Ways to Improve Your Microbiome
Gut healthy is super-important to your overall health. Here are a few ways to improve your microbiome.
Your Microbiome Loves a Varied Diet Full of Different Fibers
How much do you know about your microbiome? It’s the collection of bacteria and various other organisms that live in your gut. We’re still learning exactly what they do, but the importance of the human microbiome has become more and more apparent in recent years. It has become so important; the gut microbiome is often referred to as the second brain. The more we learn, the more connections we are finding between the gut and the brain.
For example, did you know that there is a link between depression and a lack of certain bacteria in the gut? The same goes for migraines. In other words, making sure those little critters in your gut are healthy and well-fed will go a long way toward helping your entire body stay healthy. And the best thing you can do for your microbiome is to eat a varied diet full of different fibers. Let’s talk about how to do that.
There are all sorts of different types of bacteria and other microorganisms that live in our gut. Each family or each type thrives on a different type of nutrients, especially various forms of fiber and starches. The idea is to encourage a diverse biome by eating lots of different types of food, particularly those rich in fiber. That means fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts and seeds and the like.
A fun way to accomplish this is by challenging yourself to eat 30 or more different types of plants each week. It sounds like a lot at first glance, but when you realize that each different type of lettuce, each herb, each type of grain and each spice counts, it’s not that hard to get to thirty and beyond. Let’s take a look at what that might look like.
For breakfast, you can have things like oatmeal, whole grain toast, grits, granola, or a smoothie full of different fruits and veggies. Throw some chia seeds or flax seed in and you’ll add quite a bit of variety each day.
For lunch, have a mixed salad one day, a flaxseed wrap another day, and hummus with raw veggies the next. And don’t forget about soup. It’s a great source of all sorts of different fibers. Throw in some buckwheat or wild rice and you’ll add even more diversity.
Did we hit twenty yet? If not, mix up your starches by using potatoes, sweet potatoes, various types of pasta, breads, and things like couscous or quinoa. Roast a few of your favorite veggies and let’s not forget about beans and other pulses. Try different types of beans, lentils, and dried peas.
By getting creative, you can get close to hitting your thirty different plants in a single meal by making a big pot of soup or chili full of different beans, veggies, herbs, and spices. Give it a try. And don’t forget about various nuts and seeds. They make great snacks and help you reach your plant diversity goal.
Adding Probiotics To Your Diet
One of the best things you can do to improve your microbiome is to make sure you include probiotics in your diet. Ideally you want to include some every day or at least most days of the week. But what exactly are probiotics? They are microorganisms that live in the food we consume. Yogurt is a great example that most of us are familiar with. As long as the yogurt hasn’t been pasteurized, it has live cultures (a.k.a bacteria and other microorganisms) in it that can then make it into your gut and help populate it with good organisms.
It’s a good idea to include some sort of probiotic daily. Think of it as a maintenance thing, similar to taking a multi-vitamin. Probiotics are a great tool to help you populate your gut flora with good bacteria. They are available in pill and drink form, or you can get them by eating probiotic rich food on a daily basis.
What you want to look for are fermented foods and drinks. We already consume quite a few of them. Yogurt is a great example. As is cheese, sauerkraut, sourdough bread, and even pickles. By making sure we include them several times per week or even daily, we can help out our gut and with it improve our microbiome.
It is important that the fermented foods you eat have live cultures in them. Most commercial pickles for example have been pasteurized. This kills the bacteria and makes for a longer shelf life. If you look, you can find varieties with life cultures (often in the refrigerated section), and you can make many of these fermented foods at home as well. Let’s run through a few of them.
Yogurt – Yogurt is so versatile. You can eat it plain, sweeten it with a little fruit or honey, turn it into a filling meal by adding grains like oats, or turn it into a portable breakfast by making a smoothie. Look for life culture yogurts and stay away from varieties that have a lot of added sugar. The sugar is counterproductive by feeding the bad bacteria we don’t want in our gut.
Kefir – If you like yogurt, you’re going to love Kefir. It has quite a lot more probiotics and cultures that you can’t get from your yogurt. With a similar flavor profile, it’s great for smoothies. You can purchase kefir, or make your own using kefir grains. The process involves leaving a cup of unpasteurized milk mixed with the grains out on the counter for about twenty-four hours. It will thicken and acquire the tart, mildly cheesy taste it is known for.
Cheese – Let’s round out this discussion by talking about cheese. Cheese is made with the help of bacteria. If you can find unpasteurized cheese, you can count it towards your probiotic food intake.
Sauerkraut & Other Lacto-Fermented Veggies – Sauerkraut is a great probiotic-rich food. Look for the kind in the refrigerated section that hasn’t been pasteurized or make your own. All it takes is a clean container, cabbage, salt, and time. You can ferment and preserve other vegetables in the same way. Search lacto fermentation. Carrots and cucumbers are great options when you’re starting out. Kimchi is another fun option that you can often find at your local grocery store.
Keep trying different probiotic rich foods and add a commercial probiotic when you need that extra boost (after a round of antibiotics for example).
Avoiding Antibiotics And What To Do When You Have To Take Them
Antibiotics are one of the great medical miracles of the 20th century. They save lives daily and keep us from suffering needlessly from a wide range of infections. But like with so many other things, there is a price we pay when we take them. No, this isn’t about breeding super bugs though that’s certainly one of the issues. The problem I want to address today is the unintended damage antibiotics do to the microbiome.
Your microbiome is made up of various bacteria with a few fungi and other microorganisms thrown in for good measure. The bacteria are the problem when it comes to taking antibiotics. While the medication does a great job fighting your infection and getting you back to feeling like yourself, it also destroys some of the good bacteria in your gut. That in turn gives other, less beneficial bacteria a chance to take over. It’s why we often feel bad and have stomach issues while taking antibiotics.
So, what do you do? The first step is to avoid taking antibiotics unless they are necessary. Too often we treat them as the easy button. We ask for them and doctors prescribe them first, only later investigating what else it could be if the antibiotics don’t work. Don’t insist on a course for a case of the sniffles. Chances are those cold symptoms are caused by a virus. Strengthening your immune system by eating healthy, getting enough sleep, and spending time outside in the sun is another good preventative strategy.
That said there are times when you have to bite the bullet and take them. If that’s what you need to do to get better, by all means, go for it. There are lots of things you can do to help restore your gut biome when you’re done taking them. Start taking a probiotic as soon as possible. Speak to your doctor or health care professional about this. They will be able to guide you on when to start. This is a great time to invest in a quality probiotic supplement.
Include natural probiotics like yogurt with live cultures into your diet. Eat plenty of fresh fruits, veggies, and whole grains to provide your microbiome and the good bacteria with all the prebiotic fiber they need to grow and flourish. Cut back on sugar and processed foods for a while until things are back on track. In short, eat well, give your body what it needs and don’t be afraid to take a round or two of antibiotics when they are warranted.