by Valerie Demetros
We all know what it’s like to have a stomach bug and feel awful. But what keeps you feeling good may just be better “bugs.” The term gut microbiome refers specifically to the microorganisms living in your intestines.
Deep in your digestive system, about 40 trillion of these “bugs” are working hard to keep you healthy.
Research shows that the complex community of bacteria and other microorganisms in your intestines break down food and produce chemicals to keep your bowels regular, improve immunity, regulate weight, blood sugar and blood fats, minimize inflammation and impact your moods.
That’s quite powerful for critters you can’t see. Here are some things you can do for your inner zoo.
- Exercise. Physical activity gets your colon moving, leading to more regular bowel movements and may even help manage irritable bowel symptoms.
- Chew your food thoroughly. This promotes full digestion and absorption of nutrients and is essential to reduce digestive discomfort and maintain a healthy gut.
- Eat more fiber. Eat at least 25 grams each day and include legumes, beans, peas, oats, bananas, berries, broccoli and apples, all of which have shown a positive impact on gut health in numerous studies. Apples, blueberries, almonds and pistachios have all been shown to increase Bifidobacteria, a beneficial bacteria that helps prevent intestinal inflammation and enhance gut health.
- Add fermented foods to your diet. Include kimchi, sauerkraut, tempeh, miso, kefir and yogurt in your diet. Many of these foods are rich in lactobacilli, a type of bacteria that is a good dietary source of probiotics, which benefit the gut microbiome. Studies show that yogurt consumption improves intestinal bacteria and decreases symptoms of lactose intolerance. But don’t choose a yogurt high in sugar, and look for live active cultures.
- Eat a plant-based diet. Studies show that vegetarian diets may benefit the gut microbiome because of the high fiber content.
A 2013 study found that a vegetarian diet led to reduced levels of disease-causing bacteria in people with obesity, as well as reduced body weight, inflammation and cholesterol levels. Another study in 2019 reported plant foods are rich in nutrients that increase levels of beneficial bacteria and decrease harmful strains of bacteria to promote gut health.
- Eat foods rich in polyphenols. These are plant compounds with health benefits including reductions in blood pressure, inflammation and cholesterol levels and improved heart disease. Luckily, the best way to get these polyphenols is by eating cocoa, dark chocolate, almonds, red wine, green tea and more. Not a bad way to stay healthy — in moderation of course.
There are hundreds of species of bacteria in your intestines, each of which plays a specific role in your health and requires different nutrients for growth. Many studies have now shown that a disrupted gut microbiome can lead to numerous chronic diseases.
If you have intestinal distress, skin irritation, food intolerance or bloating, it may be time to pay attention to your gut. It might be trying to tell you something.