What has been considered a “controversial” and New-Agey topic has hit the mainstream and now has scientific studies to back what supporters of holistic wellness have long suspected; a healthy gut is the foundation for physical and mental health. Referred to as “the second brain,” the GI tract is literally home to trillions of bacteria that play an important roll in our quality of life.
A recent study has found a strong link between depression and the absence of two intestinal bacteria: Coprococcus and Dialister. Scientists discovered that people with depression lack these particular bacteria. So that “gut feeling” or that “nervous stomach” – there’s literally more to it that we previously suspected! Researchers are learning more every day about the benefits of a healthy gut as well as the mental health implications. We are also beginning to realize that the balance (or lack of ) intestinal bacteria can directly influence conditions relating to inflammation, mood, disease resistance, metabolism, weight, and so much more.
Unfortunately, for the average person, typical lifestyle habits do much more to compromise rather than nurture this healthy gut balance. Behaviors like eating a limited variety of food, being too dependent on processed foods, overusing antibiotics, and consuming artificial sweeteners all take a toll on our health.
So what are some things we can do to restore and maintain a healthy gut biome?
- Beware of artificial sweeteners and processed foods. As much as possible, eat food that is an ingredient, not food that has a list of ingredients. Artificial sweeteners and food additives disrupt the metabolism and greatly reduce gut diversity. Eating whole foods in as close to their natural state as possible is your best bet.
2. Eat your veggies. Most people say they eat their veggies, but studies show that only 1 in 10 Americans are actually eating the recommended servings of veggies per day. On top of that, most of us don’t eat enough variety. The top three vegetables consumed by people in the United States are potatoes, corn, and carrots. Additionally, most of the potatoes consumed are in the form of French fries and starches added to processed snack foods. Modern, big-scale agriculture has degraded food quality with chemical farming and has contaminated our bodies with Glycophosphates and other hidden poisons. Over time, these assaults on our intestinal biome create heightened allergic responses, which further degrade the intestinal lining. By incorporating more diversity into our diets, we are able to increase our healthy gut biome because each vegetable contains a different microbial species. Even better are the veg and greens that you grow or forage yourself. Eating seasonally and locally are also beneficial in maintaining a healthy gut balance and helping to restore one that has been depleted.
3. Incorporate more fermented foods into your diet. Think beyond yogurt. Foods that contain probiotics, like kefir, raw milk cheeses, sauerkraut, miso, and kimchi are all your friends. Be sure to vary the types of fermented foods, too – incorporate soil-based and milk-based products and foods into your diet. Take it slow though – let your body get used to these good things. For example, if trying kimchi for the first time, start out with just a tablespoon with lunch and slowly build up to a tablespoon with meals throughout the day.
4. Play with your pets! Yay! (Another excuse for me to get more pets!) Our cultural germ phobia and anti-bacterial everything has done more harm than good when it comes to a healthy gut. Unless you are literally working with the Ebola virus on a daily basis, there is no need to completely sanitize ourselves, our children, or our homes. This chronic over-sterilization has caused a lack of bacterial diversity in our lives. We all need exposure to dirt, animals, and a variety of microbes. We need these small, frequent exposures to bacteria to keep our immune systems functioning – our immune system needs this “education” in order to keep us healthy. A sterile environment impairs the immune system and has even been linked to the tremendous rise in auto-immune disorders. So dig in the dirt, go camping, eat that pistachio that fell on the floor, and play with your dog.
What ever your level of health may be, everyone can benefit from adding a variety of foods and whole foods to our diet.
Know that you need to eat more variety, but at a loss on how to put it into action for the dinner table? Sign up for a Grocery Store Field Trip and be inspired!