Are you a germaphobe? If so then what I am about to tell you might blow your mind. For every one cell that we have in our body we have 10 bacteria cells that call us home. Now this unpleasant sounding reality might have your skin crawling, but truth be told for the most part we need these little guys to keep us healthy and happy.
While we are literally covered in bacteria, on our skin, in our mouths, about two pounds of these guys live in the deep, dark recesses of our colon. It is here that these microbes bolster our immune system (protecting us from illness and allergy), produce Vitamin K2 (important for bone health & blood clotting), a host of B Vitamins (co-factors in energy and metabolism), our happy hormone serotonin, and a wide variety of amino acids and short chain fatty acids that feed the epithelial cells of our intestinal lining. Researchers are even starting to connect our gut flora to chronic inflammation -- the root cause that is believed to be driving increased rates of chronic diseases like cardiovascular disease, and atherosclerosis.
With all these functions (and more being researched as we speak) we need to start thinking differently about how we feed ourselves if we want to optimize health and nutrition. We need to stop eating for one and start eating for one trillion.
Here are a few things you can incorporate into your diet to keep your microcosm happy!
- Increase Intake of Fermented Foods: Fermented foods were a cornerstone of ancient diets to help preserve food and prevent it from spoilage. Foods like sauerkraut, fermented veggies, raw milk cheeses (where available), and even traditionally made sourdough bread will introduce good bacteria like lactobacillus and bifidobacteria species into the intestinal tract, helping to bump up populations of the good guys.
- Increase Intake of Fibre: Not just any fibre, pre-biotic fibres like inulin and FOS. This type of soluble fibre is the food that our bacteria like to feed on, helping to stimulate their growth and encourage their maintenance. Bulk up on this fibre by consuming onions (both raw and cooked work), bananas, asparagus, leeks, garlic and dandelion greens
- Filter Your Water: Our everyday tap water may be safe to drink, but the use of chlorine to ensure we don't consume any "bad" bacteria that can make us sick, also impacts our "good" bacteria that can keep us healthy. Even bathing and showering in chlorinated water can have an impact due to the inhalation of steam. Filtration systems like Santevia are a great way to remove chlorine from your water sources.
- Ditch The Processed Foods: Processed foods are designed to travel long distances, have a long shelf life, and be reconstituted quickly and conveniently. To make these foods taste "good" (a matter of opinion) high amounts of salt, sugar or fat, must be added to mask the chemical taste of all the flavourings, colourings, and preservatives.The combination of nutritionally devoid ingredients with chemical additives mess with our good bacteria, and in the case of sugar, can feed the "bad," causing a potential overgrowth of yeasts. Not only that, these types of foods lack the soluble fibre mentioned above that is needed to help our good bacteria flourish. Nourish the body by choosing real foods, whole foods that at most have only been minimally processed, and contain ingredients you would find in your kitchen versus a science lab.
- Limit Stress: Not a dietary recommendation per se, but something that is affecting our "plugged-in" culture more and more. Our gut can also be referred to as our "second brain," connected to our "first" brain through the vagus nerve (think butterflies in your stomach when you are nervous). Chronic stress sets in motion a whole host of activities such as the release of pro-inflammatory chemicals, digestive secretions and changes in gut motility that can have an impact on our microflora. Try to limit stress, get plenty of rest and exercise, and take a deep breath...after all you are not alone!