A healthy microbiome is vital for a healthy life. What is your microbiome, why you should care about it and how do you keep it healthy? Let's chat!
The microbiome is the balance of bacteria in your body. Bacteria get a bad name because some of those little buggers can cause disease and inflammation, BUT, there are some good guys in there too, that are vital for our health.
Garden vs. weeds
I like to talk about our microbiome as if it’s a beautiful garden inside our bodies because saying the b-word (bacteria) freaks people out. Let’s call those little guys ‘flora’. If we let the bad flora flourish, like weeds, it will choke out the good flora, like lovely fruits and vegetables.
We want to keep the weeds out because when there are too many we can get the aforementioned diseases and inflammation. There are a LOT of weeds in our bodies because of what we’re doing to them.
The weeds (bad flora) can flourish because of a number of things:
overuse of antimicrobial cleaners
eating too much processed food, fast-food, simple carbohydrates and saturated fats
and my favorite, not eating enough plant-based fiber. Well, to be clear, plants are the ONLY source of fiber.
Though epigenetics is a pretty new field, I guarantee you’ll be hearing more about it as we make advances in research.
WHY should we care about tending to our microbiome?
Your gut and your brain are like siblings. Very connected to each-other but can also have a love-hate relationship.
Your GI tract is sensitive to your emotions (like when you get butterflies in your stomach when you are nervous about a presentation.
Alternatively, poor gut health has been linked to anxiety, depression, and feeling way more stressed about stuff than we should be. [source] If you're suffering from chronic mental issues, you may want to take a second look at your GI health!
Bacteria have two starring roles in this play. In the small intestine they secrete enzymes that help digest carbohydrates. In the large intestine, bacteria break down any left over nutrients and also make vitamin K which is one of the building blocks for healthy bones, blood clotting functions as well as lots of other rose!
“The microbiome and the immune system are critically intertwined,” says Jonathan Jacobs, MD, PhD, a professor of digestive diseases at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. “What’s present in the gut determines what education immune cells get.” [Source]
Studies show that 70% of our immunity resides in our gut, so we'd better make friends with the residents there!
This is probably one of the best articles about the relationship between our microbiome and immunity that I've read in quite a while. If you're interested in learning more, check it out!
HOW to care for our microbiome?
So how do we get the good flora to get into our bodies? Here are six suggestions:
1. Eat a generous variety of plant-based foods from each of the types of food groups. Figure out which foods you like the best first, eat lots of those, and continue to add more to the list through trial and error.
nuts and seeds
2. Eat fermented, probiotic filled foods every day. Try:
Miso in miso soup – miso is a fermented soy paste. Don’t boil your miso! Heat up your water and then stir in.
Kimchi - a traditional Korean food made of salted and fermented veggies such as cabbage, radish, carrot, ginger, garlic and spring onions.
Sauerkraut – traditionally a fermented cabbage mixture with a delicious tangy flavor
Tempeh – made from fermented soybeans. It’s a great source of probiotics and contains all of the essential amino acids so it’s also a great source of protein. Bonus! It’s delicious with a slightly nutty flavor
Kombucha – a type of fermented tea, full of probiotics. Because of the fermentation process it has a hint of alcohol and effervescence which make this a great evening substitute for wine, beer or liquor.
3. Eat lots of fiber. Make sure you’re eating around 25 to 35 grams through whole foods. You’ll notice it’s the same list as in #1
nuts and seeds
4. Get your B12 in:
You can try a fortified food high in vitamin B12 such as Brewer’s yeast or nutritional yeast, or take a high-quality supplement.
Much like dairy milk is fortified with vitamin D, these foods are great sources of B12.
Many studies have shown that both vegans and meat eaters alike may be deficient in vitamin B12 – read more about B12 deficiencies at Dr McDougall’s site.
5. Eat iron rich plant foods along with foods high in vitamin C to increase absorption:
*Iron rich foods:
Dark green leafy vegetables, such as spinach
Dried fruit, such as raisins and apricots
Iron-fortified cereals, breads and pastas
*Vitamin C rich foods:
*List from Mayo Clinic
6. Eat lots of prebiotic-rich foods.
The different between probiotics and prebiotics is this…probiotics are foods that contain the actual good flora and the prebiotics are FOOD for those little good guys – like a natural fertilizer. The reason is this, prebiotics have certain forms of un-digestible fiber in them that the good flora eat to get strong and healthy.
Having a healthy garden in our body = healthy gut.
List of prebiotic foods:
apple cider vinegar
dandelion greens (25% prebiotic fiber!)
allium veggies such as onions, scallions, garlic, chives and leeks – do your best to eat these raw in salads and dressings
plants with inulin, a prebiotic fiber, jicama, chicory root and Jerusalem artichoke
whole grain, sprouted grain breads (like Ezekiel Bread)
Wheat germ, whole wheat berries
This can be overwhelming so let’s review. Eat lots of different plants, enjoy some kombucha, tempeh or miso soup, get in your leafy greens, eat avocados and get some b12 into your life.
You’re eyeing the phone for takeout after work because you’re too tired to think of what to make for dinner.
Put the phone down and pick up my 6 Ingredient or Less Cookbook.
Home-cooked. Simple. Fast.
Dawn Hutchins is a plant-based lifestyle educator, author, and self-taught chef. She holds a certificate in plant-based nutrition through Cornell University and the T. Colin Campbell Foundation and is a certified Nutritional Therapist with a focus on epigenetics. Discover the benefits that over 35,000 people have experienced through her recipes, cookbooks, and revolutionary programs, learning how to eat more whole, plant foods – and loving it!