You have more bacteria in your body than you have cells, and scientists are now learning that the bacteria in your gut are responsible not just for helping digest food, but for many aspects of your health.
Ideally, you want a healthy population of “good” bacteria in your gut, because they help keep the “bad” bacteria away. People who have too much “bad” bacteria can have issues like Crohn’s Disease, irritable bowel syndrome, and ulcerative colitis. Recently, scientists have discovered that a healthy gut microbiome might help prevent heart disease, kidney disease, anxiety, depression, and obesity or weight gain.
Signs of an unhealthy gut
Okay, so gut health is really important — but how do you improve something you can’t even see, and how do you know if your gut is unhealthy in the first place?
The obvious sign that your gut microbiome might be unhealthy is if you’re experiencing constant stomach problems like gas, bloating, constipation, diarrhea, and heartburn. Other signs could be sleep disturbances or fatigue, unexplained weight gain or loss, skin irritation, or mood disturbances.
How to improve your gut health
The absolute best thing you can do for your gut health is to eat a diet full of plant-based foods and lean protein, and avoid sugary, processed foods. Gut bacteria feed on dietary fiber, especially the fiber that comes from green, leafy vegetables like spinach, kale, chard, cabbage, broccoli, and salad greens. This food for the “good” bacteria is called “prebiotics.”
In addition to prebiotics, you can also consume “probiotics,” or live bacteria found in certain foods and supplements. Naturally fermented foods like yogurt, sauerkraut, kimchi, miso, and kombucha are all probiotics that also happen to be delicious.
You can ingest probiotics in supplement form, but probiotic supplements contain a limited number of bacteria. You’ll get a much more diverse set of bacteria in fermented foods. What’s more, probiotic supplements don’t have close to the amount of bacteria found in fermented foods. To gain the most health benefits, you need between one hundred million and one billion bacteria per serving of food. Most fermented food, including yogurt with active cultures, contains this amount in a serving. When probiotics
supplements sit on the shelf, many of these bacteria die, so you’re likely getting less bacteria than advertised.
Fermented food like sauerkraut and yogurt also contain indigestible carbohydrates that act as prebiotics — so you’re accomplishing two things with every bite!
Feed your gut!
If you’ve struggled with stomach issues, are lacking energy, or are struggling with your weight, try introducing fermented foods into your diet. Start with a cup of unsweetened yogurt, or if you don’t eat dairy, try sauerkraut or kombucha. Your gut will thank you!
Photo credit: Nadine Primeau