Happy Holidays to you! My wish for you is that you make it to the end of this month with both your wallet and waistline intact. The holiday season brings with it a myriad of emotions; everything from joy and nostalgia to anxiety and depression. These feelings can (and do) play a large part in what you choose to eat. We know that how you feel will affect what you eat, but did you know that what you eat can affect how you feel? A new and fascinating area of research is focused on the bacteria that live in our intestinal tract, and how they interact with us. These little buggers make up what is referred to as the “gut microbiome.” Big word that basically means belly bugs!
Deep within our intestines there is a community of bacteria that has been with us since the dawn of man. They have coexisted with us for generations, but only recently have we started to discover how important they are for our health. There are more bacteria in your microbiome than you have cells in your body! Having the right mix of bacteria has been shown to impact an astounding number of conditions including but not limited to: Obesity, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, depression/anxiety, Crohn’s disease, and most auto-immune diseases. In fact some conditions, such as irritable bowel syndrome, are being reversed with the introduction of proper bacteria!
Research shows that the bacteria in our guts can communicate with our brains to control what we want to eat. An article in Scientific American recently reported there is strong evidence to indicate the byproducts from our intestinal bacteria carry information from the gut to the brain. Thereby telling you whether you need a particular kind of food or not.
Isn’t that a powerful thought? The cravings you experience may be driven by the trillion of bacteria inside you! We think this happens because what you eat feeds the bacteria within. If you consume a standard western diet that high in sugar, processed food and meat, then you are feeding the bacteria that love these foods. As those bacteria grow, they push aside and overpower the microbes that want broccoli and almonds. As a result you crave sugary processed foods more than healthy ones.
The good news is you have a LOT of control over what specific types of bacteria live within you! When you change your diet in a way that feeds the good guys and starves the bad guys, you will start to see changes in the makeup of your microbiome in about 24-36 hours. It’s that quick! This is because bacteria live and diet in a short amount of time, so we see results in days.
The foods you should eat to rebalance your gut bacteria are not going to shock you. FIBER is the number one food for the healthy bugs. Fiber from plants such as fruits, vegetables, beans and whole grains. The recommended daily amount of fiber for Americans is 25-30gm daily, but on average we only get about 12gm. Cultures that have the most robust and healthy gut microbiomes have been recorded eating around 100gm of fiber daily! Wow! I would not recommend aiming for that much because you can definitely get too much of a good thing. But, trying your best to get the 25-30gms is an important goal.
Adding fiber to your diet is a great step to support the beneficial bacteria within. If you really want to rebalance your inner workings, taking steps to reduce sugar, processed foods and meat is important. These are regrettably the hallmark of the standard American diet and promote the type of bacteria linked to increased levels of inflammation and autoimmune diseases, among others.
There is a great saying that can help you judge whether or not it’s a healthy food or a processed food. “If it came from a plant, eat it. If it was made IN a plant, don’t.”
The addition of probiotic foods is a good idea too. When you eat cultured and fermented foods such as yogurt, sauerkraut, kombucha tea, kimchi or miso, you are essentially inviting more friends to the party. These should be eaten several times throughout the week.
At the end of the day it really does seem that we are what we eat. If we eat processed nutrient poor foods, than that’s what we’ll crave. It’s an endless cycle that leads nowhere good. Just another reason to eat more fruits and veggies.