Go with your gut on this one…
In general, bacteria tend to cop a pretty bad rep, but while not all bacteria are good for us (I’m looking at you, perpetually sick colleague), some of it is actually essential for our survival (mind blown, right?).
That’s because there are different types of bacteria – some beneficial (think the kind found in probiotic supplements), and some bad (think the kind found in that spag bowl you left in the fridge waaay too long that looked like it started growing something). And new research is suggesting the good kind may be even better for our health than we once thought; impacting everything from our digestive system to our hormones, and even our brains.
With over 100 trillion bacteria living in our bodies at any given time, it’s easy to see why it’s crucial to keep the good bacteria levels up, and the bad ones – which can quickly get out of hand as a result of poor eating and excess stress – down. After all, if you’re feeling ‘off’ in any way and can’t really explain why, there’s a good chance it’s due to an imbalance in your bacteria levels.
Thankfully, there are a number of easy ways to boost your gut health and restore your good bacteria levels back to normal again. Here’s how…
1. Eat a wide range of whole foods
Even though it’s tempting to live off coffee and tuna salads when you’re busy, eating the same thing every day isn’t going to be beneficial for your gut health, as studies have shown different bacteria require different types of food to survive.
Think of bacteria as tiny creatures with different abilities and preferences. Just like us, they can’t all do the same thing, but all serve a different purpose, which is why some bacteria will thrive off the salad you have for lunch, while others need wholegrains or proteins.
A balanced diet consisting of different types of whole, unprocessed foods will maintain a diverse gut flora, which in turn will improve your overall health.
2. Eat foods with resistant starch
The majority of bacteria in your gut need to feed on resistant starch (RS) in order to survive. Resistant starch is found in the parts of certain foods that ‘resist’ digestion, and therefore make it all the way to the lower intestine, where your gut bacteria break them down into chemicals that nourish your cells.
According to CSIRO senior nutrition scientist, Dr David Topping, your good bacteria begin to struggle when you don’t consume enough RS foods.
“Because the nourishment that they would provide the large intestinal wall weakens, you get the chance of toxins, bacteria and undigested food particles to cross over into the blood stream.”
So munch down on RS-rich foods. The highest sources of RS include potatoes, bananas, oats, and beans.
3. Cut out the sugar
It’s not a secret too much sugar is bad for you and can lead to diabetes and obesity. Moreover, sugar feeds the bad bacteria in your gut, so if you have too many sweets, it causes a bacterial imbalance.
Too many bad bacteria mean the good bacteria can’t keep up in providing your body with the nutrients it needs. This can lead to inflammation of the intestinal walls, which increases the risk of autoimmune diseases.
Unfortunately, it’s the same with artificial sweeteners, too, studies have shown.
4. Stop stressing
Reducing your stress levels is definitely easier said than done, but research has shown a direct link between psychological stress and gut flora.
Whether it’s work-related stress caused by the constant need to be switched on, or general anxiety, if your body and mind is constantly stressed, there’ll be a flow-on effect in your gut, which will impact your immunity, ultimately making you more susceptible to diseases.
This is why even the healthiest diet won’t make you feel better if you’re living a highly stressful life. Regular exercise and meditation can help reduce stress; as can natural anti-anxiety remedies.
5. Try to avoid antibiotics
Antibiotics prescribed by doctors can be lifesavers, but some studies suggest over 30 per cent of all prescriptions are unnecessary. The problem with taking antibiotics is they not only kill bad bacteria, but also eliminate good bacteria in the process, too, and it can take years for your gut flora to recover.
It’s also important to note that antibiotics are only effective for bacterial infections, but won’t help if you have a viral infection, as is the case with most common colds.
Should you ever have to take antibiotic medicine, make sure to take probiotics at the same time to maintain the level of good bacteria in your gut.
6. Eat fermented foods
Eating fermented foods is the easiest and most effective way to boost the good bacteria in your gut, as these foods contain prebiotics and probiotics; both of which promote good bacteria in your intestines.
The most common probiotic food is yoghurt, which is basically fermented milk, but there are many more fermented foods that are beneficial to your gut health as well, such as kimchi, miso, sauerkraut, or kombucha.
7. Laugh more
This may sound like a joke, but laughing can actually improve your gut flora, and there’s a study to prove it.
The reason is our brain and gut are directly connected, with the feelgood neurotransmitter serotonin being produced in the gut. When we laugh, stress-hormones are reduced as our serotonin levels rise, which in turn creates a more habitable environment for our good gut bacteria.
So next time you feel guilty for watching too many funny cat videos on Youtube, just remember, it’s good for your health.
8. Take probiotic supplements
This seems like a no-brainer when it comes to improving your gut health, but it’s important to note the different type of supplements out there.
There are over-the-counter supplements, and then there are pharmaceutical-grade probiotics, which can be much more effective, as they include a significantly higher number of bacteria and more diverse range of strains.
“Some probiotics contain a single strain of bacteria or yeast, while others contain multiple strains. Different strains of the same species can result in different effects on health,” explains dietitian Anna Debenham.
As not every type of bacteria is tolerated by everyone, it’s important to talk to your doctor before trying a stronger probiotic supplement.
Images via shutterstock.com and tumblr.com.
Comment: How do you take care of your gut health?