If you could count the number of cells in your body, you would find that you are only one percent human being. The other ninety-nine percent is made up of the microbes living in your digestive system. These bacteria live in a symbiotic relationship with you. Your body gives them a comfortable place to live, and they in turn break down food and deliver its energy to you. A healthy gut is fundamental to a healthy body – and even a healthy mind.
These bacteria are vital to a healthy body, so improving their health goes hand in hand with improving yours. And your diet is one of the most important contributors to good gut health. Research shows that the wrong microbes, such as yeasts or parasites, contribute to poor health as much as too few of the right ones do.
Your gut bacteria can even make you hungry, inclining you to eat more. A microbe called Helicobacter pylori causes ulcers and can lead to stomach cancer, so it is often killed with antibiotics. However, this can lead to weight gain because Helicobacter reduces production of the hormone ghrelin, which tells your brain you’re hungry. In most people, Helicobacter is not a problem, so it may not be necessary to kill it.
Another microbe, called Christensenellaceae, is found in greater concentrations in slender people than in overweight and obese individuals, though research continues to isolate how it works.
A class of gut bacteria called firmicutes is common in the guts of obese individuals. Research performed with mice at Washington University has shown that mice that have had firmicutes added to their guts will quickly become obese.
Building a Healthy Gut
What steps can we take to building a healthy gut? Here are seven things you can start doing right now.
Eliminate or Reduce Sugar and Alcohol
Sugar and alcohol are toxic to good gut bacteria, but serve as delightful dinners to bad microbes. So reduce or eliminate them as much as possible.
While fruit contains a sugar called fructose, it has other properties that outweigh the additional sugar. For one, fruit may help suppress food cravings. Also, in high-fiber fruits like strawberries, the fiber helps counteract the sugars and can serve as food for good bacteria in your gut. Just avoid fruit juices, which are missing the healthy fiber.
Strawberries are only one source. Add vegetables, nuts, seeds, and legumes to your diet. These supply fiber that your gut flora needs, and you may find that all this fiber makes you feel full sooner, so you have fewer food cravings. That’s win/win!
Avoid Omega-6 Cooking Oils
Add Fermented Foods to Your diet
Research shows fermented foods may be vital to building a healthy gut and to losing weight. These include kimchi, sauerkraut, tempeh, kombucha, kefir, yogurt, pickles and more. They help feed the proper types of bacteria in your gut.
Avoid Antibiotics Where Possible
Antibiotics target bacteria, so they strike directly at the flora in your digestive tract, so avoid anti-bacterial soaps and creams. Most communicable illnesses we encounter, including the flu and common cold, are viral, not bacterial. This means antibiotics won’t touch them – and could make you more ill.
Supplement with Probiotics
Research shows Lactobacillus is vital to a healthy gut. Probiotics are often available in liquid form and can have an unpleasant flavor, so think about adding them to a green smoothie (which you can make with valuable vegetables and fruit such as strawberries!).
These steps should get you on the right path to building a healthy environment for the good kinds of bacteria to flourish. And a good, healthy gut is the first step to shedding pounds.