The microbiota is the collection of all the organisms living in a specific area – in this case, the gut. The microbiome is the entirety of the genetic material in the microbiota. Probiotics are the good bacteria that we can introduce to support the microbiota….
Simply put we have a rich and complex world of bacteria living in our guts without which we’d be in trouble. The human gut microbiota has the potential to be made up of over 1000 species and this is 10x the number cells we have in the human body!
But why do I say potential? Many different choices we make day to day can change this level of potential diversity and therefore affect our overall health. Our history of antibiotic use certainly affects the microbiota as most antibiotics are not selective – we may take them with the very best of intentions to kill off “a bug” but they go through and wipe out many of the good guys too.
Ask yourself how many times have you taken antibiotics in the last 6-12 months? Or in the last couple of years? Each time you take a course it takes time for the gut to heal itself, for the microbiota to “repair” and that is supposing you are doing the best that you can to support it. Many people don’t do repair work and often aren’t even aware that they should or could…
Our microbiota is as individual as we are, we inherited a goodly amount of it but it will continually change and develop dependent on the choices we make day to day.
What fuel are we feeding it?
Prebiotics are the fuel for the gut, the diversity of our microbiota is supported and maintained by the variety of prebiotics we consume….
Simply by making poor food choices on a regular basis, we will starve different types of bacteria, this in itself can, therefore, reduce the diversity of strains present in our gut and negatively affect our health.
So all the people out there reading this and thinking they were safe because they hadn’t had any antibiotics recently thinking they were off the hook??? Not so fast my friends!
We do damage simply by eating a diet full of processed foods, lots of simple carbs and high in sugars (I’m talking white sugar here! Not fruits and veggies – to be clear).
But what are prebiotics?
They are the plant foods that you eat and plant fibers, resistant starches, mucilages, polyphenols, gums and pectins etc that make them up…
Too much to compute? How about we break it down a bit!
Let’s talk about diversity – how many different types of whole foods do you eat in a week? Think about your shopping trolley as you cruise around collecting up your fruit and veggies for the week, the grains, nuts and seeds…
The aim is to eat 40 different types of different plant foods in any given week, minimally processed.
How would you go if you did a food diversity diary for a week? Red apples are different to green apples, same rule applies for red, yellow or green capsicum, black, white or red quinoa, orange carrots or the pretty purple ones, cabbages –so many options, you get where I’m going with this?
Nuts and seeds should be raw and unsalted.
How many different grains do you eat regularly? – rice alone offers a wealth of options (apparently 40,000 different varieties estimated worldwide!) including – red, wild, black, basmati (incidentally also a whole grain, therefore, lower GI and high in protein), brown, arborio, jasmine etc.
So many of my clients eat a combination of the same ingredients almost all the time, living as we do with food being transported from near and far we often don’t even stick to the seasonal foods… well, they may be in season wherever they are grown, but not locally.
Fair enough there will always be the basics as per your palate and style of food you like to eat but do try to get a couple of different things each week to mix things up a bit… whether it be some sprouts, a different type of mushroom or pear, radishes, those purple carrots, parsnip, broad beans, tangelos, papaya, bulgur wheat, faro etc… what is in season, what different coloured fruit or veg can you choose? What grain haven’t you cooked with before?
The more diversity you have in your diet the more fuel you give you gut to feed the gut bacteria, different bacteria like different fuels, so feed them up!
Fermented foods are the “new” superfoods…super trendy… super cool… super alive… super sustainable… super important and really, not so new, they’ve been alive and well in basically every culture throughout the world for years… (so many jokes in one brief sentence)
Not only are they a smart way to save excess food at times of plenty for the lean seasons – as the fermenting process, of course, preserves the food, but it also increases the nutritional value of the food and by making the nutrition more bioavailable it not only helps to support the good gut bacteria but generally increases our baseline nutrition. Traditionally fermentation is a lacto-fermentation process with lactobacillus or biffidus or a yeast present to pre-digest the food you are fermenting and stopping the growth of bad bacteria… regardless you should be looking for an unpasteurised fermented food if purchasing rather than making it yourself, the pasteurisation kills the live bacteria in the food hence killing most of the health benefits of consuming it.
One of the oldest fermenteds in the world is honey mead, a traditional honey alcohol enjoyed throughout the ages, the history of fermented foods is quite fascinating and diverse depending of course on the foods locally found and well worth having a read about… though I warn you I can lose hours doing so…
A few more commonly available options are kombucha, yoghurt, kefir, miso, kim chi, sauerkraut, lassi… including a variety of fermented foods that you enjoy in your diet every week is something I would strongly encourage.
Making them yourself if you have the time and inclination can be fun and something you may like to do with your family – getting the kids involved, or, with friends, flatmates etc, however thanks to the popularity of fermenteds as people are looking more and more to food therapy means there is a lot available quite readily. But do please, as mentioned look for “live cultures” which should be somewhere on the label.
So two of the easiest things you can do daily to support your gut health, nutrition and good gut bacteria diversity is eating a wider variety of fresh, seasonal whole foods, including those fermenteds… eat yourself beautiful, let that be one of your new year’s resolutions for 2018!
Brunswick Health’s Naturopath
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