Gut Health 101

Gut health is quite buzzy these days and it's actually one of my favorite topics. There is a whole world that lives inside of us, and many of us didn't even know existed! I am breaking this topic into two parts so that this post isn't completely overwhelming. Part one (below) focuses on giving you a general understanding gut health. Happy reading! 

What is the microbiome?

The human microbiota consists of the 10-100 trillion symbiotic microbial cells harbored by each person, primarily bacteria in the gut; the human microbiome consists of the genes these cells harbor. There are 10 times more cells from microorganisms like bacteria and fungi in and on our bodies than there are human cells. 

"Woah, that is wild. We are really more bacteria than we are human. But I thought that bacteria was bad?"

Well yes, there are "bad" bacteria. But there are also "good" bacteria. 

Good bacteria can: 

  • Improve digestion
  • Strengthen our immune systems
  • Manufacture the vitamins our bodies need

Bad bacteria can cause:

  • Digestion problems
  • Mental issues
  • Skin conditions
  • Illness (more rare than you think)

"What about antibiotics? They kill bacteria when we are sick- they are good for us right?"

This screenshot from the Quartz app, yesterday 3/28. Very timely.

This screenshot from the Quartz app, yesterday 3/28. Very timely.

Hmmm interesting you should bring that up! Antibiotics do kill bad bacteria – BUT they also kill good bacteria along with the bad. They often destroy healthy colonies of good bacteria. This can lead to an imbalance of good and bad bacteria in the gut and can cause digestive and other health issues.

    Additionally, overuse/misuse has led to antibiotic resistance. Essentially, you should only take antibiotics if you are suffering from a bacterial infection. Very often, we call our doctors asking for medicine when we are sick. However, it may take time to know whether you are suffering from a viral infection (not helped by antibiotics) or a bacterial infection (helped by antibiotics). Some doctors will give you an antibiotic if you ask for it, regardless of whether they are certain if it is bacterial. The over prescription of antibiotics has caused a global health emergency. By taking antibiotics frequently, we are raising our resistance to the medicine - which means when we are really sick and need them, they may not work.

    Moral of the story: only take antibiotics when your health care provider is certain you require them (and please don't push for them).

    Additionally, the meat industry is infamous for giving animals antibiotics to "keep them healthy" often in terrible living conditions. The hormones fed to them are passed on to us. That is why if you eat dairy products it is important to look for added hormone free products (the best way to do this is purchase organic when possible) as well as purchase high quality meat products. Shopping ethically could be a whole additional post, so will table this for now. (If you are interested in learning more, leave me a comment below!)

    "How do I know if my gut bacteria are out of whack?"

    Well, there are quite a few ways. If you experience any of the following, your gut bacteria may not be in balance:

    • Digestive Issues
      • Gas, bloating, heartburn, diarrhea, constipation, IBS, Inflammatory Bowel Disease ([IBD] including Crohn’s, and Ulcerative colitis)
    • Mental Issues
      • Depression and anxiety, brain fog, OCD, autism
    • Vitamin and Mineral Deficiencies (check with your doctor for the lab work)
      • Vitamin D, K, B12, B7, Magnesium
    • Using antibiotics
    • Chronic, unmanaged stress (keep it calm brides!)
    • Skin Conditions 
      • Acne, Rosacea, Psoriasis, Eczema
    • Autoimmune diseases
      • Hashimoto’s,  Rheumatoid arthritis,  IBD

    Note that these range from serious health issues to very minor issues like gas or brain fog. One round of antibiotics can completely mess up your gut. There are lots of ways to tackle an unbalanced gut. The next section will outline some tips for eating right for good gut health - which is a great place to start. Stay tuned for part two for a more in depth feature on how to take it on more serious issues. 

    "What should I eat for a healthy gut?"

    The good news is that if you are health conscious at all you are probably well on your way to a healthy gut. The foundation for a healthy gut is the same as most other healthy living principles: 

    • Eat “real” or “whole” Foods
      • Did it exist when your grandparents (or great grandparents) were growing up?
      • Could you make it in your own kitchen or at least buy the ingredients to do so?
      • Will it eventually rot?
    • Eat a rainbow of foods (mostly plants)
      • The bright colors in fruits and veggies come from phytonutrients which protect against cancer, heart disease and more.
      • Generally speaking the more brightly colored the food is the healthier it is 
      • Any sustainable strategy for long term health grounded in emphasizing (and increasing) the “good” in your diet
      • FIBER! The microbiome’s BFF

    "But wait, that's not why I wanted to learn about gut health at all. What about kombucha?" 

    A perfect breakfast or snack loaded with prebiotics - underripe banana served on Pumpkin Seed GG crisps and peanut butter. GG crisps are whole wheat and many varieties use psyllium husks as an ingredient. Another great prebiotic!

    A perfect breakfast or snack loaded with prebiotics - underripe banana served on Pumpkin Seed GG crisps and peanut butter. GG crisps are whole wheat and many varieties use psyllium husks as an ingredient. Another great prebiotic!

    Oh eating a healthy diet isn't up your alley? JK, jk. There are two types of foods that you should work on incorporating into your gut friendly diet: probiotics and prebiotics. 

    Probiotics are actual live, good bacteria. They come in supplement form, or you can get them naturally in the following foods: 

    • Yogurt, kefir, and buttermilk 
    • Aged cheese such as cheddar, Gouda, or Parmesan (not the processed kind that comes in a bag)
    • Sauerkraut, kimchi and other pickled vegetables
    • Sourdough bread 
    • Miso (fermented barley or soy or rice)
    • Tempeh - fermented soy  
    • Kombucha - fermented tea
    • Beer and wine (all in moderation!)

    Prebiotics are foods that feed the good bacteria already present in the intestine. If your curious about how they work, check out this article. Here are some great sources to add into your diet: 

    • Raw chicory root - the top source, with almost 60% fiber
    • Raw Jerusalem artichoke 
    • Raw garlic
    • Raw leeks
    • Raw asparagus
    • Raw dandelion greens
    • Raw onions 
    • Cooked onions
    • Whole wheat 
    • Underripe bananas
    • Raw jicama
    • Legumes
    • Psyllium Husks
    • Other fruits and vegetables

    Whether you are in good health or not, making sure you add in probiotic and prebiotic foods into your normal routine will be very beneficial. 

    This is the end of part one. Stay tuned for the next installment! Part two will lay out the groundwork for tackling bacteria imbalances in the gut as well as more actionable steps to conquer healthy gut living!

    Please let me know if you found this to be helpful! I'm excited to share more with you soon! - AHS