The microbiome is what we call the community of trillions of cells that live in the large intestine. These bacteria and fungi outnumber all the other cells in your body put together.
Weighing more than your brain, the microbiome influences metabolism, mood, gut health, inflammation and appetite. According to research, having higher gut diversity lowers your risk for disease and allergies. This first line of defense protects us from toxins and other insults that we eat or drink. Many of us don’t ever think about the microbiome, let alone how to support it.
Supporting a healthy, diverse microbiome is actually incredibly simple. Eating fiber and foods high in prebiotics (like apples, garlic, onion, asparagus and dandelion) is a great place to start. These plant-based fibers can make their way to the colon undigested, where they are fermented and broken down into butyrate, which provides energy to the cells of your gut. Providing your gut with prebiotics and fiber helps good bacteria flourish while keeping opportunistic bacteria in check, improving health and vitality in the colon. Aim for 40 grams of fiber or more each day.
Speaking of fermentation, eating fermented foods like kimchi, sauerkraut, kefir, kombucha, tempeh and miso helps to balance the bad bacteria in your gut by making it replete with good bacteria. Fermented foods contain hundreds of different species of bacteria, as opposed to taking a probiotic supplement where you’re probably only getting one to ten strains. Eating one to two servings of fermented foods daily increases the diversity of bacteria and maintains that important balance.
The microbiome prefers a variety of fiber, so eating a narrow selection of fruits and veggies really limits what the biome can create. Eating seasonally is an easy way to make sure you’re getting more diversity. As the seasons change, the foods available shift (i.e. spring lettuce and fall squash), giving you a variety of fiber sources. Each week, eat 30 different plants to optimize the raw material your gut has to work with.
Choose foods that are high in polyphenols like green tea, pomegranate, nuts, seeds, brassicas, berries and cacao. Polyphenols are fuel for microbes. They decrease inflammation, stimulate growth of beneficial bacteria and inhibit pathogenic bacteria.
Give your gut a rest by fasting 12 to 16 hours overnight and avoiding snacking. Allowing at least 4 hours between meals ensures the microbes have plenty of time to optimally digest food.
Be picky about the source of your food. Local, small farmers are more likely to use farming methods that support soil that is alive, fresh and vibrant. Foods grown in living soils are more nutrient-dense and contain their own microbiomes that we receive when we eat them. Plus, they are likely to be recently harvested and may even have a little dirt left on them – eating soil is a great way to inoculate your microbiome.
The benefits of following a microbiome-building diet are too many to list. When we enhance the life and vibrancy inside of our bodies, we are supporting our overall health and vitality on every level.
Nicola Dehlinger is a naturopathic doctor at Pura Vida Natural Healthcare in Durango. She can be reached at 426-1684 or www.puravidahealthcare.com.