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How Does Your Gut Microbiome Work?

Trillions of microscopic organisms — fungi, viruses and bacteria — call your body home. And, 95 percent of these organisms reside right there in your gut, creating your gut microbiome. From helping digest food to managing your immune system to helping to regulate mood, these busy organisms do a lot. So, how can you support your healthy microbiome through gut-friendly foods and periodic cleansing? Read on!

Benefits of a Healthy Gut

Better digestion is probably the most prevalent and well-known benefit of gut health, and the benefits don’t stop there!

Many of the bacteria (both good and bad) in your gut play a major role in supporting a healthy immune system. As a matter of fact, 70 percent of your immune cells originate in your gut. Cell Science Systems explains this through lab mice, which are frequently used in scientific tests due to the similarities between the human and mouse organ systems. Mice kept in a lab are raised in a sterile environment and therefore don’t have diverse gut bacteria. Their immune system cells — which typically live throughout the body, especially in the gut — were found to be sparse, thus these mice tend to have weak immune systems. 

A healthy glow is one of the most visible effects of a healthy gut microbiome. Because your skin pulls the nutrients and toxins from inside your body to nourish itself, environmental or toxin-related shifts to your gut health can show through dermatological issues like acne, rosacea and more. Meaning, the healthier you are inside, the healthier your skin will appear!

If you’ve seen Legally Blond, you’re familiar with serotonin — otherwise known as the “happy chemical.” For those who haven’t seen the Resee Witherspoon classic, serotonin is a monoamine neurotransmitter helping to relay messages from one area of the brain to another, allowing you to experience feelings of well-being and happiness. Conversely when serotonin isn’t in abundance, your mood shifts accordingly. Ninety percent of this brain chemical is actually produced in your gut. That’s right, gut microbes produce hundreds of neurochemicals, and these neurochemicals are then used by the brain to regulate mental functions such as mood, learning and memory — linking your healthy microbiome to a sharper mind and improved mood.

Gut Health and Food Sensitivity

The types of bacteria present in your microbiome may make it easier, or harder, for you to digest certain foods. In the American Museum of Natural History’s The Secret World Inside You exhibition, the museum explained that when children are in the womb, they lack a microbiome and get nutrients from their mother. At birth, you are rapidly introduced to the world of bacteria that begins to find a home in your gut. These bacteria are what allow you to digest food, and studies have shown that something as small as choosing formula versus breast milk affects the diversity of bacteria in your microbiome. As you grow up, so does your microbiome. This means everything you eat and drink — from healthy foods to those less than nutritious choices — helps shape the digestive abilities of your microbiome.

For example, have you met someone who is lactose intolerant? The National Library of Medicine reports that doctors have seen distinct trends between microbiome bacteria diversity and the digestion of lactose. The bacteria responsible for most lactose digestion is Lactobacillus — otherwise known as lactic acid. Researchers looked at a sample group of children with lactose sensitivity; compared to those who did not show signs of lactose sensitivity, the children with the sensitivity had significantly less diverse microbiomes. Their conclusion? If your gut lacks certain bacterial growth as a child, it could explain why you have problems digesting foods later in life. Similarly, the Rabin Medical Center explains that taking a probiotic including the Lactobacillus bacteria can help alleviate the symptoms of lactose intolerance as Lactobacillus helps break down the lactose.

While the medical field is increasingly researching the intricacies of microbiomes, gut bacteria and food intolerance, it’s important to know that you can support your microbiome daily through regular cleansing and the right diet.

Best Foods for Gut Health

Supporting the good bacteria that call your gut home has benefits far beyond supporting good digestion. The bacteria that make up your microbiome also support a healthy immune system, regulate your mood and even support the appearance of nourished, healthy skin.

A gut-healthy diet features foods high in fiber and offering prebiotics and probiotics (think:  fermented foods). Eating probiotic-rich foods can combat day-to-day digestive problems caused by heavy toxin intake and lead to better health. Our favorite foods for a healthy gut include:

  1. Greek Yogurt: Many brands of Greek yogurt contain probiotics such as live cultures of Lactobacillus that can help you build up a more diverse microbiome.

  2. And, Regular Yogurt: Look for live active cultures on the label, these are the best source of probiotics for your gut. Bonus if your yogurt comes from grass-fed goat or sheep milk, is organic and is low in sugar.

  3. Buttermilk: This fermented dairy drink in its traditional form contain probiotics. Leave your monocle at home, to get all the gut-healthy benefits, you’ll have to look for the uncultured versions.

  4. Almond Milk: - Almond milk provides beneficial bacteria and contains almost one gram of fiber per serving, which is important for healthy digestion. Additionally, vegan-friendly Almond Milk tends to be high in the antioxidant vitamin E.

  5. Cultured Soymilk: - Speaking of dairy milk substitutes, cultured soymilk is rich in live, active cultures, calcium and the all-important Vitamin D.

  6. Cheeses: - Some cheeses such as mozzarella, cheddar and cottage cheese have bacteria that stay active during the aging process. And raw, unpasteurized cheese is high in probiotics including Thermophilus, Bulgaricus, and Acidophilus. Pregnant? Skip this option until your bundle of joy arrives.

  7. Wild-Caught Salmon: Known for being a staple of the heart-healthy diet, wild-caught salmon offers an abundance of Omega-3 fatty acids, also known for supporting a healthy gut.

  8. Sourdough Bread: If you’re looking to break out the breadmaker, you can’t go wrong with gut-healthy Sourdough Bread. Because it’s made with lactic acid, Sourdough Bread offers Lactobacillus strains.

  9. Garlic: Garlic feeds the healthy bacteria already in our gut — making it a super tasty prebiotic. Grab a mint because the maximum benefits of garlic are delivered when eaten raw. 

  10. Onions: Another delicious prebiotic, onions promote the growth of bacteria already in your gut.

  11. Sauerkraut: Famous for accompanying hotdogs, many European countries stand by this recipe of fermented cabbage providing probiotic benefits along with fiber, vitamins and minerals.

  12. Pickles: Pickled cucumbers are left to ferment, strengthening their lactic acid bacteria that support digestive health. Truly, anything fermented and pickled is good for your gut — and (in our opinion) your tastebuds!

  13. Kombucha: Similar to Greek Yogurt, kombucha is fermented and includes live cultures of bacteria that may help grow your gut bacteria diversity.

  14. Kimchi: This Korean fermented vegetable-based food includes lactic-acid bacteria. As a result of its health benefits, it is commonly served in Korean meals.

  15. Kefir: This fermented milk drink has origins in Turkish culture as it was used to alleviate digestive issues due to multiple strains of ‘good’ bacteria creating a strong probiotic mix.

  16. Lassi: Basically a smoothie made by blending fruit, yogurt, honey, milk and cardamom, this tasty delight is served at many Indian eateries.

  17. Kvass: Making its debut from Russian, Kvass is made from fermented beet juice. Rich in nitrates, it aids in gut health and muscle performance. Which way to the weight room? 

  18. Miso: This ancient Japanese spice is made by fermenting barley, soybean, and the fungus Koji. Fermented foods add beneficial probiotic bacteria and enzymes to your intestinal flora. Traditionally thought of in soup, Miso can also be made into a paste and eaten on crackers or added to your favorite dish.

  19. Tempeh: This Indonesian favorite is a fermented, cake-like soybean often substituted for meat in stir fry dishes. Or try it raw to get all the benefits!

  20. Dark Chocolate: We saved the best for last! Like wild-caught salmon, dark chocolate is usually associated with a heart-healthy diet. It turns out heart-healthy bacteria near the end of the digestive tract are sustained through dark chocolate’s antioxidants and fiber.

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