Your gut microbiome is unique to you. Even identical twins have completely different gut microbiomes. While the initial bacteria you get is determined at birth, there are several things you can do that either help or hurt the health and diversity of your gut garden. Here are a few things you need to know if you want to create a happy, healthy gut that doesn’t bloat.
Things that hurt:
Antibiotics – An antibiotic does exactly what its name suggests, it kills bacteria. Taking a five-day course of antibiotics will kill up to one third of your good gut bacteria. Taking probiotic pills isn’t going to bring it back. It has to fed and grow back.
Antibiotics are extremely over prescribed in the western world. Only take an antibiotic if you have a bacterial infection that requires it. If you have a viral infection, skip the just-in-case antibiotic.
Additionally, be aware that 80% of antibiotic use is given to food animals. Conventionally produced meat and dairy products are loaded with them. If you choose to eat them, organic is the better choice. See below for why you shouldn’t choose to eat them at all.
Animal protein – The bacteria needed to digest the protein in red meat, white meat, fish, diary and eggs loves bile. Bile loving bacteria is associated with inflammation and diarrheal disease and is stronger than the bacteria needed to digest plant-based foods. If you are ingesting animal protein at every meal, you are squeezing out healthy gut flora in favor of bile loving flora that is making you feel miserable.
Lack of fiber – Animal protein has zero fiber and processed foods have had most if not all of the fiber removed. Fiber has two roles in gut health. One, it picks up waste and keeps it moving out of the system. Two, the nutrients attached to the fiber feed your good gut bacteria. Most adults get fifteen grams of fiber a day or less. Forty to sixty grams is the goal.
Artificial sweeteners – Artificial sweeteners are not digested and end up in the large intestine which negatively affects the microbiome, raising insulin. Artificially raising insulin wreaks havoc on our body’s delicate balance.
Your body knows how to process sugar. In small quantities, it’s not a problem. Ideally, use whole fruit to sweeten things.
Things that help:
Microbiota accessible carbohydrates (MACs) – That is a really complicated way of saying foods that are high in fiber and low in fat. Fiber is not digested in the stomach and makes its way into the large intestine where your gut microbiome can feast on the nutrients attached to it. Taking a fiber supplement is not the same. It doesn’t have the nutrients. Foods like quinoa, brown rice, beans (beans are amazing! Eat them every day!) and greens are good examples of MACs. But any unprocessed, plant-based foods are going to do amazing things for your gut garden.
If you are eating mostly whole plant foods you are going to hit forty to sixty grams of fiber a day without even trying. Don’t worry about counting.
Within 30 hours of replacing animal protein with whole plant-foods the health of your gut microbiome will improve dramatically. To keep that improvement going, don’t feed the unhealthy flora by eating animal protein.
Raw sauerkraut – Raw sauerkraut is both a probiotic and a prebiotic (food that probiotics eat). But you have to make sure it’s raw. Many commercially available sauerkrauts are pasteurized to kill bacteria, which of course kills the good bacteria too. If you make it yourself, you’ll know that all the good stuff is still in there.
Things that are useless
Probiotics – You can’t buy a healthy gut microbiome from the drug store. Most probiotics in a supplement are dead within twenty minutes of taking them. The acid in your stomach is designed to kill bacteria you accidently ingest so you don’t get sick. Any probiotic that happens to survive the acid bath in the stomach will find its way into the toilet in about thirty-six hours.
Yogurt – Yogurt is just a less sweet form of ice cream and the animal protein in it feeds unhealthy gut bacteria. Most of the story about yogurt being good for your gut is marketing.
It is amazing how much better life is when you have a happy gut. I know. I speak from experience. I have pictures from my pre-plant-based days where I am so bloated I looked pregnant. I used to complain to my doctor that my GI tract was broken. Little did I know, the solution was waiting at the end of my fork.
Ready to start feeling better? Join the Whole Food Muscle Club to get the support to make it happen. We have the answers. You have to take the first step.
Dr Robyn is a former competitive volleyball player turned psychologist with continuing education in nutrition. Russ is a former competitive bodybuilder and trainer on the Mr. Olympia Tour. They are the co-founders of Whole Food Muscle and the authors of How to Feed a Human The Whole Food Muscle Way. To work with them one on one to improve your health and fitness or to have them speak at your event or organization email them at Health@RnRJourney.com.