12 Tips for A Healthy Gut Microbiome

Lan Ngo picks herbs from her garden for a big lunch salad. El Sobrante, CA. Photo by Michael A. Estrada
The more we learn about the gut microbiome, the more we understand that it’s key to our overall health. The gut is home to the largest part of our immune system, many of our hormones, and nearly all our serotonin, a critical neurotransmitter that affects mood and sleep. It’s also home to trillions of microbes, which interact with all parts of our gut.

Knowing this, what can we do for good gut health? What constitutes an ideal microbiome diet? Here are a few rules to live by:

1. Diversify Your Diet

Just like humans, different microbes in your gut have different dietary preferences, so it’s important to eat foods that feed all of them. “As in any ecosystem, the health of the microbiome is determined by the diversity and abundance of its species,” says UCLA professor Emeran Mayer, MD, author of The Gut-Immune Connection. “The greater the diversity, the more resilient it is and the more resistant to disease.” A more diverse diet spurs population booms of many different types of gut microbes, including gut bacteria, archaea and eukarya—and therefore a healthier gut.

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2. Eat Foods Grown in Healthy, Organic Soil

Microbe-rich, living soil, as opposed to dirt that’s full of synthetic fertilizers, helps plants produce molecules called polyphenols that benefit your gut microbiome. Look for organic food in the grocery store or farmers’ market—or, if you’re a backyard gardener, raise your vegetables organically.

“Within a healthy soil microbiome, soil microbes interact with the roots of plants, stimulating them to produce health-promoting and disease-fighting molecules—in particular the polyphenols.”

— Emeran A. Mayer, MD, UCLA

3. Eat Plants

The bacteria in your gut crave fiber, and plants have it! Eating a range of plants like legumes, fruits, vegetables, berries, spices and roots is the best fuel for your gut microbiome. Even better is eating plants in season, since they tend to have higher nutrient density than plants grown out of season.

4. The Rawer the Better

Cooking fruits and veggies for too long breaks down their fibers. This is a problem for the microbes in your gut because fiber is their main source of fuel. Keep those microbes well fed by eating raw or lightly cooked foods.

5. Blending Beats Juicing

Juicing might sound healthy, but actually, it strips the fibers from your produce and leaves just sugars—which cause blood-sugar and insulin spikes. Better to blend instead and keep all of that fibrous goodness. It’ll make your microbes happy.

6. Steer Clear of Industrial Meat

Industrial meat producers routinely give antibiotics to their livestock to stimulate growth as well as prevent and treat illness. This regular exposure changes the animals’ gut microbiomes. It also changes ours when we eat those animals, suppressing the diversity and abundance of our own gut microbes. Eating organic, antibiotic-free meat is better for your health.

7. Avoid White Flour and Sugar

These highly processed carbs are not good for your gut. They’re rapidly absorbed in the first part of your small intestine, thereby starving the majority of microbes in the rest of your gut.

8. Preserve the Polyphenols

Certain foods, like extra-virgin olive oil and red wine, are rich in these disease-fighting molecules. Heat and sunlight can break down polyphenols, so keep your olive oil and red wine tightly sealed and away from heat and light.

9. Eat Anti-Inflammatory Foods

Try to regularly consume foods with known anti-inflammatory properties, like turmeric and ginger. Some studies show that these can counteract low-grade immune activation—so-called metabolic toxemia—which is implicated in the development of chronic diseases, including chronic fatigue and depression.

10. Regularly Consume Fermented Foods

Fermented foods contain live microbes, or probiotics, that can help invigorate your gut microbiome and stave off serious health problems like asthma and Alzheimer’s, says nutritionist David S. Ludwig in a recent Harvard Health Publishing article. Eating fermented foods from early childhood is especially beneficial since it “trains” the immune system to interact with complex populations of microbes. That said, regularly eating fermented foods is still a helpful practice at any age.

11. Try Time-Restricted Eating

Keeping your gut totally empty for 10 hours or more per day can help reduce interactions between the microbes in your gut and your gut’s immune system, thereby lessening chronic immune activation.

12. Consistency Is Key

It’s easier to keep your gut microbiome healthy than to rebuild it. Regularly consuming diverse, probiotic foods (including lots of plants) will give your microbes what they need to thrive. Don’t let your gut microbiome down and it won’t let you down!

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