A healthy gut is a happy gut. Some of you may not even know that we have a large number of bacteria cells in our bodies. Specifically, a massive percentage of these bacteria live in our gut (intestines) and are referred to as our “gut microbiome.” There are so many of these bacteria, in fact, that on a cell-by-cell basis we are 99% bacteria and only 1% human. Yes you read that correctly. Nearly all the cells in our bodies are bacteria cells.
If we have such a high percentage of these organisms living symbiotically with our bodies, you would think we would need to treat these bacteria as though they are a part of us, right? However, most people completely neglect gut health altogether. This can be a dangerous practice, since these gut bacteria can influence digestion of food, absorption of nutrients, control over cravings, and many other cognitive functions. At the risk of turning this post into Sci-Fi, we basically have a colony or microscopic organisms living in our digestive system controlling our bodies and our thoughts.
If you are learning about gut health for the first time right now, no need to panic. There are ways you can improve your gut health right now. It will not be an overnight fix, of course, but there are some long-term habits you can begin building that will keep those little guys happy, and in turn extend your life.
Probiotics come in many different shapes and sizes. They are foods which are typically fermented, and they contain good bacteria in them which populate your gut and help promote a healthy colony of the good stuff in your digestive system. My favorite foods here are kombucha (a fermented tea drink), kimchi (fermented cabbage, usually spicy), and sauerkraut.
Probiotics also come in supplement form, but those are not always as effective. Typically, you want to get these from food sources if possible.
- Lots of Veggies, no Processed Foods
This is something you should be doing anyways. Not only should you eat a lot of vegetables, but you should eat a lot of different kinds of vegetables. There are plenty of different strains of bacteria in your gut, and they feed off of different types of nutrients. Mixing up veggie types will keep all the different bacterias healthy and thriving, and allow them to work when they’re supposed to and get out of the way when you don’t need them.
Processed foods, however, promote the growth of the bad bacteria. One of the worst things that can happen is the bacteria can travel higher up in the digestive system in search of more processed foods (which are typically digested earlier in the digestive tract) and begin to populate even as far up as your stomach. Once there, they can eat away at the lining of your stomach and cause some serious damage. We don’t want this, so avoid processed foods as much as possible.
- Avoid Sugar and Artificial Sweeteners
I am sure you have heard that eating sugar causes more sugar cravings. Even people with sweet tooths tend to notice that it goes away if we ignore it for long enough to get past the cravings. It is very clear that sugar is addicting. People addicted to sugar have been shown via brain scans to crave sugar more than heroin addicts crave heroin (Sidenote: heroin is another thing you should avoid).
Similar to processed foods, these sugars are like, well, candy for the bad bacteria in your gut. They love it so much that they will travel up in your digestive tract in search of it as well. Furthermore (and this is where it gets creepy), there are so many of these bacteria in your body that they are actually able to send signals to your brain and influence thoughts. This is where the cravings come in. Your insatiable desire to eat more sugar is coming from your gut bacteria sending signals to your brain looking for more. It is truly a remarkable process.
And artificial sweeteners are no better. They are low in calories, but they cause the same type of response from the gut microbiome. Which means they can be equally as dangerous, and not do much to prevent future cravings.
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Ultimately, this is an area science still needs to do a whole lot more research on. I am certain that we will learn a lot more about gut bacteria over the next few years, and it will likely be one of the biggest nutrition trends of the next decade. For now, the things we know is that these bacteria are incredibly important, and they can be managed based on our dietary choices. So do yourself a favor, suck down a kombucha and eat a little kale. Your body will thank you.