I sat down to write this post, I wanted to focus only on the best foods for a healthy gut. I then realized that I should also highlight the importance of cultivating a good gut microbiome.
We have only recently become aware of the importance of the nearly 500 to 1000 different species of bacteria living in the human body. These microbiomes are paramount for the proper function of the body and brain.
Hence, I will focus the first portion of this post on why these bacteria are crucial and the rest I will dedicate to the best foods for a healthy gut.
The Importance of a Healthy Gut Microbiome
As I mentioned above, at any given time, there are 500 to 1000 different species of bacteria living in our body. Pretty much these bacteria can be considered a pharmaceutical factory in our gut.
It is estimated, 90% of the serotonin is produced in our gut. Recent studies have discovered that the microbiome in our gut helps with at least some of the serotonin production. Serotonin is the feel-good or the happy chemical, as it plays a key role in regulating and balancing our mood. In fact, lower levels of serotonin have been directly linked to depression.
Aside from depression, low levels of serotonin can cause anxiety, low self-esteem, and sugar cravings.
In a recent study, researchers discovered that compared to mice with the healthy gut microbiome, mice with the missing gut microbiome had lower levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). BDNF stimulates the production of new brain cells and is a vital protein for learning and memory. Anxiety and depression are linked to low levels of BDNF.
Clostridium difficile (C. difficile) is a bacteria that develops in the gut in the absence of good microbiome and can be life-threatening. One of the best ways to treat C. difficile is via faecal transplantation.
In faecal transplantation, doctors transplant faeces from a healthy individual (often a close relative) in the infected individual. This is done to restores the balance of gut microbiome in the infected individual.
In the United Kingdom, when a female marathoner suffered from C. difficile, doctors performed faecal transplantation on her. They transplanted the faeces from her healthy, but obese cousin and the marathoner was cured of C. difficile.
As the marathoner got back to her daily routine and started training again, she noticed that she was continuing to put on weight. Even though her eating habits and training methods had not changed.
It was discovered that the microbiomes that were transplanted via faecal transplant from her obese cousin were causing her to gain weight. This is when researchers were able to link the importnat role a healthy microbiome plays in digestion and regulating weight.
Studies are beginning to link a healthy microbiome with anti-depressant, anti-anxiety effects. Researchers now state that a healthy microbiome is as effective as anti-depressant pills. They are also beginning to link the lack of good gut bacteria to poor digestion and obesity.
As you can see, a good microbiome is crucial not only for the proper function of the brain, but also to maintian a helathy body and mind. Now let us look at how we can cultivate a healthy microbiome with what we put in our body.
What Can We Eat To Cultivate a Great Gut Microbiome
When it comes to cultivating a great microbiome, food perhaps above all plays the most important role. A balanced diet, coupled with probiotic food will ensure that you maintain the good bacteria in your gut.
When it comes to food that is good for the gut microbiome, we can categorize them into prebiotic and probiotic.
Prebiotic/Prebiotic fibre is a dietary fibre that feeds and nourishes the good bacteria in the gut.
Dietary fibre is important because our body cannot digest them, so they travel through the intestinal tract (undigested) and end up in the colon. In the colon, they ferment. The fermentation process feeds the good bacteria and helps increase them in our gut.
Probiotics are live bacteria and yeasts that benefit your health when consumed. This microbiome help keep your gut healthy and are crucial for a healthy body and brain.
Dietary Sources of Prebiotic
These are the sources of prebiotics I consume on a daily or regular bases. There are so many other ones out there and I encourage you to look into them, as a diversified diet is always beneficial.
These tiny seeds are number one on my list when it comes to prebiotic fibres.
Chia Seeds are loaded with nutrients, antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids. The key reason they are number one on my list is because a 28g serving (about 2 tablespoons) has 12g of carbs. However, of the 12g carbs, 11g is fibre. As I mentioned above fibre helps feed and cultivate good gut bacteria.
I soak 30g of chia seeds in 500ml of water for about two hours and gulp them down daily.
Onions are great as prebiotic because they have fructooligosaccharides (FOS). FOS creates a surface for microflora to grown in the large intestine, thus helping cultivate a healthy gut.
