Gut Health - The Microbiome and Digestion - Part III
In this post, we are going to discuss 5 ways to increase good bacteria and improve gut quality. Let's dig right in.
1. Eat lots of soluble fiber – first, let’s talk about feeding your microbes. Their food of choice is fiber, particularly insoluble fiber. This means you want to eat fresh fruits and veggies as often as possible and if tolerated legumes and whole grains too.
A dynamic married duo, Dr. Justin & Erika Sonnenburg, are two microbiologists out of Stanford, who created the MAC diet which stands for “Microbiota Accessible Carbohydrates”.
There are two ways that MAC’s reach your microbiome, either the fiber is lodged inside food particles that are too large to enter earlier in the digestive process or our human genes don’t have the ability to break them down leaving the food for the bugs in the large intestine. The average American consumes only 15 grams out of the recommended 29 -38 grams of fiber per day.
Each vegetable has various types of fibers, some get digested slowly while others like inulin, a naturally-occurring soluble fiber, aren’t digested by the small intestine at all but by the bugs in your gut. In general, the best thing for your gut is to eat a large variety of fruits and vegetables.
Fruits and Veggies are filled with a type of soluble fiber called algos ceroids that can help produce inflammation and endotoxins. Soluble fiber also dissolves in water and is broken down by bacteria making for safe & efficient passage. Our microbes love soluble over insoluble fiber and when we feed them, they also help reduce the risk of obesity. Some studies say that for every 10 grams of fiber consumed 4% of belly fat can be lost.
With that said you are probably wondering which foods have soluble fibers? The top sources of soluble fiber include:
· Oat bran
· Split peas
· Lima beans
· Black beans
Inulin as mentioned is a specific type of soluble fiber.
Top sources of Inulin include:
· Jerusalem artichoke
These fibers also protect against insulin resistance.
Again, when the bacteria feed on the fiber you can’t digest, they produce vitamins and short-chain fatty acids that nourish your gut lining in contrast when you don’t give your gut microbiome enough fiber, they start to eat the mucous lining. This can create a whole host of problems including inflammation.
The key distinction to remember at this point is that if you are healthy its best to bulk up on fiber, think of it as preventive medicine.
2. Eat whole grains – when it comes to grains these days, we lose a lot of dietary fiber in flour through our modern milling process because guess what, the wheat germ which contains most of the fiber shortens shelf life. This is why we have processed flour so the product can sit in your pantry longer without going rancid. Long shelf life for a short life? Is what we get in return.
The bran, another great source of fiber, is also milled out to make our favorite White All-Purpose flour. And here’s a final downside to our modern grain process, the finer the powder the easier to digest meaning it gets digested earlier and never reaches the microbiome in the colon. It is better to eat grains whole and unprocessed. The same idea comes into play when we talk about juicing vs eating whole fruits & vegetables. The bottom line, the fiber we don’t want is white, processed, and refined, not even your microbiome wants those leftovers. These are the so-called empty carbs without healthy fiber.
3. Consume fermented foods – another part of the MAC diet is eating fermented foods. These are foods that are bacteria-filled such as sauerkraut, kombucha, and kefir. There are millions of various kinds of bacteria that can be found in fermented foods, as opposed to the limited selection in probiotics. Although both have value, if possible, it’s great to eat fermented foods in addition to taking a probiotic.
4. Include healthy fats in the diet – it’s important to our microbiome for us to distinguish between healthy & unhealthy fats. The right combination of fiber in fat is your best medicine. The Mediterranean diet is looked at as a balanced microbiome diet because it includes 40% fat and around 40 grams of fiber. This combo is also helpful for protecting against conditions like colon cancer.
Healthy fat includes unsaturated plant-based fats that contain high levels of butyrate.
· Olive oil
· Avocado oil
· Walnut oil
· Seasame oil
Good fiber is even more potent when combined with healthy fats. No matter what diet you subscribe to its beneficial to eat meals that center around fresh veggies.
5. Buy Local – in order to increase your microbe intake shop at the local farmers market or as close to the source as possible. Bacteria is present everywhere and many fruits & vegetables carry bacteria that help us digest our food. We miss out on the bacteria when we eat non-organic or sprayed produce that is treated to last longer on supermarket shelves or to look shiny.
The best way to collect natural bacteria that may be present on the farm is to buy as high up on the food chain as possible. Better yet grow some of your own. Think of it as an external garden for your inner one.
To recap, the 5 best ways to increase your microbiome diversity and feed your microbes are to eat lots of soluble fiber, whole grains, fermented foods, and a good ratio of healthy fats as well as to shop locally or grow your own fruits & veggies if possible.
Now let’s put it all together. Soluble fiber is the cornerstone of a healthy microbiome diet because this is what your gut bacteria eat. When you feed your microbes lots of soluble fiber they reward you by producing nourishing by-products. The “Microbiota Accessible Carbohydrate” or MAC diet focus on foods that feed your gut. It is a good dietary guideline for people who don’t have existing gut health issues.
A microbiome balancing diet also involves avoiding substances like NSAIDs, antibiotics, and other substances that damage the microbiome. The goal is to keep the mucous lining strong by feeding it fiber and in turn ward off more bad bugs.
Next week we are going to start all the way back at the beginning. We’ll take a look at how the miracle of life is created with microbes and discuss how the Microbiome Develops from Birth.