Your Healthy Gut Guide
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The Gut Microbiome 101
The body contains trillions of bacteria at any given moment, many of which aren’t harmful. In fact, good bacteria appear to be important aids for the body.
The effect of the body’s bacteria on the whole system is an ongoing pursuit, where numerous studies have found different things, ranging from central nervous system disorders, to mental health and sad moods, to obesity and immunity and disease in general, but it doesn’t always appear to be as clear as the media often makes out.
Indeed, due to the sheer amount of conditions, diseases, and components of health that the gut microbiome has been linked to (everything, it seems), the whole thing might well be overblown.
It should be stressed that the human body is extremely complicated, and new things are learned, and will continue to be learned, all the time. So time will tell of the gut mirobiome’s real importance.
However, with that disclaimer out the way, what follows is your microbiome 101 and what we think we know:
The Immune System And Gut Microbiome
The gastrointestinal (GI) tract plays a role in the immune system, and there are many bacteria living here, individualised to the individual.
Benefits of Good Gut Bacteria
Good gut bacteria help break down food, such as polysaccharides and resistant starch (both complex sugars), as well as metabolise proteins and synthesise vitamins.
Good gut bacteria can also:
Help prevent a pathogen invasion.
Aid cells in repairing damaged tissues.
Help with blood sugar.
Help with inflammation.
Help with cholesterol.
Over time, lack of good bacteria may also increase risk of:
Type 2 diabetes.
Lack Of Good Gut Bacteria & An Unbalanced Microbiome
An unbalanced microbiome is a microbiome that is experiencing disruption (dysbiosis) to the gut flora—it’s basically when your gut microbiome is lacking sufficient good bacteria.
It can happen through:
Antibiotics kill bacteria, including our good ones, so don’t take antibiotics unless necessary.
After a course of antibiotics, consider a course of probiotics in an attempt to repopulate your gut with the healthiest strains.
Not having too sterile an environment might also be a worthy pursuit.
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How To Get A Healthy Gut & A Diverse Gut Microbiome
Dietary choices are how we aid our good gut bacteria, and the easiest way for a healthy individual to aid their gut microbiome is through eating foods that promote a healthy gut, and the best foods to eat for a healthy gut come by way of a balanced diet of whole foods.The easiest way for a healthy individual to aid their gut microbiome is through eating foods that promote a healthy gut, and the best foods to eat for a healthy gut come by way of a balanced diet of whole foods. Click To Tweet
A balanced diet consists of:
Let’s have a primer on each.
Carbohydrates have been looked at with suspicion for the past few years with the resurgence of low-carb diets, but there’s nothing ‘wrong’ with carbs and the gut microbiome loves them!
In fact, carbs are the best foods to eat for a diverse gut microbiome and healthy gut because fibre and gut health are the best of friends.
However, before we expand on that, let’s have a quick overview of carbohydrates.
Carbohydrates can be simple or complex, but when you eat them your body breaks most of them down into their simple form (such as glucose) for energy needs.
Glucose is used to provide immediate fuel to cells and maintain consciousness.
Unused carbohydrates can be converted into glycogen for short-term storage.
Unused carbohydrate can also be turned into fat for longer-term storage.
Proteins are the building blocks for basically every cell in the body. They are made up of amino acids.
There are nine essential amino acids (essential meaning your body can’t make them on its own), and they can all be found in animal protein sources, which makes these protein sources complete protein sources.
Vegetarian foods mostly need to be eaten in combinations to generate complete protein sources. For example, a plate of rice and beans is considered a complete protein.
If your diet is free from animal sources then you should educate yourself on food combinations that grant you complete proteins.
The body requires fat for proper functioning.
The goal for a balanced diet should not be the elimination of fats, but rather to consume the right fats.
The right and healthy fats are the unsaturated fats, such as those found in fish, nuts, olive oil and peanut butter.
Limiting saturated fats is a worthy pursuit due to it increasing LDL cholesterol, which increases risk of cardio vascular disease. Note that limiting doesn’t mean not eating.
Vitamins and Minerals
Vitamins and minerals are used for myriad important processes, including cell repair and energy conversion.
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So that’s the basic route to a healhy gut… a healthy, balanced, and varied diet, but can we zone in and get a little more specific about things?
Yes, we can. And we do that through biotics.
Biotics is a catch all term for:
Probiotics—live microrganisms (bacteria and yeast) that attempt to replenish the healthy strains of gut bacteria. Colloquially, probiotics are considered “good gut bacteria”.
Prebiotics—food and nourishment for your gut bacteria. Prebiotics are foods that promote a healthy gut.
Postbiotics—compounds, like short-chain fatty acids, that are produced by your bacteria after feeding them prebiotics.
Synbiotics—a mixture of biotics that confers a health benefit.
In respect of your time, we will only touch on prebiotics here since these, arguably, provide the most reliable bang for your buck due to being the food for your good gut bacteria, which helps them grow in power and gain the upper hand over bad bacteria.
Our bacteria depend on the nourishment gleaned from food that is not digested in the stomach and small intestine.
Those indigestible foods are the prebiotics—foods that serve as energy sources for the good bacteria.
Prebiotics contain indigestible saccharides (sugar).
Diverse fibre and resistant starch is what you want to focus on for a healthy and diverse microbiome.
Prebiotics—The Best Foods To Eat For A Healthy Gut?
It’s better to think of prebiotics as foods that promote a healthy gut, rather than as the best foods to eat for a healthy gut.
Remember, they are nourishment to your good gut bacteria, so therefore provide assistance in not having an unbalanced microbiome.
Here is a select list of prebiotic foods.
Bananas – more green the better.
Chicory root – Sometimes used as a coffee substitute.
Leeks – Also an excellent source for vitamin K.
Dandelion greens – They make a great salad.
