Our digestive systems are constantly working, extracting water and nutrients from the food we eat while eliminating waste. While most of us don't spend a lot of time thinking or talking about our digestive systems and gut bacteria, we should.
Conversations about healthy gut bacteria have started cropping up in health conscious circles and with good reason. Having a healthy gut can impact everything from your mood to your heart health. That's a pretty powerful system!
Gut bacteria, scientifically referenced as your microbiome, can be thought of as a little ecosystem. It contains trillions of microorganisms that depend on many factors like where you live
, where you were raised, and your lifestyle
In simple terms, your gut bacteria can be divided into 'good' and 'bad' bacteria. You want the good bacteria to outnumber the bad. If it doesn't, you can experience a host of negative symptoms that include bloating, moodiness, inflammation, increased fat storage, and the aggravation of skin conditions like acne and eczema.
As mentioned before, your gut bacteria is influenced by many factors, only one of which you can control. What you eat is totally and completely in your power!
To encourage the growth of diverse healthy gut bacteria, you need to consume both prebiotic and probiotic foods.
Prebiotic foods are those that contain elements, primarily fiber, that feed healthy bacteria and as a byproduct, causes fermentation that is beneficial for your body. Common prebiotic foods include: asparagus, bananas, chicory root, endive, garlic, mushrooms, Jerusalem artichoke, onions, kiwi, oats, lentils and leeks.
Probiotic foods help your body better absorb key vitamins and minerals like iron, calcium, chromium, and vitamins A, D, E, and K. Most probiotic foods have been fermented prior to your eating them. During the fermentation process, common bacteria, like lactobacilli, breaks down the sugars and turn them into acids. They, like prebiotic foods, provide the body with fiber but also add transient bacteria to your gut. These helpers, on their way through your system, fortify and diversify the bacteria living in your gut. Here
are some examples of probiotic food:
- Fermented vegetables like kimchi, sauerkraut, carrots, green beans, beets and traditionally cured Greek olives
- Fermented soy beans like miso or tempeh
- Cultured dairy products like kefir, yogurt, buttermilk and cheese
- Fermented beverages like kefirs and kombuchas
- Fermented condiments like raw apple cider vinegar
While these foods have a positive impact on your gut, there are many foods that do the opposite. To encourage the growth of positive bacteria, it is best to eliminate these foods from your diet wherever possible:
1. Conventional Meats and Poultry
It is best to buy organic meats whenever you can. Many animals raised for meat are treated with several rounds of antibiotics over the course of their lives. Antibiotics kill bacteria, good and bad. They remain behind in the meat you eat, exposing you in the process. Be sure to read the labels. If it is says it is "hormone free" and "antibiotic free" you are safe. A little bit of vigilance will pay off in the long run. Buying from the local butcher or farmer's market is likely your best bet.
2. Artificial Sweeteners
Recent research has found that sucralose (which is the main ingredient of Splenda), can have a negative impact on your microbiome
. After one week of consuming artificial sweeteners, participants in one small study began to develop glucose intolerance. This is the first step toward metabolic syndrome. This does not mean you should go back to eating refined, white sugar! Bad gut bacteria thrives off the sweet stuff! It is best to avoid sweetening your food as much as possible. If you simply must make things sweeter, try honey, dates, beets, coconut sugar, agave nectar, or brown rice syrup.
Want to put these foods to the test and start making your gut happy? Try this tasty gut-friendly soup! (For more healthy meal ideas, check out the BodyRock Meal Plan
Creamy Vegetable Soup
- 3/4 cups raw, unsalted cashews
- 2 tbsp coconut oil
- 1 large onion, chopped
- 5 cups chopped broccoli, cauliflower or tomatoes
- 3 to 4 cups water (enough to cover vegetables)
- 2-3 tsp sea salt
- 1/3 tsp freshly ground black pepper
Soak cashews in a bowl of water for up to 20 minutes, then rinse and drain. In a large pot, warm the oil over medium heat. Saute the onion and garlic until they are tender, about 5 minutes. Add your veggie of choice and enough water to cover, sea salt and pepper. Simmer for 8 to 10 minutes, until vegetables are tender. Blend mixture. Add the cashews. Blend again until smooth. Season to taste and serve immediately.