Most of us have heard something about ‘beneficial gut bacteria’ and a lot of people these days take or have taken probiotics to help with this. We are bacteria; we are more bacteria than anything else. Simply put, the human body is an ecosystem, host to trillions of microorganisms including bacteria, viruses, yeasts, fungi, and parasites known collectively as our microbiota. The more diverse out microbiome is, the more resilient we are against both acute and chronic infections.
So what can you do diet wise to improve your gut flora?
We can look to our early ancestors diet (who didn’t have probiotic supplements) to get a few ideas around this. They ate between 400-600 types of food, the average person these days eats about 15-20 different types of food a year. Bacteria were found in the soil from the vegetables, our ancestors did not eat ‘triple washed’ spinach. They ate food as they gathered it, without washing, dirt and all.
Bacteria were integral to this ancestral landscape – just as they are today – evolving in synchrony with the human body. The ancestral body adapted to bacteria encountered in their world and vice versa. Soil in this pre-agricultural era was naturally teeming with soil microbes. Soil bacteria are critical to enriching plants with important micronutrients that consequently feed us. These days modern day farming practises strip most of the vegetables of their bacteria, vitamins and minerals. We are ‘scared’ of bacteria, yet we are made of it.
But we have evolved and learnt along the way and are not going to return to cave man type activities, but there are things to learn by them to help with our daily gut health.
1) To increase the diversity of our microbiome, we need to increase the diversity of our diet, especially eating a bigger variety of seeds, roots and tubers (kumara, potatoes, Jerusalem artichokes, yams).
2) Increase insoluble fibre such as that found in brown rice, oat bran, flaxseed, asparagus and broccoli. Dietary fibre is the primary energy source for most gut microbes and increase in consumption has been shown to influence the gut microbiota by altering bacterial fermentation, colony size, and species composition
3) Intermittent fasting for 16 hours has been shown to stimulate the more beneficial bacteria to thrive, which then competes for space with opportunistic bacteria, keeping them in check. It’s all a balancing act.
4) Exposure to environmental microbes keeps our gut healthy. Grow your own vegetables and give them a wash by all means, but don’t sterilise them so much that they have been stripped bare.
5) Ginger, garlic, coffee (not excessive) and exercise has been shown to increase our secretory IgA levels within the gut, which can neutralise toxins secreted by opportunistic bacteria.
6) Lower stress through mindfulness, meditation or yoga. Stress detrimentally impacts our gut and immune function.
These are tips to help keep our gut function well. However, if you have existing gut problems you may need a more in depth and therapeutic treatment. Please contact me to see if you could be helped with this.