It’s time to finally break this at times very complicated subject down so everyone can begin balancing it like a Yoga Guru in tree pose!
What is the microbiome?
What if I told you that you are more bacteria than human! Well science has now proven you are. Your gut is made up of millions, if not trillions, of bacteria (microbiota). Predominantly our microbiome is made up of ‘friendly’ bacteria, but there are also integral ‘unfriendly’ bacteria too. It’s when these bacteria become out of whack that many health problems can occur, so our aim is to keep the bacteria in a state of harmonious balance.
It’s tricky though, as the microbiome can be sensitive and undergoes many changes throughout life’s ups and downs – especially stressful periods. A strong gut wall and flora means a better chance of unwanted substances entering the blood, otherwise known as leaky gut, and provoking an immune response. Some other benefits include generally improved digestion, reduced inflammation, faster metabolism, supported mental health, improved sleep patterns, clearer skin, better energy production, weight-loss support and reduced cravings.
How do we make an optimal environment?
You have may have heard of the ‘weed, seed, feed’ or perhaps ‘remove, repair and repopulate’ protocol, it’s basically the same thing. A system of eating that is focused on eating foods that nourish the gut and avoiding particular foods that aggravate it. The good news is several studies have shown gut microbiota can change quickly and thrives on diversity, so mixing up your menu is highly encouraged.
Foods to avoid
The ideal microbiome diet limits sugary, gluten, fried and processed foods. We also need to be cautious of how our body is reacting to dairy, eggs, soy, peanuts, yeast and avoid when possible artificial sweeteners, trans fats, toxins, chemicals, pesticides, antibiotics, hormones and some pharmaceutical medications. Foods that increase inflammation, acidity, decrease digestive enzymes and create toxicity need to be cut from the diet so the lining can begin to repair and strengthen. We then have a clean slate to repopulate with a more harmonious balance of good and bad bacteria.
Foods to increase
We want to focus on probiotic and prebiotic-rich foods, fresh fruits and vegetables, quality protein and healthy fats. An easy way to do this is to switch to a largely plant-based Mediterranean-organic style diet. It is naturally rich in prebiotic foods which are a type of indigestible fibre that helps feed friendly bacteria. Different microbes use different prebiotic fibres as fuels for them to grow. Prebiotic-rich foods can include lentils, whole grains, rye, GF oats, non-starchy vegetables (asparagus, carrots, garlic, artichokes, leeks, onions, and radishes and green peas) and low fodmap fruits (avocadoes, tomatoes, oranges, lemons, limes, rhubarb, raspberries and coconut). Also, add in some probiotic (live good bacteria) rich foods which can help seal gaps between intestinal cells and prevent leaky gut syndrome including yoghurt, kefir, tempeh, kombucha, miso, GF sourdough, sauerkraut, pickles and kimchi.
Improving your microbiome through diet can initially be quite restrictive on your food choices, so I suggest once you feel your microbiome is stronger you should experiment with reintroducing grains, dairy, eggs, legumes and starchy fruits and vegetables. A food, mood and symptom diary is a great way to stay on top of how the reintroduction is feeling mentally and physically. Remember, you can do all the right things nutritionally, but if you are not syncing that with daily exercise, relaxation techniques and a good night’s sleep you may continue to keep the microbiome out of balance.