The number of articles written and studies performed around the concept of gut health has grown exponentially over the last decade. A large portion of those studies is focused specifically on our gut bacteria (or microbiome) and their benefits. It used to be, that we considered all bacteria to be bad and disease-causing. Now, we’re discovering just how important their roles are.
The vast majority of our gut bacteria live in our digestive systems. There, they are in charge of influencing genetic predispositions, health factors, weight, and even our moods. It’s been said that our gut is our second brain. That’s why it’s always important to trust your gut! There is a network of neurons in our gut that is constantly sending messages back and forth to our brain. This is why we feel a lot of our emotions in our stomachs - stress, fear, guilt, etc. Therefore, our gut health is largely influenced by our diets and lifestyles (sleep and stress levels), which then impacts our physical and emotional health. If we don’t pay attention to it, we may find ourselves in a difficult cycle: stress and poor food choices, which leads to poor gut health, which leads to trouble sleeping and poor physical health, which leads to sickness, which can lead to more stress! Poor gut health has also been found to be linked to dementia, heart disease, arthritis, and cancer.
Luckily, good gut health is influenced by many factors, most of which we are fully capable of altering. Obviously, with most of our microbiome being found in the digestive system, diet plays a large role in both the species type and the number of bacteria found. Not only do our diets influence the presence of our bacteria, but also the type and number of bacteria within our gut influence how our bodies absorb and package the nutrients we get from our foods.
What to avoid: The best way to positively impact our microbiomes is to limit inflammation. We can do this by cutting pro-inflammatory foods from our diets. Foods like: conventional meat and dairy (both are high in omega-6s, which are pro-inflammatory), processed carbohydrates, sugar, and refined oils (such as canola and soybean). Most of these items are found in processed and packaged foods, so you can really do most of the work by avoiding processed food items wherever you can!
What to add: With processed foods being highly pro-inflammatory it’s a good thing that most natural, organic foods are anti-inflammatory. As always, it’s important to get a wide variety of fresh fruits and vegetables into your diet (remember to eat the rainbow!). However, the cooking method used is also just as important. Even vegetables have the potential to be pro-inflammatory if they’re cooked in a low-quality oil or burnt. This is why fresh is usually best.
Herbs and spices can also be a wonderfully delicious way to enjoy the anti-inflammatory properties of a fresh meal. Pasture-raised eggs, grass-fed and finished meat and dairy, and wild-caught fish are all higher in omega-3s, which have anti-inflammatory properties, while conventional meat and dairy, as well as farm-raised fish, are higher in omega-6s (which, as mentioned above, are pro-inflammatory).
Obviously, we could go on and on about the importance of good gut health and ways to improve it. After all, it’s estimated that our microbiome contains trillions of different gut bacteria. The research out there available regarding gut health is extensive and growing. I urge anyone who is interested to read more on the topic, and get to know a little bit more about the trillions of organisms you rely upon every day.