Our gut is so much more than the organ system in which we excrete waste, it’s ability to function is one of the largest indicators of overall health. The microbiome is made up of flourishing bacteria in our gut, and although we have been raised to be afraid of bacteria, germs, etc., we need it in immense variety and quantity for optimal health (in the right places).
The health of the microbes that live in our gut have been linked to so much more than just gut-related conditions; it is also linked to conditions such as depression, anxiety, diabetes, Alzheimer’s and a variety of autoimmune diseases. It is also certainly possible to have gut imbalances like leaky gut or dysbiosis without necessarily having digestion-related symptoms; it can show up in a number of ways, including fatigue, brain fog, sleep inconsistencies, etc.
So, how do we feed the gut?
- Variety is the spice of life (bacteria life, that is). The greater variety of foods we eat feeds increased varieties of gut bacteria, which ends up cultivating a more diverse, or healthier, microbiome. Essentially, we want to avoid eating the same foods every day for long periods of time. We want to constantly remind ourselves to “eat the rainbow”; it is a simple concept, but truly effective in feeding the bacteria in our gut.
- Prebiotics. Similarly to the above recommendation, we want a rich variety of foods, but there are certain ones that help feed these helpful bacteria more than others. Prebiotics are present in fiber-rich foods, like fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains. Some especially helpful ones are garlic, leeks, asparagus, bananas, dandelion greens, apples, and onions.
- Focus on fermentation. Fermented foods, like yogurt, sauerkraut, kombucha, kimchi, tempeh, etc. have their own beneficial bacteria and are considered probiotics that we can supply our gut with daily to continue to add to the diversity it already has.
- De-stress. As previously discussed in my post “How Stress Affects the Digestive System”, we know that the gut-brain connection is tightly knit. If we are experiencing stress on a chronic basis, we will see negative effects show up in the gut. The wonderful thing is that we can incorporate daily practices to slowly support our stress levels and gut health. One of my favorite methods is to take 5 deep breaths with closed eyes before each meal, and keeping electronics face down or away from us during this time. We will slowly activate the “rest and digest” function, or parasympathetic nervous system, with this small practice to help us digest our food better in that moment.
However, the concept of stress cannot be put into a simple box like this for every person. For those who have experienced past trauma, or are dealing with diagnosed depression or anxiety conditions, simple nutrition practices cannot be the only way to promote healing. It is best to see a licensed mental health professional in combination with a nutritionist who is well-versed in these topics.