One of the buzziest topics in health these days is the gut microbiome. Like everything else in health and wellness, there’s a great deal of information and an equal amount of misinformed fear-mongering out there. Much of it is conflicting, and it’s hard to know what it is we should know, much less do. It’s unclear if we should discount everything we read or obsess over all of it. But gut health matters and it’s worth taking a little time to understand what it’s all about. 

The gut microbiome is a microscopic world within your body. Think about that for a minute. Trillions of living microorganisms, comprising bacteria, viruses and fungi, inhabit your gut. Your gut is literally their world. It’s like a cross between Star Trek and wherever it is that the Trolls live in their movies.  There are actually far more bacterial cells in your body than human cells. That means you are more bacteria than human. By you, I mean we.

Your Body is More Than a Temple

We don’t know if those microscopic organisms have a bedtime, go to school, date, run for office, or vote. But we do know they work. They help you digest food and produce energy, they help support your immune system, your heart, and your brain, they produce anti-inflammatory compounds and they keep the gut wall healthy. A recent study of 1,500 people found that the gut microbiome plays an important role in promoting “good” HDL cholesterol and triglycerides. The gut microbiome also may help control blood sugar, which could affect the risk of type 1 and 2 diabetes. The gut microbiome affects our bodies from birth and throughout our lives. 

Most of those little guys inside us benefit our health. We need to feed them properly to sustain them and help them multiply. Unhealthy microbes exist as well and having too many of the unhealthy variety can lead to disorder and disease. Everything we eat or drink and everything we are exposed to basically either feeds disease or fights it. Dysbiosis is an imbalance of good and bad bacteria. Good gut health matters and it’s a balancing act.

Our microbes like diversity in their diet so we’re wise to maintain diversity in ours. That diverse diet is most effective if it includes legumes, beans, vegetables, and fruit, which contain fiber and can promote the growth of healthy bacteria. If you’ve followed this blog for some time, then you know I put fiber on a bit of a pedestal and believe it should be a priority in everyone’s diet. Researching gut health has given that belief context and validation.

Our squatters also like fermented foods full of probiotics, like yogurt, sauerkraut, miso, and kefir, whole grains, prebiotic foods, like artichokes, bananas, asparagus, oats and apples, and foods rich in polyphenols, which are plant compounds found in red wine, green tea, dark chocolate, olive oil and whole grains. Foods that are rich in Omega 3 fatty acids are also said to increase the diversity of healthy gut bacteria. We are advised to limit our intake of sugar and artificial sweeteners and to take antibiotics only when medically necessary. Oh, and like everything else affecting our health, the microorganisms like it when we exercise, sleep well, and minimize stress. Demanding little creatures!

Gut health matters. This much is clear. What’s unclear when you first start looking into the topic is whether you need to become a stay at home parent to your gut. Eat this, don’t eat that, take this, avoid that, do this, don’t do that – it’s a full time job. But it doesn’t have to be. Most suggestions for improved gut health are well aligned with the practices we already know are good and healthy for us. And that’s not to say you need to be eliminating anything from your diet. Your gut will not explode if you eat sugar. But it will thank you if you moderate your intake.

Answers to some Gut FAQ’s

I’ve fallen down this particular rabbit hole several times and here are some answers to many of the frequently asked questions I’ve noticed:

  • There seems to be a link between dysbiosis and anxiety. In other words, it is likely that an unbalanced, unhealthy gut can lead to anxiety. A small number of studies have also shown that certain probiotics, which enhance gut health, can improve symptoms of depression and other mental health disorders. Good gut health matters because it impacts both physical and mental health.
  • Apple cider vinegar good is a rich source of antioxidants called polyphenols, which help support your “good” gut bacteria. It’s a nice vinegar to include in homemade salad dressings mixed with olive oil, another good source of polyphenols.
  • The composition of a person’s gut microbiome appears to play a role in how readily they lose weight. Certain bacteria digest fiber and are important for gut health. Fiber may help reduce weight gain. Probiotics may help.
  • New scientific learnings on menopause suggest women can reduce and alleviate some symptoms by altering their gut microbiome. Let’s note, though, that menopause is far more complicated and hard hitting than this single sentence might suggest. Menopause-dedicated blog posts to come.
  • If you’re feeling stuck contemplating “fermented foods,” consider the fact that sourdough bread counts!
  • Omega-3 fatty acids increase the diversity of healthy gut bacteria and are a feasible approach to maintaining gut health.
  • Changing your diet to support gut microbiome diversity can be as simple as increasing your intake of vegetables and fruits, reducing ultra-processed foods and incorporating more high fiber and naturally fermented foods.

Ultimately, so much of the research is new and there’s a great deal we don’t know conclusively yet. But we know that we can make small changes to support the growth of healthy microbes in our guts. Small changes are always the key to big change. Gut health matters.

I don’t know about you but expressions like “no guts, no glory”, “feeling gutted” and “I feel it in my gut” are landing for me a little differently right about now.

Thinking and Trying

Something to think about: “Recognize that the very molecules that make up your body…are traceable to the crucibles that were once the centers of high mass stars that exploded their chemically rich guts into the galaxy, enriching pristine gas clouds with the chemistry of life. So that we are all connected to each other biologically, to the earth chemically and to the rest of the universe atomically.” – Neil deGrasse Tyson

Something to try: Chia Seed Jam is super easy to make, so delicious, and it delivers whole fruits, fiber, and Omega 3 fatty acids without a lot of sugar (and it’s both nut- and fish-free). You can put it on toast, in yogurt or cottage cheese, on peanut butter, on fruit, or just eat it straight out of the jar. Yum!

Ingredients (recipe makes around 12 servings of 2 Tbsp each):

  • 16 oz bag of frozen mixed berries
  • 1/4 cup Maple Syrup
  • 1/2 cup chia seeds

Instructions:

  • Empty the frozen berries into a saucepan and warm them up on a medium-low heat
  • Stir gently as the berries thaw, pressing them into the side of the saucepan to crush/mush them
  • Stir in the maple syrup once the berries are thawed
  • Pour in the chia seeds and stir until fully combined once the maple syrup is combined
  • That’s it! Take it off the stove, let it cool and put it in a mason jar or sealed container in the fridge
  • Feel free to add water if you prefer your jam a little runnier
  • Enjoy!

Coaching Can Help

Small changes lead to sustainable habits. Big dramatic changes often run their course. A coach can help you identify and make the changes you want to make to improve your gut health for the long term. I’d love to work on this with you. Sign up for a free 15 minute discovery call here.

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