The bacteria that live in our guts contain most of the genetic diversity in our body. They make essential nutrients like vitamins and essential amino acids for us. They also seem to have effects that go far beyond the gut. They are implicated in multiple sclerosis and type 2 diabetes, among many other chronic diseases.
Yet with all the articles and coverage, we sometimes wonder, “What can I do to help get my gut bacteria in line?”
I’m here to help. Here are five things you can do right away to help promote a healthy, stable gut bacteria population.
Eat resistant starches. Resistant starch is a term for a starch that will not be digested and metabolized by the small intestines, but will reach the large intestine and act as food for the gut microbiome. Resistant starches are PRE-biotics in that they help the healthy bacteria that feed on them to prosper and thrive. How do you get them? Cook regular starchy foods, cool them down, reheat them and eat them. That simple.
Avoid unnecessary antibiotic pills. Antibiotic pills can be life-saving and are useful for many significant infections, but please don’t ask your doctor for antibiotics to treat mild or even moderate symptoms that are otherwise typical. The antibiotics probably won’t make much of a difference, and it takes at least a year to restore a normal gut bacteria population after the antibiotics.
Avoid antibiotics (including triclosan & chlorhexidine) in mouthwash, toothpaste, soaps and other household products. If it kills 99% of bacteria, it’s indiscriminate about which ones it kills. This means that you are reducing the diversity and resilience of your microbes because of a mid-20th century germ phobia. Please move into the 21st century, or back to the 19th, either will help your microbes.
Eat leafy green vegetables in high amounts. To eat large amounts of leafy greens, you almost always need to cook them. When you buy fresh spinach, blanch it, sauté it and put it on a plate, the amount of shrinkage can be shocking. It means the amount of actual leaves you are eating in an un-cooked green salad is pretty trivial. Cook the greens to get a higher total consumption of greens … or you can just eat leaves all day long like gorillas do; that will work. It was even studied in a diet trial once with interesting results.
Eat beans! Yes, they are good for your heart, but the more you eat, the more you feed your gut bacteria. The gut bacteria use the soluble fiber in the beans to create short chain fatty acids, which help reduce the pH of the stool. Very beneficial for colon cancer prevention. Beans are the single food most associated with longevity.
For more good information on how to have a healthy gut microbe population from a different perspective, you can read a book by a gastroenterologist who has studied this at length, Dr. Robynne Chutkan, called The Microbiome Solution.