I was first introduced to the concept of gut health as a kid, while watching Jamie Lee Curtis in those television commercials for yogurt. She sat on a comfortable looking couch while coyly explaining that the yogurt she was holding was helping her ‘stay regular’, whatever that meant.
Staying regular, probiotic, fermented foods, kombucha, gut health and so on, are all terms that we have gotten used to hearing. They are dropped casually by our health-conscious friends, we see them in the grocery store, we hear about them in magazines, podcasts, and around. But through all the little bits of information that we discover, do we have a foundational understanding of gut health? Well, I didn’t. And discovering the basis of why gut health is such an umbrella factor to our overall health certainly opened my eyes to the little adjustments I could make to support my own gut, and the massive health benefits of doing so.
One important word that we don’t talk about enough when discussing gut health, perhaps because it enters a science-y realm that may scare people off, is the microbiome. But don’t worry, it’s really not as complicated as you may think.
Cultivate your microbiome.
Seriously, it could be the best health advice you ever receive. The microbiome is the hub inside your body that contains the combined genetic material of all the organisms living inside the gut–eighty percent of your immune system is your microbiome. The microbiome is like the controller station for a ton of processes that are happening inside your body including: digesting your food, thinking clearly, and maintaining a healthy body weight. When you’re taking care of your microbiome, your microbiome is taking care of you.
There are three types of ‘bugs’ inside your microbiome, and they are all important to gut health.
- Symbiotic (good) bugs: Basically all around do-gooder gut bugs.
- Pathogenic (bad) bugs: These guys actually serve purpose through their detrimental nature. By challenging the strength of our immune system, they make our system stronger. The only issue is that many of us have an unhealthy amount of these guys within our microbiome.
- Commensal (neutral) bugs: Depending on the overarching influence of the gut, these guys can assist the good or bad bugs.
When we achieve a healthy balance of all three gut bugs, the ecosystem that is our gut flora is in harmony. As a result, our bodily functions run smoothly, we’re in good spirits, we feel energized, we are ‘regular’, and our immune system is strong against infection. However, due to diets that are filled with high processed foods, sugar, meat and dairy filled with hormones, and over-prescribed antibiotics, many of us are living with unbalanced guts.
You can’t change your genes, but you can change your microbiome.
Many people complain that their poor health is a reflection of their genes, claiming that some people can eat ‘whatever they want’, and still seem to reap the benefits of optimal health. Well, you can’t change your genes, but you CAN change your microbiome. The health of your microbiome depends on adequate sleep, your environment, and leading an active lifestyle, but one of the most important, and controllable factors, is diet, and choosing the right foods to put into your body. And here’s the good news, you can contribute to transforming your microbiome every time you sit down for a meal.
Follow these guidelines for a happy microbiome and a healthy gut!
- Cut out processed foods and refined sugars.
- Get your carbs from vegetables and low-sugar fruits (strawberries, blueberries, and blackberries are all low sugar).
- Eat lots of dark, leafy greens.
- You’ve heard of probiotics (thanks Jamie Lee), but there are also PREbiotic superfoods that nourish the healthy bacteria in your body, such as radishes, sunchokes, leeks, asparagus, carrots, garlic, and turmeric.
- Drink warm lemon water in the morning. This cleanses your system, provides electrolytes, and aids in digestion.
- Include PRObiotic foods (fermented foods), such as kombucha, sauerkraut, pickles, probiotic yogurt with live and active cultures, miso, tempeh, and kimchi into your diet.
- Try taking a high-quality probiotic. These help maintain the ecosystem of your gut, and are especially helpful if you’ve just finished a round of antibiotics.
What has your experience been in exploring gut health?