Gut Feelings, Gut Health from New York Registered Dietitian

Bring on the Kefir, Kimchi, Kombucha and Yoga!

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100 trillion.

That’s about how many bacteria live in our guts. These trillions of bacteria create their own eco-system called a microbiome. This microbiome has a macro-effect on our health. Executive editor of Harvard Women’s Health Watch, Kelly Bilodeau, writes, “Researchers are beginning to link these tiny creatures to all sorts of health conditions from obesity to neurodegenerative diseases.”

Gut health is directly tied to mental health, weight maintenance, immunology, and the prevention of chronic disease. 

Though the research is astounding, we’ve become a nation of bacteria-phobes. With the overly common trend of slapping on anti-bacterial gel to rid the world, and our lives, of bacteria, our guts, and our health, can suffer. The key to health is maintaining a balanced microbiome. We simply need to add foods (prebiotics) that support the microbiome of good bacteria that live in the gut, which are the probiotics. 

That sounds way more complex than it really is.

So often we hear about probiotics, but as the Mayo Clinic article explains, there’s a symbiotic relationship between prebiotics and probiotics and our gut health.

The human body is a pretty cool machine. Prebiotics mostly come from plant fibers, complex carbohydrates. Prebiotics are high in special types of fiber that support gut health. Prebiotics are found in many food sources from the more common – sweet potatoes and kale – to the more exotic – dandelion greens and chicory root. The body can’t digest these fibers, so they pass to the digestive system as food for the microbiome and those trillions of bacteria. 

The magic doesn’t stop there. Probiotics are naturally occurring bacteria in the gut. Probiotics we consume have live bacteria that add to those trillions of bacteria we already have. Probiotics come from naturally fermented foods: yogurt, kefir, kimchi, kombucha, feta cheese, manchego cheese and more.

To maximize gut health, and overall health, there are several things you can do. It’s a lot simpler than it sounds.

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  1. Be intentional about food choices. Make sure you include prebiotics and probiotics  in your diet every day. Some recommended combinations include:
    1. An apple or oats with yogurt or kefir. (Choose the healthiest yogurts to avoid excess sugar).
    2. A mango and berry smoothie (using kefir). Add chia seeds for an extra punch.
    3. Onions and feta cheese.
    4. Dandelion greens and Manchego cheese salad.
    5. Garlic roasted veggies, green olives, and aged cheeses.
    6. Jicima and jacon with yogurt dip. (A refreshing summer snack!)

Some cooking (like cooking artichokes, garlic and asparagus – all great sources of prebiotics) damages the strength of those foods, so you won’t get the big prebiotic punch you hoped for. 

The list of prebiotics and probiotics is long, varied, and exciting. There are so many interesting food combinations to try. Make these combos part of your everyday meals and snacks and give your body the bacteria boost it needs.

  1. Be antibiotic aware. Antibiotics are often necessary. That said, many problems occur when we don’t complete the full course of antibiotics prescribed by our physician or use leftover antibiotics (self-prescribing) instead of throwing them out. So be smart about antibiotics. Don’t abuse or over-use them. Most people need a supplement to help boost their intestinal bacteria after finishing antibiotics. 
  2. Drink up! Steer clear of sugary drinks. Artificial sweeteners and sugar weaken the gut microbiome. If you’re looking for flavor, go for kombucha – a flavorful drink made out of naturally fermented tea leaves. And you can never go wrong with water, water, water … and water. Most of us walk around dehydrated. Our bodies need water, way more than we’re accustomed to drinking.

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  3. Get moving. There are few things more important to health than a movement mindset. Research has shown that a consistent exercise regime improves gut bacteria. 

Gut health is our health. By making some small changes in our exercise routines and diet, we can make a big difference in our health.