What is the microbiome and why is it so important? The microbiome is a whole community of bacteria living inside our bodies. Our digestive tract is the central location. The microbiome influences your metabolism, weight, mood, appetite, immune system, and so much more. Studies show that a diverse microbiome lowers your risk for disease and allergies. Unfortunately, Americans have the lowest diversity!
Four Supporters of the Microbiome
- Fiber is known to support elimination. Fiber also provides food for microbes so they can make short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs). SCFAs decrease inflammation, help heal the gut, and allow you to burn fat more efficiently!
TIP: Set a goal to eat 30 different plant fibers a week to ensure microbial diversity.
Beans: dip, burgers, soups, chili, stir fry, pea protein powders.
Nuts/seeds: snacks, add to stir fry and salads.
Try a Microbiome boosting drink. Shop for 20-30 different organic vegetables and herbs. Using a food processor, blend them up into very small pieces. Place the herb/vegetable mixture into mason jars or Ziploc bags and store in the freezer. Each day, take 1-2 tablespoons of the mixture, dissolved in water. It is not about the quantity of fiber; it is about the diversity of the fibers.
- Phyto-chemicals (Polyphenols) are colorful compounds found in plants. Again, variety is KEY! Polyphenols stimulate beneficial bacteria and inhibit growth of bad (pathogenic) bacteria. They also decrease gut inflammation and prevent leaky gut. Variety increases diversity in the gut ecosystem. Different fibers provide food for different bacteria.
TIP: Eat the rainbow!
Red: apples, beans, beets, cranberries, cherries, goji berries, onions, radicchios, radishes, strawberries.
Orange: Apricots, bell peppers, carrots, mangos, oranges, pumpkins, squash, yams, turmeric root.
Yellow: Bananas, bell peppers, ginger root, lemons, pineapples, starfruit, summer squash.
Green: artichokes, asparagus, bean sprouts, broccoli, cabbage, celery, green beans, arugula, swiss chard, mustard greens, lettuce, okra, olives.
Blue/Purple/Black: blueberries, blackberries, cabbage, carrots, eggplant, figs, kale, grapes, potatoes, plums.
White/Tan/Brown: Apples, bean dips, cauliflower, coconut, dates, garlic, ginger, legumes (chickpeas, hummus, lentils, peanuts), mushroom, nuts (almonds, cashews, walnuts), seeds, tahini, black and white tea, whole grains (quinoa, rice).
- Probiotic-rich foods provide us with good microorganisms and increase SCFAs and help decrease the presence of less favorable bacteria.
TIP: Eat yogurt, kefir (coconut and nut versions too), fermented sauerkraut on sandwiches, eggs in grain bowls, Kim Chi, miso, or tempeh.
- Omega 3 Fatty Acids are correlated with greater diversity and help maintain our intestinal wall integrity. They also decrease inflammation.
TIP: Replace meat with fish. Buy grass-fed, pastured meats. Add walnuts to oatmeal and snacks. Add flax, chia, and hemp seeds to yogurt, smoothies, and salads.
Four Disruptors of the Microbiome
- Processed foods like refined sugar and carbs (crackers, bread, and pasta) are associated with lower gut microbe diversity. These foods create an environment in the gut that feed the bad microbes.
TIP: Eat naturally sweet fruits and vegetables. Nuts and seeds. Determine why you’re having sweet cravings. Is it from an unbalanced meal? Not stabilizing your blood sugar with enough protein?
- High amounts of red and processed meat alter the gut microbiome in a less favorable direction by helping the bad bacteria flourish and contributing to intestinal inflammation. They can also lower SCFA’s.
TIP: Combine bacon with vegetables. Opt for bean burgers or hummus sandwiches. Meatless Mondays: http//www.mondaycampaigns.org/Meatless-Mondays
- Food chemicals and additives (including artificial sweeteners) alter the composition and function of the gut flora and result in an imbalance of good and bad bacteria. Emulsifiers like carrageenan are associated with gut inflammation.
TIP: Add honey, luo han guo, or maple syrup instead. Cook with pureed dried fruits or banana.
- Pesticides significantly alter the gut microbiome.
TIP: Buy organic or pesticide-free if possible. Peel your fruit, and buy produce with a thicker peel.
2021 Dirty Dozen list (twelve top produce items that contain the most pesticide residues). Buy these organic. Strawberries, spinach, kale/collards/mustard greens, nectarines, apples, grapes, cherries, peaches, pears, peppers (bell or hot), celery, tomatoes.
2021 Clean Fifteen (top fifteen produce items that are contaminated with the least amount of pesticide residues). Avocados, sweet corn, pineapple, onions, papaya, sweet peas, eggplant, asparagus, broccoli, cabbage, kiwi, cauliflower, mushrooms, honeydew melon, and cantaloupe.
Lifestyle Support for the Microbiome:
- Stress reduction. Chronic cortisol from stress can negatively affect the makeup of the microbiome. Stress reduces the production of SCFA’s.
TIP: find a stress management technique that helps you, such as meditation, journaling, counseling, or yoga. Pick one day of the week and keep it free of work, appointments, and obligations.
- Sleep: Deep and longer periods of sleep are associated with a more diverse gut bacteria population. Poor sleep patterns can lead to higher levels of inflammation.
TIP: Create a consistent sleep routine. Avoid using electronic devices before sleep. Sleep in complete darkness. Cut out caffeine and alcohol before sleep.
- Physical Activity is positively correlated with a more diverse and resilient microbiome. Exercise also enhances the number of beneficial microbes in the gut independent of diet! Exercise helps to improve elimination and digestion as well as supporting stress levels and sleep patterns.
TIP: Find an activity you enjoy like walking, swimming, running, dancing, cycling, or using an elliptical machine.
By improving your diet, eating plenty of anti-inflammatory foods, fibers, and probiotics, lowering stress, sleeping properly, and exercising regularly, you can support your body’s microbiome and build a solid foundation for lasting health.