What is the gut microbiome? The gut microbiome consists of a community of microorganisms (microbiota) meant to thrive in the GI tract. These 100 trillion microbes include bacteria, fungi, and viruses. There are 1000 different species of bacteria alone. The abundance and diversity of these healthy microbiota influence your total body health and how you age. The microbiome is an organ that affects our digestion, immunity, metabolism, and even our behavior.
How do I know my gut microbiome is unhealthy? If your diet is low in fiber and lacks diversity, you are at risk for a deficiency in healthy microbiota. Signs and symptoms associated with a deficient microbiome include:
- Sugar cravings
- Digestive issues (e.g., bloating, indigestion, constipation, diarrhea, inflammatory bowel disease, gas, cramping, GERD, leaky gut)
- Trouble losing weight, or losing weight without trying
- Joint pain
- Skin problems (e.g., eczema)
- Type 2 diabetes
- Heart attack
- Frequent infections
- Decreased cognitive function (i.e., mental decline)
How do I make my gut microbiome healthy?
The good news is that creating a healthy gut microbiome is within your control! It’s as simple as eating the right diet—nutrient dense and delicious! To nourish your gut microbiome:
- Eat a large variety of whole foods! Choose foods from the Mediterranean Diet as the foundation of your menu plan. Many of these foods are high in polyphenols (e.g., nuts, seeds, berries, olive oil) which feed the healthy microbes.
- Avoid processed foods. The added ingredients and lack of fiber disrupts the microbiota.
- Increase fiber intake. Eating more vegetables helps a lot, but you can also take psyllium as a supplement (read the label to avoid hidden sugars).
- Eat fermented foods with live cultures. The most popular is yogurt or kefir, though read the label to check for hidden sugars. Choose unsweetened, then add your own natural sweetener (e.g., erythritol, never artificial ones such as aspartame) and berries. Other choices include sauerkraut, kimchi, and soy sauce (make it low sodium).
- Avoid antacids. Eating a healthy diet will likely decrease the need for them anyway.
- When you need them, you need them but avoid taking antibiotics. When you are on a regime, the above steps are even more important to follow.
- Though you can take probiotics as a supplement, these do not always contain the live cultures manufacturers claim they do. Better to get them from real food.