You’ve probably heard “you are what you eat” but actually “you are what you eat, eats” (we’ll give you a moment to wrap your head around that).
We have trillions of bacteria on us. More bacteria than cells in our body. In fact, the microbiome has more than 200 times the amount of genetic material than you and me. We house and feed these microbes creating their environment and, in return, they keep us healthy. All health and disease start in the gut and if we understand the gut better we can improve our health more effectively.
What is a healthy microbiome?
A diverse microbiome is a healthy microbiome. And as a whole, we are losing microbial species. Just as we’re seeing animal species in our world becoming endangered and extinct, the same is happening with our invisible, microbial world. We can promote diversity and gut health by eating a diet rich in prebiotics, probiotics and postbiotics.
You may have heard the term prebiotics and probiotics be used interchangeably, but they serve two different functions. Prebiotics are food for probiotics. Prebiotic foods, like the ones listed below, are good for feeding our gut bacteria among having other health benefits.
- Garlic - helps prevent harmful bacteria from growing
- Onions - beneficial for cell health and contain quercetin
- Leeks - many similar benefits to onions and contain Vitamin K
- Asparagus - high in fiber and inulin
- Bananas - rich in minerals, fiber and vitamins like potassium
- Whole grains like barley, wheat bran and oats
- Cocoa - contains antioxidants and polyphenols
- Chicory root - improves digestion and bowel function
- Dandelion greens - full of fiber and good for immune system
- Jerusalem artichoke - Rich in vitamin B1 and supports a healthy immune system
- Flaxseed, seaweed and many others!
Consuming a wide variety of prebiotics provides fuel for a larger variety of probiotics and is an excellent way to promote diversity in the gut flora.
These are the gut bugs people are most familiar with. They live in our gut and help our digestion. When we lack probiotics we can suffer from ailments like skin conditions, poor digestion, and a weaker immune system. We can increase the amount of these living organisms by eating living foods like the following:
- Yogurt - one of the most common probiotic foods. Yogurt is most beneficial when it’s as unprocessed as possible and doesn’t contain a lot of sugar
- Kombucha - made from fermented tea and contains enzymes to support digestion, acetic acids and helps liver detoxification
- Kimchi - a spicy, Korean fermented vegetable side dish made with nappa cabbage and many other vegetables like ginger, garlic, daikon and fish sauce.
- Milk kefir - similar to yogurt but has a higher amount of probiotics and can be easier to digest for people with lactose sensitivities
- Sauerkraut - made from fermented cabbage and contains probiotics, vitamin K and organic acids
- Natto - a Japanese ferment made from fermented soy beans, contains very strong probiotics and has anti-inflammatory properties
- Kvass - a popular eastern European fermented beverage that can be made with rye, barley or vegetables like beetroot. It can assist with liver detoxification
- Apple cider vinegar - another fermented beverage with a similar fermentation process to kombucha and can increase probiotics.
Postbiotics are the waste produced from prebiotics. But in this case “waste” is actually a positive thing because we benefit from the postbiotics produced by the probiotics. Healthy postbiotics are things like vitamin B and K, short chain fatty acids and amino acids. They also help to slow the growth of harmful bacteria.
Depending on the composition of bacteria and probiotics in your gut, two different people can eat the same food and end up with different postbiotics. How crazy is that?!
So why is this important?
One of the implications of this is that it influences our cravings. When your gut has beneficial bacteria, they crave more complex carbs, whole foods and other prebiotics like the ones mentioned above. If our gut is composed of “bad bugs” they will crave foods they like to eat like simple sugars. So the more of these non beneficial bacteria you have, the more refined food you will crave. The gut is also a source of important hormones like melatonin and serotonin. They’re produced by our gut microbiome so if that isn’t functioning well, our sleep and mood can be affected.
Related: What is Fulvic Acid?
One way our gut microbiome can be negatively affected is by overuse of antibiotics. A 5-day course of antibiotics can remove up to a third of your gut bacteria. And although probiotics are great, a pill can’t single handedly undo the damage of a course of antibiotics. Our gut microbiome may not fully recover for 1-2 years after a course of antibiotics. Just like a forest takes a long time to repopulate after a fire runs through.
They can be lifesaving when needed but if we don’t properly repopulate, we can end up with an overpopulation of harmful bacteria which can leads to a plethora of health implications. Our internal environment needs care just like our external environment does to grow food.
How do we do this?
This is where understating the link between prebiotics, probiotics and postbiotics comes in. We can take all the probiotics we want, but we’ll have better success if we nurture our gut bacteria by feeding them as well through a diet that contains a wide variety of prebiotics. The more prebiotics we have, the more different foods the probiotics will have access too and you will begin to cultivate more diversity. If you eat a diet heavy in refined foods you will starve certain bacteria. The same is true with eating a diet rich in whole foods. You will feed the beneficial bacteria and starve the harmful bacteria. The more food you feed the probiotics the more postbiotics they will make for you!