Nurture Your Precious Microbiome
The huge ecosystem of microorganisms that reside in your gastrointestinal tract (your microbiome) largely define your health destiny.
Think of them as your most valuable partner in health and healing.
The microbiome is integral to immunity, modulating inflammation, digestive function, mood, metabolism, stress resiliency, and much, much more.
What defines a “healthy microbiome” is having a broad array and an abundance of “good” bacteria in your gut. Here are the key strategies for establishing and maintaining a healthy microbiome.
- Eat an abundant variety of plant-based foods, including whole grains, beans, nuts, seeds, vegetables, and fruits. Good bacteria “feed” off the fiber that only plant foods can provide, so the more real food fiber you eat, the more “good” bacteria you will have in your gut. This is THE MOST POWERFUL and EFFECTIVE route to ensure a healthy microbiome. Conversely, if you do not eat an abundance of fiber-rich, plant-based foods success is highly unlikely.
- Make note of your microbiome’s preferred types of fiber—inulin and arabinogalactans. The foods that offer the highest levels of these life-giving forms of fiber, also known as prebiotics, are: garlic, onions, leeks, Jerusalem artichokes, asparagus, lentils, oats, carrots, beans, okra, radishes, and tomatoes. Think of these foods as your microbiome “superstars.”
- Regularly consume foods high in polyphenols: dark chocolate, freshly brewed tea (green and black), berries, cherries, currants, artichoke hearts, citrus, filtered coffee, apples, plums, and red wine (one glass a day). Polyphenols are plant-based compounds that favorably modulate the microbiome by boosting the growth and activity of good bacteria while inhibiting the growth of harmful bacteria.
- Limit consumption of processed, industrial foods, especially fast foods, junk foods, and those lacking fiber. These foods “feed” the bad bacteria, and the more bad bacteria you have in your gut, the less good ones you will have as they are in competition. Be especially vigilant in avoiding processed foods containing “emulsifiers” like lecithin, polysorbate 80 (PS80), and carboxymethylcellulose (CMC). These dubious compounds are ubiquitous in processed foods and have been shown to interfere with a healthy gut lining and disrupt microbial balance.
- Regularly include probiotic foods (fermented foods containing live beneficial bacteria) in your diet. Daily is best! Kefir, yogurt, tempeh, sauerkraut, kombucha, kimchee, and any other “fermented” foods that contain live bacteria are indispensable allies for nurturing your microbiome. Kefir is an especially potent and delicious fermented food.
- Do not take antibiotics unless medically required. If you must take an antibiotic, talk to your doctor about taking a daily probiotic supplement (they are over-the-counter) or include two doses of fermented foods daily (kefir in particular) while you are on the antibiotic and for two full weeks thereafter.
- Get out in nature, and get dirty! Soil and all living things contain their own ecosystems of good bacteria, and the more we encounter the more robust our own microbiomes will be. Gardening, especially vegetable gardening, is highly recommended!
- If you cannot consume fermented foods regularly, consider a regular, daily supplement of a high-quality probiotic. Keep in mind that the safety and potency of fermented foods exceeds what is found in most probiotic supplements and at a fraction of the cost! (Always talk with your healthcare provider before taking any supplements.)
- Get a household pet. Folks that have pets have been shown to have healthier microbiomes. Dogs are best.
- Avoid the use of consumer products that are marketed and labeled as “antibacterial.” There is no evidence that they benefit our health, and there is growing evidence they kill the good bacteria in and on our bodies, in addition to other risks.
- Future and expectant mothers: Breastfeed (12 months optimal), avoid the use of antibiotics in pregnancy unless medically required, and avoid Cesarean delivery unless clearly medically indicated.
- Stay active! Exercise boosts the levels of good bacteria in the gut, so be sure to engage in regular physical activity. 30 minutes or more of moderate to vigorous movement most days of the week is a good target.
For more expert guidance on living your healthiest life, order your very own copies of Dr. Ann’s award-winning Eat Right for Life® books. Get the Combo (Eat Right for Life and the Cookbook Companion) and we’ll include a free Dr. Ann Grocery Guide!