The gut microbiome has been a hot topic over the last few years, and with good reason. The more scientists research the bacterial colonies in our gut, the more we are finding out that our overall health and well-being is tied to having a balanced microbiome. The gut microbiome is the term used to describe the billions of bacteria that live in our large intestine. There is a very delicate balance between the numerous bacterial strains present. If one strain becomes too large or small, it can throw off the entire system and cause something called gut dysbiosis. When this happens, it can lead to serious problems including (but not limited to) autoimmune diseases, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), diabetes, obesity and cardiovascular disease (1).
Your diet is one of the major gatekeepers to maintaining a healthy and stable gut microbiome. Unfortunately, many of us consume a Standard American Diet (SAD) that consists of refined carbohydrates, saturated fats, cholesterol, sugar, salt and too little fiber. Each of these individually have the ability to alter our gut microbiome in a way that decreases the diversity of bacteria. The components of the SAD also increase gut permeability and can also lead to chronic inflammation (2,3).
How can you prevent or fix gut dysbiosis? The first step is to change the way you eat. Here are some easy steps you can take to improve your gut health:
Fiber helps to build and maintain a diverse gut microflora (3). Foods rich in fiber include vegetables (carrots, beets, broccoli and leafy greens), fruit (pears, strawberries, apples and avocados), whole grains (whole wheat, brown rice, quinoa, oats), beans, nuts and seeds. Aim to eat at least 1 high fiber food for every meal and snack.
Include both pre- and probiotics into your everyday eating pattern
Probiotics get a lot of attention for improving gut health. These are beneficial bacteria that help populate your large intestine. I prefer to get a daily dose of probiotics through food instead of a supplement by including fermented foods like yogurt, kefir, and sauerkraut. Prebiotics are indigestible fibers that feed the bacteria in your gut. These are often overlooked but are as equally important as probiotics. Prebiotic-rich foods include asparagus, bananas, and jerusalem artichokes. Try to incorporate both a prebiotic and probiotic food every day.
Try bone broth or collagen
Bone broth is a good source of vitamins, minerals and collagen. Collagen converts to gelatin when cooked, and is rich in amino acids, which are the building blocks of protein. One amino acid in particular, called glutamine, has been shown to heal the gastrointestinal tract (4). Simply incorporating bone broth into soups, sauces and smoothies will benefit your gut. Collagen protein powder is another easy way to fit this into your diet, however, be aware that not all protein powders are made equal. Find a reputable brand that uses grass-fed cows with minimal added ingredients.
Focus on antioxidant-rich foods
Antioxidants have been shown to impact and alter the gut microbiome. Polyphenols, in particular, may be able to regulate the bacterial colonies in the gut to improve health (5). Foods that are rich in polyphenols include black and green tea, berries, dark chocolate, red wine, broccoli and a number of other fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts and seeds. Try to eat a variety of these foods and focus on getting multiple colors into your diet. One easy goal is to eat one food that represents one color of the rainbow everyday.
Your gut microbiome is a complex and magical system that plays an important role in maintaining good health. Simply eating whole foods and limiting processed items can make an enormous difference in how you feel, and can help prevent the onset of chronic disease.