Jerusalem artichoke – Either raw or cooked.
Cabbage – Preferably raw, but also as sauerkraut.
That said, anything fibrous is a good bet as a prebiotic.
Health Benefits from Prebiotics
Benefits to feeding your good gut bacteria appear varied, but they seem to include:
Improvement in diarrhea, both caused by bacteria and by antibiotics.
Relief from the symptoms of both diarrhea and constipation in irritable bowel syndrome.
Improvement in the symptoms and decreased inflammation in inflammatory bowel disease, such as Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis.
Protection against cancer of the colon by keeping the colonocytes healthy.
Aids in lowering cholesterol levels in the blood.
Helps absorption of minerals such as calcium and magnesium.
5 Direct Tips For A Healthy Gut & Improved Health
You will likely find that your overall health, mood, and energy levels can be affected by your diet, so here are five straight forward tips for a healthy gut and improving your health.
Fibre And Gut Health
As mentioned, fibre and gut health go hand in hand, but you don’t have to be a vegetarian or vegan for your diet to be healthy—and these diets can actually be unhealthy if you aren’t careful or don’t know what you’re doing (e.g. incomplete protein sources), and processed vegetarian and vegan dishes often lack fibre, potein, and are high calorie.
Regardless, for the promotion of a healthy gut and a diverse gut microbiome, it is a good idea to fill the majority of your plate with plant-based foods, rather than meat, dairy, or eggs, since these foods:
Nourish you—they’re full of vitamins and minerals.
Fill you up—they’re satiating.
Help you maintain a healthy weight—because they’re low calorie for a large volume.
And nourish your good gut bacteria—they’re food for your gut microbiome, which promotes your overall health.
Being too aggressive with your intake over too long a time-frame can cause damage, some of which can be lasting.
Cutting back on your intake will also aid you in sleeping better.
Swap Unhealthy Fats for Healthy Fats
The type of fat you eat matters.
Again, read this.
As a quick primer:
“Bad” fats include trans fats and hydrogenated oils, which can be found in processed and fried foods.
Saturated fat, which is found in many animal foods, should be moderated.
Unsaturated fats are the healthiest to consume regularly.
Choose Your Meats Carefully
Red meat, such as beef and pork, contains a lot of saturated fat, so it’s best to eat it sparingly.
White meats, particularly fish, are a wiser choice overall.
Listen to Your Body
Everyone’s body is a little bit different so you won’t have the exact same nutritional needs as someone else.
Follow the general guidelines of healthy eating, but get into the habit of listening to your body and noticing how certain foods make you feel.
If you notice that certain foods make any symptoms flare up (or leave you feeling great), adjust your diet accordingly.
A journal can be an excellent aid in helping you track how particular foods affect your health and well-being.
Another thing that a journal can help with are food sensitivities, and in the vein of listening to your body and its reactions to certain foods, let’s finish by covering them.
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Although food sensitivities are not an indicator of an unhealthy gut, they are something that makes you feel as though the state of your gut is less than ideal and can affect your mental well-being by way of being an unpleasant experience.
Food Sensitivities and Your Health
Food sensitivities and food allergies are two different things, and unlike food allergies (such as an allergy to peanuts or shellfish), food sensitivity reactions are rarely extreme or life threatening.
Food sensitivities will often go undiagnosed.
Food Allergy, Food Intolerance or Food Sensitivity?
Food allergies are an immune response that trigger a histamine reaction within the body.
Food allergies can have extreme reactions, such as hives, or worse, anaphylaxis shock. A reaction to a food allergy is generally immediate and extreme, often requiring medical attention.
Food intolerances occur when the body lacks the enzyme necessary to digest a certain food.
Consequently, there is often an uncomfortable digestive reaction. An example would be lactose intolerance. Those with lactose intolerance have insufficient amounts of the lactase enzyme necessary to digest milk sugar. Food intolerances often run in families.
A food sensitivity is harder to pin down.
In contrast to a food allergy, the reaction to a food sensitivity can be delayed for days after eating the triggering food. Also, unlike a food intolerance, the cause of the reaction is generally unknown.
Consequently, those with food sensitivities may never know what’s causing their symptoms because of the delayed and often vague reaction.
What If You Suspect You Have a Food Sensitivity?
Keep a record of all the foods you eat, along with your suspected symptoms and when they occur.
Do this for several weeks.
Next, begin an elimination diet, such as FODMAP. This involves eliminating foods one at a time for long enough to check the results.
When you are free of symptoms for the ensuing weeks, you’ve likely pin-pointed a trigger food.
Living with Food Sensitivities
Fortunately, by eliminating the foods which trigger your symptoms you can eliminate your symptoms within weeks.
While it may be difficult to eliminate some foods completely, cutting back on certain foods will cut down on your symptoms and discomfort.
Ultimately, living with food sensitivities involves finding a balance to minimize your symptoms as well as maintaining a healthy diet.
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At the end of the day, a healthy gut and microbiome is most likely not the panacea that some of us have been led to believe and will seldom solve all your problems—but it gives you a good shot!
Further, maintaining a healthy gut microbiome is also not brain surgery. You basically:
Don’t intentionally do things to harm it for no good reason, i.e. unnecessary antibiotics.
If you do think it’s been harmed (such as from an antibiotics course, illness, etc.) and it’s left you with lasting symptoms (IBS, diarrhea, unsettled digestion, etc.), become diligent with your prebiotic intake (i.e. fibre), as well as possibly start taking some probiotics.
If your problems haven’t cleared up within 4 weeks, swap to a different probiotic.
If it’s ongoing and lasting, you may have a food sensitivity. In such a case, consider an elimination diet, such as FODMAP.
Processed foods often lack fibre, protein, vitamins and minerals, so follow a whole foods diet.