It may be a little strange to think of, but the body you inhabit isn't strictly your own. In fact, you’re sharing it with approximately 100 trillion bacteria that colonise your gut – your own unique army of micro-organisms. But it’s not as scary as it sounds, as these tiny creatures control your health in a variety of ways. Firstly, they extract energy from food; the greater the diversity of your gut bacteria, the more effectively you are able to digest nutrients. Gut bacteria break down carbohydrates, and prevent them from being stored as fat – hence the reason there is a direct correlation between insufficient gut bacteria and obesity. They also build your immune system, and are directly linked with your emotional health; restoring gut flora has been shown to boost mood and fight depression.
In the right conditions, you can live in harmony with your gut flora and co-exist very happily. Look after them, and in turn, they look after you. But, create a troublesome environment for them (through inflammation, stress, or antibiotic use amongst other things) and they will be compromised, and in turn, so will your health. Here are a few things you may wish to consider in order to care for your gut flora.
Consider a high quality probiotic
The first (and most obvious) thing you can do to support your healthy gut flora is to supplement with a high quality probiotic. This will help to repopulate your digestive tract with beneficial bacteria. Opt for a probiotic with a number of different strains of bacteria, and consider rotating your supplements over time to maintain greater diversity.
If you’re wondering how our ancestors maintained healthy gut flora long before probiotic supplements hit the shelves (or the shelves were even invented) then consider the point below!
Eat Organic Produce
Thousands of years ago, our ancestors’ gastrointestinal tracts would have been teeming with a huge diversity of bacteria, taken directly from the untouched soil in which their produce grew. They wouldn't have worried about washing their hands after digging for them, let alone washing the produce itself. Modern day agricultural methods and non-organic farming have seen our soils stripped of this bacteria; unfortunately, conventionally grown plants grow in soil that is virtually sterile. The solution? Buy organic, preferably local – and don’t worry about thoroughly washing scrubbing every vegetable. A bit of dirt will only be beneficial.
Eat Fermented Foods
Fermented foods play a large part in the diet of almost all traditional cultures, and would have further supplemented their gut biomes. Fermented foods like Kombucha, Sauerkraut and Kimchi are rich in beneficial bacteria; and they’re delicious, too. Consider making your own fermented foods, or if you have to buy them, make sure they are unpasteurised so the bacteria remains.
Eat food rich in prebiotics
Just like you, your gut bacteria need to be fed. Feed them the right foods, and they will thrive. Prebiotics are found in foods such as Chicory, Jerusalem Artichoke, Onions, Leeks and Garlic – and they stimulate and nourish the good bacteria in your gut.
Try resistant starch
Much like prebiotics, resistant starch provides optimum fuel for your gut bacteria. Resistant starch is starch that passes through the colon undigested, thus giving the bacteria an excellent food source. Paleo friendly sources of resistant starch include cooked and cooled tubers – especially arrowroot and cassava.
Avoid sugars and high GI Carbohydrates
On the other side of the coin, if you eat a diet high in sugar and other high GI carbohydrates, you are providing optimum fuel for the bad bacteria in your gut (such as Candida). Who knew there were any further reasons to give up the sugar and grains!?
Finally, the most important thing you can do to support your gut bacteria is to reduce the inflammation that makes their living environment hellish to live in. Along with a poor diet, stress causes excessive inflammation within the body. Take time to relax, exercise, perhaps meditate – so that your gut bacteria can do the same.