I try to include at least 1/2 cup of onion in my diet every day. The great thing with onion is that it keeps most of its nutritional benefits even when cooked.
If you have researched superfoods, I am sure that garlic is on every list out there. Rightly so. They are packed with nutritional benefits and have been a superfood in almost every culture for millennia. Like an onion, garlic is part of the Allium genus family and has FOS.
Garlic is easy to incorporate into almost any dish. Just ensure you cut or crush garlic and let it sit for about 5 to 10 minutes before incorporating into any dish, to ensure that allicin compound is released. Many of garlic’s antioxidant benefits and ability to reduce inflammation comes from this compound.
If you have read my other posts and many other articles online, you know they are among one of the best superfoods out there. I can write an entire post just on the avocado’s healthy fats and rich nutritional content. Avocados have a good amount of prebiotic fibre and they are great to include in your daily diet.
I enjoy a daily shake of avocado with honey (another prebiotic) and milk daily. It is delicious and simple to make!
In a blender blend 1 medium avocado (~100g), with 20g of honey (unpastrized and localy sourced), 125ml of milk and 125ml of water. Blend until a smooth consistency, pour in a tall glass and enjoy!
Of course another superfood makes this list for me. You guessed it almonds! Among their many benefits, almonds are a great source of calcium and vitemen E. They are also rich in dietary fiber. For 100g serving, ~12g is fiber.
Munch on 20 to 25 raw almonds daily as a snack inbetween meals. Your body and brain will thank you!
There are many other nuts, seeds, fruits and greens that can be considered prebiotic. These are just a few I consume daily.
Dietary Sources of Probiotic
These are the ones you want to consume daily. At least one of them, at minimum. Two or more are even better.
If you follow a Mediterranean diet you have probably have heard of kefir before. Kefir is essentially fermented milk – milk fermented with a starter grain.
However, kefir can also be made with non-dairy alternatives such as coconut milk or rice milk.
Since the milk in kefir is fermented, even people who are lactose intolerant can tolerate drinking kefir.
Kefir is my number one source of probiotics because it has several different cultures of gut-healthy bacteria per serving (you can find kefir with 10 different species of bacteria in your local grocery store). More you cultivate different species of good gut bacteria, the better it is for you.
Ensure that you are buying organic kefir, as kefir has higher fat content. The fat is where the animal body stores toxins and harmful chemicals. You do not want to be ingesting animal fat where the life stock has been fed GMO grains and antibiotics.
Greek yogurt is great to add as a daily probiotic source. The bacteria in yogurt help cultivate a healthy gut. Greek yogurt is also high in protien and calcium.
When buying yogurt ensure that it has an active bacterial culture and its free from any added sugars.
Also, try to get organic yogurt. If you can’t find organic yogurt, opt for the fat-free ones for the reason mentioned above.
Kimchi is a traditional Korean dish made from fermented cabbage with salt, vinegar, garlic and chilli pepper. Since it is fermented like kefir and yogurt, it contains healthy gut bacteria.
Kimich is delicous and can be eaten on its own or as a side dish with rice. You can find kimchi in Asian grocery stores or your local health food store.
I try to consume about 110g of kimchi daily.
Antibiotics are crucial to fight infections and diseases. However, a treatment of antibiotics not only wipes out the bad bacteria but also the good ones as well.
If you are on an antibiotic treatment or are prescribed antibiotics in the future, consider taking prebiotic supplements before and after the treatment. This will help bring back balance to your gut microbiome.
Things to avoid and Final Thought
These are the best foods for a healthy gut in my opinion. There are countless others I have failed to mention here. I highly encourage you to find more prebiotic and probiotic foods and include a variety of them in your diet daily to ensure a healthy gut.
Of course, consuming prebiotics and probiotics are not enough. You should ensure that you have a balanced and healthy diet. Try to avoid processed foods and added sugars as they will cultivate bad bacteria.
I hope this short rant helped you realize why it is important to cultivate a good gut microbiome and why it is paramount. As always leave your comments and questions below and I will do my best to answer them.