? One of those bacteria that has been in the research a lot lately, Akkermansia muciniphila, has been shown to decrease over time with age but the population can be positively influenced through fiber, specifically FOS fiber (more on that later). Bottom line, you need adequate fiber for a healthy gut.
How much fiber is enough?
A good goal for a high fiber diet to support your gut microbiome is 25 grams of fiber a day. Depending on where you are starting, this aim may seem unrealistic but I promise it’s not once you focus on more plant-based foods. Most of my vegan or mostly vegetarian patients consume this amount in just breakfast and lunch.
When you start to dive into fiber, you’ll find that there are different kinds of fiber including soluble fiber, insoluble fiber, resistant starch, and others.
Because I find that most people do not consume enough fiber, I aim to avoid the confusion about the type of fiber (unless you have specific GI issues) to consume and we work on eating a wide variety of plant-based fiber containing foods.
What plant-based high fiber foods should I start with?
I’m glad you asked! Here are some of the best everyday sources of prebiotic fiber:
- Think aromatics – onions, garlic, leeks, and celery have a considerable prebiotic effect
- Oats – oats (cooked or uncooked) provide beta-glucan (a soluble fiber) that is a favorite food source for some gut organisms
- Starch – firm/greener bananas, uncooked oats (energy ball snacks anyone?), and of course…beans of any and all kinds!
If you are interested in consuming the live active organisms to support your gut health, check out fermented foods:
- Fermented foods – fermented vegetables like fresh sauerkraut, miso, kimchi or tempeh and unsweetened yogurt are great sources of the potentially beneficial bacteria to support gut health
Fermented foods increase organisms and diversity and can work well to support our gut health if consumed a few times a week (keep in mind, fiber first).
Do I need a probiotic?
I get this question a lot and honestly it depends. If we’re talking everyday health… First, make sure you’re eating a lot of high fiber plant foods. Then, consider adding in fermented foods. Then maybe consider a probiotic if:
- You are experiencing more GI distress than usual
- You are planning a large trip
- You are taking a weekend away but you know you have a sensitive gut
- You are traveling international
- You are experiencing a season of life with more stress than usual (still work on strategies to help cope with the stress)
- You start taking antibiotics
- You are sick with the flu or a cold (70% of your immune system is in your gut – so if your immune system is compromised, your gut will be compromised and vice versa)
A probiotic is not right for everyone and part of that depends on the probiotic you’re taking. More is not always better in terms of the number of organisms.
What should I look for in a Probiotic?
We have 100 trillion organisms in our gut and sometimes it seems like there are just that many options of probiotics on the market! It can be a little overwhelming and it does depend on your unique gut profile, health conditions, GI conditions, and goals. Here are some things you may want to keep in mind:
- delayed release capsule
- plant-based probiotic
- Optional refrigeration (I still recommend it to maximize potency but helpful if you’re traveling
Keep in mind that there’s no such thing as a perfect gut microbiome. Literally, your gut is as unique as your fingerprint and the probiotic that’s best for your friend may not be best for you.
So, there you have it…straightforward ways to improve your gut health through your diet. Eat adequate fiber through plants. Consume some probiotic containing foods. Consider a probiotic. If you have any questions or want more individualized recommendations, reach out – I’d love to help!