Eating to Enhance Your Microbiome
It’s common knowledge that the food we eat gives us the energy and nutrients we need to survive and thrive.
But did you know that it also feeds the vast amount of bacteria that live inside your gut? Yes, you heard that correctly – the bacteria that live in your large and small intestines – also known as your gut microbiome.
Although this bacterial community is invisible to the naked eye, it has a powerful impact not only on those “gut feelings”, but also your overall health and well-being. That’s because:
- 70 percent of your immune system is located in the gut. So when your gut isn’t healthy, your immune system isn’t able to work at full strength.
- 90 percent of your body’s serotonin – the “feel-good hormone” – is produced in the digestive tract. So any issues within your gut will also impact your mood, energy levels and more.
“It all starts at birth,” describes Casey Finnicum, a graduate research assistant at the Avera Institute of Human Genetics specializing in microbiome research. “As we pass through the birth canal, we’re coated with microorganisms that our mom passes on to help colonize us with a community of microbes. Then, as we go through life, a number of different things – including our genetics, diet, activity level and the people around us – continue to influence our microbiome which then influences our health.”
“We’re finding that these microorganisms really have a great impact on our health in a number of very important ways,” he says. “We’d like to take it a step further by analyzing what’s driven by environment. We hope to discover how we can help our good bacteria – and therefore our bodies and minds – flourish.”
When the microbiome is in balance, all is well.
However, it’s possible for the microbiome to become imbalanced, contributing to a wide variety of symptoms that include GI distress such as constipation, gas or bloating, but also brain fog, fatigue, joint pain, nasal congestion and skin issues.
Emerging research has also shown a strong connection between the state of an individual’s gut microbiome and the development of conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), obesity, anxiety, depression, chronic fatigue syndrome, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis (MS), cancer and more.
Simple Steps to Improve Your Microbiome Today
So how can you improve an imbalanced microbiome? Start with your diet, advises Annie Ailts, MS, RDN, LN, IFNCP, a functional medicine dietitian at Avera Medical Group Functional Medicine.
“In functional medicine, we believe that everything stems from the gut,” she says. “Our goal is to help our patients heal the gut by eliminating inflammatory foods, lowering stress and reducing exposure to environmental toxins.”
So, how does the food we eat impact the bacteria in our gut? “Harmful bacteria in the gut feed off carbohydrates so they love sugar, refined carbs and sugar-sweetened drinks,” Ailts says. “On the other hand, you can nourish the beneficial bacteria in the gut with a whole foods diet, including plenty of fiber-rich vegetables.”
To support a healthy microbiome:
- Eat a wide variety of fruits and vegetables
- Include prebiotics (which feed probiotics) in your diet such as green bananas, plantains, garlic, onions, asparagus and legumes
- Enjoy fermented foods (which contain probiotics) such as yogurt with live and active cultures, sauerkraut, kombucha, kefir and kimchi
- Limit processed foods in your diet
- Take a high-quality probiotic supplement
Ailts has seen many of her patients experience positive results as soon as three weeks after modifying their diet. For others it may take longer, but it’s worth the wait. “They’re often surprised by how not only their gut issues improve, but also other symptoms that they never associated with their gut,” she says.
While there’s still a lot to learn about the microbiome, you can’t go wrong by feeding your body – and bacteria – with more whole, unprocessed, nutrient-rich foods.
Fruit and Veggie Smoothie
- 1 cup raw vegetables (carrots, spinach, mixed greens, kale, cucumber, zucchini, summer squash, etc.)
- 1 cup water, unsweetened milk alternative, or milk
- ½ banana
- ½ cup fruit (frozen or fresh)
- 1 tablespoon coconut oil
- 2 scoops collagen powder (ex. Vital Proteins Collagen Peptides)
- Add all ingredients to blender and blend until smooth.
- 2 (6oz) cans of wild-caught salmon, drained
- ¼ cup cooked and mashed sweet potato or regular potato
- 2 eggs
- 2 tablespoons coconut flour
- ¼ cup onion, chopped
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 1 tablespoon coconut aminos
- ½ teaspoon sea salt
- 1 teaspoon lemon zest (optional)
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
- Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
- In a bowl, combine all ingredients with a fork. Form into 6 patties, and place on the baking sheet.
- Bake patties until firm, about 30 minutes.