Your gut is home to hundreds of trillions (yes, trillions) of different bacteria, and feeling your best relies on a delicate balance of good to bad. When this happens, we need to use a stepwise approach. Healing your gut and restoring the delicate balance is often the missing link to achieving the health, energy, and vitality you desire.
Variety is the spice of life and when it comes to the food you eat it’s no different.
Eating a variety of foods, plays a huge role in the number of good bacteria in your gut. By increasing the variety of food, you eat, you increase the species of gut microbes important for health. One of the best things you can do for your gut is increase the amount vegetables you eat and choose a wider variety of foods, from all different food groups.
Start by just making a few changes to the types of foods you eat weekly.
Plants contain soluble and insoluble fibre, phytochemicals, and an array of macro- and micronutrients. All of these are needed for a healthy gut with the added benefits of providing antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits to your whole body.
Start by simply increasing your vegetable intake (eating more plants in general), as well as the variety (again, eating different types of plants regularly). Don’t get into a habit of only eat broccoli and sweet potatoes.
Cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower,
and cabbage, specifically, have unique compounds called glucosinolates that are metabolized by bacteria and promote the growth and balance of good bacteria in your gut. However, these can cause bloating initially, so don’t increase these vegetables slowly.
When you increase up your plant intake, you’ll naturally increase the amount of fibre you’re eating, High-fibre foods include like beans, chia seeds, flaxseeds, oats, lentils, and berries.
Fibre, especially prebiotic fibre, feeds your gut bacteria and when it’s further broken down, short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) are produced in the process.
SCFAs balance your gut (increase good bacteria while helping to reduce the bad), support the health of your gut immune interface, lower cholesterol, regulate blood sugar, and improve brain function.
Note. If your current diet is low in fibre, slowly introduce high fibre foods over 2-3 weeks weeks. This gives your gut time to adjust to the change. If you eat too much fibre too quickly, it can cause uncomfortable bloating and flatulence.
Polyphenols are naturally occurring plant compounds that are loaded with antioxidants and have huge implications for your gut health. Research shows that polyphenols, like those that come from fruits, vegetables, tea, dark chocolate, and wine (don’t overdo it on these two in the name of gut health, though) increase the amount of Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus bacteria in your gut. These specific bacteria lay down their “roots” in your gut and have several other health benefits from better digestion to more radiant skin.
Some polyphenol-rich foods (and drinks) include
Vegetables (artichoke, chicory, and spinach)
Black and green tea
Sleep has huge implications for your gut health. Research shows that a lack of sleep contributes to increased stress levels. Stress sets up inflammation in the body and leads to an imbalance of good and bad bacteria. On the other hand, getting enough sleep (around 7 to 9 hours for adults) can help you manage the physical effects of stress, promoting healthy gut balance.
If you have trouble sleeping, there are plenty of things you can do, like sticking to a sleep routine, avoiding blue light, and ditching the caffeine, to improve your sleep quality. (See my other blog on how to improve your sleep)
Managing your daily stress is one of the most important things you can do for your gut health (and your health, in general). Daily stress can often cause digestive upset, queasiness, lower abdominal pain, constipation and or diarrhoea. Over time it can disrupt the balance of gut bacteria, decreasing the good and giving the bad an opportunity to thrive.
While you’ll never be able to get rid of stress completely, try to manage it through daily meditation, yoga, exercise, journaling, avoiding overworking, and engaging in activities that bring you joy.
Regular movement is important. If you are someone that works at a desk for eight to nine hours, drives to and from work, sits for meals, and then sits on the couch for a couple of hours watching TV after work—that’s more than 13 hours of sitting.
Exercise is important, but so is reducing the amount of time you spend sitting.
Tips to increase your daily movement include
With regular movement and exercise, you get massive benefits, such as more strength and better flexibility, a boost in mood, better sleep, and you feel better, thanks to the endorphins your body produces.
How much exercise? Aim for 2.5 to 5 hours of exercise per week, and try to incorporate movement into your everyday routine, too. Take the stairs, walk the dog, dance while you cook. Getting fit doesn’t always have to be a structured workout.
The bottom line.
Feeling energetic and healthy is dependent on having plenty we’re-talking trillions- of good bacteria in your gut. Today’s lifestyle is filled with little sleep and lots of stress, which can make it challenging to develop and maintain a thriving gut microbiome, there are lots of ways to naturally increase the good bacteria in your gut.
Focus on the basics for a good foundation. Focus on diet diversity, increase the amount of high-fibre plant foods you eat, manage your stress levels, get good sleep, and move your body.