If your gut is telling you something, listen to it.
Your gut is smarter than you think.
Did you know that over 70% of your body’s serotonin is produced by the gut? So if the gut ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.
More and more research is coming out about the links between gut health and your physical and mental health. Of course we know we need it to process our food and eliminate waste, but we hitherto didn’t really realize how simple things like excess mucus or inflammation in your gut’s lining can dramatically impact your well-being.
The massive population of different microbes (bacteria, viruses, fungi, etc…) that live in your gut are the often-temperamental governors of your intestines, and they make up your microbiome.
The microbiome comprises up to five pounds of your bodyweight and it plays and equally large role in your day-to-day functioning. From synthesizing vitamins and amino acids to destroying harmful microbes that enter the body, the microbiome is indispensable to your health and wellness.
Our modern diet and lifestyles can be very damaging to the microbiome, which can in turn sabotage your health goals.
So let’s dive right in to how to care for this vital population in order to optimize your health and nutrition.
Prebiotics are non-digestible parts of food that feed your gut bacteria. Like so many microscopic pets, the microbiome needs to be fed a healthy diet in order to thrive. Foods that pass through the small intestine undigested become fermented by the time they reach the large intestine, and your microbiome loves fermented foods.
So step 1 in the process of caring for your little bacteria friends is to feed it prebiotic rich foods. Some examples of prebiotic-rich foods include:
- Chicory root
- Flax seeds
- Certain types of edible seaweed
You know you need them. You hear all about them in health magazines and journals. But is there any rhyme or reason to which probiotics you should be consuming.
Yes there is.
- Lactobacillus acidophilus: this is the most common probiotic you’ll find in supplement form and in fermented foods such as yogurt and kefir. This probiotic can be helpful if you have lactose intolerance since Lactobacillus produces enzymes that break down lactose (milk sugars). This bacteria also produces lactic acid, which if you’re into muscle building and bulking you probably know is a great fuel source for your muscles.
- Saccharomyces boulardii: this probiotic has a growing amount of research the suggests this species of yeast has positive benefits for acute and chronic digestive issues like IBS, Crohn’s disease, recurrent colitis as a result of C. Diff and traveler’s diarrhea. Saccharomyces boulardii helps balance the gut when there is an overgrowth of bad bacteria.
- Bifidobacterium: there are many strains of this bacteria but all seem to help stimulate the immune system and can also prevent constipation.
As always, consult your physician before starting any new supplements. But if you have no restrictions, choose the probiotic that best suits your needs and provides a dose of at least 1 billion CFUs (colony forming units). Most health advice you’ll find says to take 1-2 billion CFUs per day, although some studies indicate that much higher doses are required to achieve results for some strains of bacteria.
So should you be taking more than one or two capsules?
My advice is that if you are using both supplements and a healthy, probiotic-rich diet there is usually no need to spend money on higher doses of supplements.
Ok, so what foods should I be consuming to get probiotics into my diet?
Here are some lovely suggestions:
- Yogurt (of course!). Look for Greek yogurt (unsweetened/unflavored) or “live cultured” probiotic yogurt.
- Kefir. I’m not a huge fan of this one, but it becomes more palatable if you’re using it as a smoothie base.
- Apple cider vinegar (use it for pickling or making salad dressings!)
- Raw milk and cheeses. If you’re not pregnant or immune-compromised, raw milk and cheeses (which have not been pasteurized) are an excellent source of probiotics. Again, check with your doctor to make sure unpasteurized dairy is ok for you.
- Pickled veggies. You can pickle just about anything.
- Wash out a mason jar, pack it tightly with pickles, sliced onions, or chopped cabbage for example, cover the veggies with a brine of vinegar (white or apple cider vinegar are fine) and water in a 1:1 ratio. Add 1-2 teaspoons of salt, peppercorns, and a tiny bit of sugar to the brine, close the jar tightly and set the jars on the counter for a few days to ferment. You can test-taste them after a couple days to see how you like them. Once they are fermented to your taste, refrigerate and enjoy. So easy! You can also add an oak leaf, grape leaves or a little black tea to the brine to get natural tannin and increase your pickle’s crunchiness.
Stress reduces blood flow to the gut in order to make sure your brain, heart and kidneys get first dibs on all blood supply.
And girlfriend, we are stressed all the freaking time!
We literally cannot escape stress some days.
This reduced blood flow limits immune responses to the gut and allows unfriendly bacteria to thrive.
So if stress-reduction is not a part of your daily routine, I recommend starting now.
Practice mindfulness, listen to a meditation (hello YouTube and free meditation apps!), breathe deeply, try yoga, exercise in a way that you love.
Sleep more without feeling guilty. Sleep better, which maybe means earlier bedtime, no electronics in bed, keep your room dark and quiet, no pets in bed, take some melatonin…
Reducing stress and deactivating the fight-or-flight mode that our modern life constantly puts us in is going to benefit you gut and so many other bodily systems!
Cut Out the Junk Food
You know it needs to be done.
Besides the fact that cutting out junk food leaves more room in your diet for whole foods full of pre- and probiotics in their natural state, we know from research that junk food can be very destructive to your microbiome.
Bleached, white flour. Refined sugars. Artificial flavors and colors. Pesticides. GMOs.
All of these things are harmful to your body.
All of them need to go.
If you can’t recognize what food you are eating just by reading the ingredients label, then skip it.
Or heck, at last try to limit it.
Start by giving yourself one junk food item per day, per week, per month…whatever it takes to reduce your intake of processed garbage, just do it!
Some research suggests that modern adaptations made to our food supply (GMOs) are damaging to the lining of our gut as well, which creates inflammation in the gut and can also allow unfriendly microbes to penetrate your gut wall. Modern wheat is under a lot of scrutiny as a possible culprit for leaky gut and other inflammatory bowel problems (for more on this, I recommend reading Wheat Belly by Dr. William Davis).
That’s four things.
Four big, huge things that might seem daunting and maybe not even that pressing since you can’t see what’s going on in your gut.
But girlfriend, I promise you that you are what you eat, and your little bacteria friends in your gut doing their very best to take care of you.
So take care of them in turn.
Gut health is linked to the health of literally everything else in your body.
If you are not caring for your microbiome, then you are not optimizing the nutrition that you work so hard to buy, prepare and consume in a healthy way.
And without nutrition, where is your health?
“Let food be your medicine and medicine be your food.” -Hippocrates