More and more time and resources are being poured into researching the link between the gut microbiome and overall health and wellbeing. This is due to the significant impact that trillions of microscopic organisms which inhabit your body has on your immune system, digestive health, skin and even your metabolism. Yep, believe it or not we all have tiny little microbes made up mostly of bacteria, but also viruses and fungi, and they inhabit almost every part of our body and make up what is now known as the human gut microbiome.
How is it that these tiny microorganisms can have such an impact?
If you have ever suffered from excess gas, bloating, constipation or diarrhoea you will without a doubt know how embarrassing and often debilitating it can be particularly if it is a regular occurrence. What you may not know is that these symptoms may be due to poor gut health and that by making some dietary changes and improving some aspects of your environment you can improve gut health and be well on your way to healthier living.
Just what can we do to improve gut health?
How To Improve Gut Health
Firstly, we need to feed the tiny bacteria that inhabit the microbiome, sounds weird I know but these bacteria that fill our bodies comprise of both good bacteria and bad bacteria, and when these bacteria become out of balance this may significantly affect our immune system, our mental health and/or our skin health.
Of these many microbes that are living hopefully harmoniously in your gut, of the most studied would-be bacteria, so why are they there and what do they do?
Well, these tiny little bugs do several things from digesting food, to removing environmental toxins, and balancing the immune system. Once again, I am going to bring up the fact that everyone is different which means in this case that everyone’s gut microbiome is unique however, overall gut imbalances will affect so many aspects of most people’s health and life.
Above I mentioned that your gut flora is comprised of both good and bad bugs, the presence of bad bugs is totally normal however, we do not want the bad outweighing the good. Therefore, keeping a balance between good and bad is imperative. We want the good bacteria to thrive and the bad to be kept in line, as an imbalanced gut microbiota may lead to a lifetime of health challenges.
There is also a link between the gut microbiome and your teeth, therefore, it is important to regularly brush and floss your teeth. Have regular dental cleanings and check-ups, and limit sugar intake, in addition to being inflammatory to your body sugar may cause yeast to grow which can potentially throw out the delicate gut bacterial balance.
So how do you know if your gut is out of balance?
Several symptoms may develop for example, you may not be able to digest food very well and experience the occasional gas and bloating, constipation, or diarrhoea, you may experience food sensitivities or allergies, weight fluctuations, skin issues, fatigue, mood swings, or difficulty concentrating.
The good news is that it is possible to increase good bacteria in the gut naturally by following these steps.
These are 10 different ways to improve gut bacteria.
Increasing Fiber In Your Diet
Increase fibre in your diet, and I am not talking about ‘high in fibre’ cereals here or ‘whole wheat’ breads, as often these products contain ingredients that contribute to inflammation and impede nutrient absorption since they have been highly processed. Alternatively, look for whole grains like oats or quinoa, also include nuts, some excellent choices include walnuts and almonds as they are great sources of fibre and nutrients, just remember that when it comes to eating nuts that quantity is key only enjoy a small handful as a snack when hungry. Include leafy greens, root vegetables, try to source locally and seasonally when possible.
Include fermented foods as they include beneficial bacteria such as lactobacilli, some examples include sauerkraut, kefir, Tempeh, kimchi and Kombucha and we cannot forget about the benefits of plain natural yoghurt, not the highly flavoured types that contain loads of sugar.
Include dark chocolate and other foods rich in polyphenols, other great options include red grapes (red wine), almonds, green tea, cocoa, blueberries, these plant-based molecules fuel microbes.
Flavour your food with herbs like garlic, ginger, and turmeric these herbs and spices this will help balance the gut flora and make your food taste wonderful.
Use Natural Sweeteners
Ditch artificial sweeteners as they have a negative effect on the microbiome, and make a serious effort to cut back on sugar. Harmful bacteria feed off sugar, this includes fructose found in fruit which may negatively impact good gut bacteria leading to dysbiosis or leaky gut. Limit fruit to 2 pieces a day.
Try Intermittent Fasting
Try intermittent fasting. Overnight fasting or intermittent fasting will give your GI tract time to heal and will encourage microbes to work more efficiently.
Stop juicing although they taste yummy and sound impressively healthy when you juice you are removing the precious fibre, try eating an entire piece of fruit or vegetable instead, it is not often that you would sit down to eat 2-3 apples in one sitting which is generally what would be included in a juice containing apple.
Try New and Different Foods
Try new and different foods often, this will promote gut microbe diversity. Getting a wide variety of foods in your diet will help improve gut bacteria. Most of us only eat an extremely limited variety of foods, try adding a different food every week aiming to eventually be including 30 different foods each week.
Get Enough Sleep
Get enough sleep, those of us who are poor sleepers will undoubtedly end up with gut microbial imbalances in the longer term.
Include probiotics in your diet, particularly if you are not eating fermented foods. Probiotic supplementation aids the gut microbiome by adding beneficial bacteria particularly when diet and environmental factors are not supporting.
I hope now you can see just how important it is to improve gut bacteria for optimal health and just how easy it could be to increase good bacteria in the gut naturally given the tips provided in this blog.
Adv Dip Health Science Naturopathy, Nutrition