Updated: Dec 6, 2021
The gut microbiome is composed of trillions of microbes that reside primarily in the large intestine and support optimal health in many ways. Research has shown that the microbiome has a profound impact on our health, affecting everything from our mood, immune system, hormones, digestion, and possibly our ability to lose weight. In turn, nutrition has a profound impact on our microbiome. While the tips listed below are not a complete fix for the perfect microbiome, they can accelerate your path towards better digestion and better health.
Where Do You Begin to Build a Healthier Gut?
Swap out processed foods for natural whole foods
Processed foods lack nutrients, such as key B vitamins, which are needed to support a healthy gut environment. Most manufactured food products also include artificial ingredients, which may have a negative impact on microbe balance.
Don’t ditch the carbs…choose the right carbs to feed your microbiome
Low carb diets continue to be a popular mainstream method of weight control. While modifying macronutrient ratios to reduce carbohydrate intake may benefit certain health conditions, such as diabetes or seizure disorders, there has yet to be conclusive research supporting a very low carb diet over a moderate carb diet in weight loss success. Choosing whole food, high fiber sources of carbohydrates such as whole grains, fruits, and vegetables is an effective method of feeding your microbiome.
Increase fiber intake from a variety of sources
Just like your entire body requires nutrients from a variety of foods to function well, your mini microbial universe requires fiber from a variety of foods to thrive. For example, an orange provides your body vitamin C and a banana delivers a good dose of potassium. These two fruits also provide different types of fiber for your microbiome. The bottom line is that we should eat 30-40 grams of fiber daily from a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, peas, lentils, nuts, and seeds.
Replace high-fat animal protein foods for protein sources that are plant-based
Red meat and other high fat animal-based protein foods have a negative impact on microbial balance by increasing quantities of unhealthy bacteria and reducing health-promoting bacteria. Plant-based diets have been associated with a greater diversity of microbes and a more stable microbiome than an omnivorous diet. Plant-based proteins, such as pea protein, have been shown to increase health-promoting microbes while reducing harmful bacteria in the gut.
Keep fat intake at a moderate level while choosing mono- and polyunsaturated fats over saturated fat
Very high fat diets and high saturated fat diets have been found to be detrimental to the gut microbiome, whereas healthy oils such as olive oil or omega-3 fatty acids from fish have been shown to benefit the intestinal bacterial environment. Avoid or limit red meat, fried foods, or high fat packaged foods such as chips, cookies, and high-fat crackers. Include healthy fat sources in your diet such as cold water fish (salmon, mackerel, tuna), olive oil, avocados, nuts, and seeds.
Include probiotic foods
Probiotic foods contain beneficial bacteria to enrich the gut microbiome. Regular consumption of probiotic foods are needed to maintain a healthy microbial balance. Rich sources of probiotics include yogurt (preferably no added sugar), kefir, kombucha, fermented foods (i.e., sauerkraut or fermented vegetables), and miso (add it to soups or make a salad dressing out of it).
Include prebiotic foods
Prebiotic foods are what feed the healthy bacteria in your gut to help them thrive and multiply. Prebiotic-rich foods include onions, garlic, artichokes, under ripe bananas, chia seeds, flax seeds, legumes, and lentils. Fruits and vegetables are also prebiotic foods and are an easy addition to meals and snacks (see my previous blog “10 Tips to Easily Fit in More Veggies to Boost Your Diet’s Nutrient Power”).
Modify other lifestyle factors to support your healthier garden of microbes
Other lifestyle factors that may support a healthier microbiome include reducing stress, exercising daily at a moderate intensity, getting adequate quality and quantity of sleep (7-9 hours daily), and spending time in nature daily if possible. Just going for a brisk walk or jog outdoors along a tree lined path can help achieve these methods of boosting microbial health.
Incorporating the above changes into your diet and lifestyle can make a dramatic change in your health. Remember that the above tips are not the only factors that affect your microbiome, but they are a good place to start. With any diet or lifestyle change, start out gradually with one or two modifications and build as you succeed. Gradual tweaks are easier to maintain and therefore more likely to provide long-term benefits.
If you want personalized guidance on improving your microbiome and gut health, contact a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist who specializes in digestive health. Your intestinal environment impacts your entire body and affects many health issues. Starting your health improvement journey should start with your gut and a qualified health professional.
David, Lawrence A et al. “Diet rapidly and reproducibly alters the human gut microbiome.” Nature vol. 505,7484 (2014): 559-63. doi:10.1038/nature12820
Singh, R.K., Chang, HW., Yan, D. et al. Influence of diet on the gut microbiome and implications for human health. J Transl Med 15, 73 (2017). doi.org/10.1186/s12967-017-1175-y
Tomova, Aleksandra et al. “The Effects of Vegetarian and Vegan Diets on Gut Microbiota.” Frontiers in nutrition vol. 6 47. 17 Apr. 2019, doi:10.3389/fnut.2019.00047