This post is a true gem and something that is so, so important to our health: The Gut Microbiome. If you have never heard of it before… you are in for a treat 💕. Read on and enjoy!
What is the Gut Microbiome?
As defined by the molecular biologist Joshua Lederberg, our gut microbiome is the totality of microorganisms, bacteria, viruses, protozoa, and fungi, as well as their collective genetic material present in our gastrointestinal tract.
Why is Your Gut Microbiome Important?
The microbiome produces thousands of chemicals, as well as about half the vitamins and nutrients that you can find in our bodies. They are super important for our digestion, as well as our immune system. About 80% of our immune system typically resides in our gut. The chemicals also work in conjunction with our brain (the brain-gut connection), which is the reason why oftentimes when you are having an upset tummy or a bout of diarrhea, your brain also feels slightly foggy. You can think about your gut microbiome as a virtual (but truly vital) organ.
Our gut microbiome only overlap by about 25%
All of our microbiomes are different and unique. They only overlap by about 25% with the rest of the population. What does that mean if you and I eat the same food? We both may have a very different reaction to it. Please, please, please allow me to stress how important this is. This is the reason why crash diets do not work in the long run (I have also touched on this in the Debunking Myths: Metabolism post).
It is also the reason why you may see someone doing extremely well on one form of a dietary lifestyle – but you yourself may not be flourishing on it. You have to find the dietary lifestyle that is right for you. We are about 7 billion people on the planet and there should be 7 billion different diets. We are all individual, and our microbiomes are all individual. You cannot follow a blanket approach and apply the same “rules” to everyone. I have been advocating this for years. It is the approach that I apply to Life & Lemons, and I am so glad that this is finally also getting scientific recognition. Nevertheless, there are a few things that we can all do to help our gut.
How Can We Support Our Gut Microbiome?
One of the things that researchers found is that the people with the healthiest microbiome appear to be those who are eating a variety of about thirty different types of plants a week. I know this may sound overwhelming on a first read. But plants are considered to be nuts, seeds, grains, herbs, spices, as well as fruit and veg.
Let’s use the example of my Chocolate Chia Seed Pudding that is on the blog. It contains persimmon, non-dairy milk, chia seeds, almonds, cinnamon, and if you are using a vegan chocolate protein powder likely another grain. That is six plants (if you are not using almond milk as your non-dairy milk). Top it with raspberries, blueberries, and mint leaves as I have done for the shoot and you are at nine different plants. Suddenly, it does not appear to be as complicated any longer 😉. But I need to stress that variety and different plants are key to success. And that should be varied from week to week.
Your microbiome also strongly benefits from fiber. You guys know that I am a great advocate of fiber and its benefits. In fact, I am so passionate about the topic that I have written an entire blog post on Dietary Fiber. In a nutshell, fiber keeps us full for longer, helps with managing and keeping our blood sugar levels stable, provides a feeding ground for our microbes, and supports elimination, as well as not feeling constipated. It is really an allrounder in order to support you in keeping your gut healthy. I am fairly confident that if you are hitting your thirty different plants a week your fiber intake should be optimal. It is not something I overtly worry or stress about.
Fermented foods are also a superfood for your gut microbiome (I have written about the benefits of fermented foods in my Homemade Sauerkraut blog post if you would like to learn more). Polyphenols are another important contributor to your gut health as they act as fuel for our microbes. Polyphenols are an antioxidant that is oftentimes found in darker fruits and veg (such as berries, and red cabbage). They are also in cocoa powder, black and green tea, coffee, olive oil, and red wine to give a few examples. Microbes also “enjoy” a period of fasting. When we fast overnight (whilst sleeping) the microbes come and clean up the mucus layer of our gut. This keeps it nice and clean.
Expose your gut microbiome to other sources
In addition to food, animals, as well as being outside, can have a positive effect on your gut microbiome, as it introduces other microbes into your system. That is also the reason why kids living on farms tend to be really healthy. Their microbiome is a lot more diverse. Regular sleep is also favorable for our gut microbiome, as well as (potentially – this has only been scientifically proven in animals so far) exercising.
What Should We Avoid in Order to Keep Our Gut Microbiome Healthy?
There are two things that play havoc with your microbiome and should be minimized as much as possible:
- Avoid antibiotics, as they wipe out your microbiome temporarily or potentially permanently. There is more research that needs to go into this and it also appears to be very individual with regards to someone’s reaction.
- Highly processed foods, including artificial sweeteners, are also not favorable for your gut microbiome. Our gut microbiome does not recognize the chemicals that are in these kinds of foods. This produces abnormal chemicals in response, which can lead to all kinds of weird reactions in our body. Ultimately, this may not leave us feeling our best.
I hope I convinced you that the gut microbiome is fascinating, special, and truly amazing 🎉. It will be interesting to see what further research will go into this topic in the coming years and what we will unearth. I have a feeling that we are still very much at the start of this journey!!!
Beautiful cover photo by Monika Grabkowska on Unsplash.