Whew! What a packed weekend! Not only was there all the excitement about the Super Bowl (well, for most people, that is. I kept it pretty low key), but I also made a trip back to my Alma mater for a girls’ weekend with two of my closest friends from college. If you’ve been following this blog for awhile, you may be noticing a trend — we try to get together at least a handful times throughout the year (such as this time and this time, just to name a couple). And you know what? I absolutely love it!
We switch it up every time with where we’re going to meet up and this time we chose our old stomping grounds in Ames, Iowa, where we all went to college. It was great being back and reminiscing about all the “good times.” Besides all the catching up we did, we cheered on the women’s basketball team at the Hilton Coliseum, ate at some of our favorite places, and took in everything that had changed on campus since the short time we’d been in school…or maybe six years isn’t that short of time? Eek! Time flies by!
Even though it’s been six years since I was graduating with my bachelors in dietetics (I was just a baby!), I’m always learning more about the field of nutrition as so many things have already changed since then. I love staying on top of all these current trends, findings, and changes. And one of the “hot topics” in the nutrition arena is your gut microbiome…say what? In other words, all the bacteria living inside of you. Turns out they play a huge role in our health!
A lot of times when we think about what we need to do to adjust our diets in order to stay on top of our health, we don’t think to consider how our gut may play a role in their health – a very crucial role.
It’s common for people to start exercising more regularly or begin watching how many calories they consume more intentionally in order to improve how they feel. However, many may be forgetting an important aspect: what we’re eating and how our bodies use what we eat for good (or bad).
There’s a good reason our gut and the bacteria living in our gut – called our microbiome – are such an important factor in our overall health. We are actually more microbiome than human! We have four to 10 times more bacterial cells living inside of us than we do human cells.
With all that bacteria inside of us, we can expect our microbiome to do a lot for us, from aiding in digestion and producing enzymes that break down food to regulating metabolism, fighting pathogens and boosting immunity.
Our bacteria do not always stay the same, though, and not all bacteria are created equal.
Whatever we put into our bodies affects what bacteria we choose to have thrive in our gut – for better or for worse. Our bacteria have the ability to evolve with us and influence our metabolism, physiology, nutrition and immune function.
If you feed your gut sugary foods, the pathogenic bacteria thrive, leading to low-grade inflammation and more serious chronic diseases like diabetes and obesity. Feed it fiber in the form of vegetables and whole grains and your bacteria will start to work for you. The good news is that it doesn’t take long for these changes to occur—just a few days and your microbiome has changed.
So, the real question is how do we start practically fueling the good bacteria in our gut. It all comes down to prebiotics (the food that feeds the microbiota) and probiotics (beneficial bacteria strains found in our foods and supplements). Here are some ideas of what to eat to help you and your gut get you:
- Fruits and vegetables. A diet rich in vegetables, fruit, and legumes is high in dietary fiber and polyphenols, which offer fuel to bacteria in the form of prebiotics.
- Fermented foods. These foods contain strains of beneficial bacteria that can positively affect your microbiota. Yogurt and kefir with “live active cultures,” sauerkraut, kimchi, tempeh and raw vinegar all are examples of fermented foods.
- Garden herbs. Not often thought of as a source of beneficial nutrients, your garlic and leeks contain a natural source of the prebiotic inulin.
- Eat fresh. Diets high in added sugar and highly-processed foods can feed the pathogenic bacteria that cause inflammation.
- Probiotic supplements. Taking a probiotic supplement that contains several different strains of bacteria, especially during or after using an antibiotic, can help recolonize the digestive tract with beneficial bacteria. Look for a probiotic with 2–10 billion ppm for digestive maintenance and take daily on an empty stomach.