I’ve been nerding out on microbes. It started a few years back after attending a lecture about the impact of gut bacteria — otherwise known as “the microbiota”– on human health. A growing body of evidence suggests that these microbes are responsible for a lot more than just aiding digestion. Though much of the research is in its infancy, the findings have made me look at my eating in a new way. It’s no longer only about vitamins, antioxidants, cholesterol, and weight management, but also about how my diet can help or hinder that family of “good” bacteria in my gut. Just ask my kids, who are “so over” hearing their mother chirp, “I’m just feeding my microbiota” every time I pop a healthy food into my mouth. And so, I’m excited to share more on the topic and enlisted my dietetic intern, Jen Beadles, to do some digging and write a post on what she’s learned.

How to Get a Healthy Gut, by Jen Beadles

There’s no doubt that the popularity of probiotics (aka foods with friendly, edible bacteria, such as yogurt and kombucha) are on the rise, especially as new research uncovers links between our body’s bacterial population and health. Indeed, studies have demonstrated a potential link between gut bacteria and everything from obesity to autoimmune disease, inflammation to mood and mental health. Although research is still developing, one thing is certain, when it comes to microbes, strength definitely comes in numbers. The higher the amount and variety, the greater potential for benefiting from these tiny bugs, including:

According to Erica and Justin Sonnenburg, Stanford microbiologists and authors of  The Good Gut: Taking Control of Your Weight, Your Mood, and Your Long-term Health, the average American has about 1,200 bacterial populations, while tribes in the Amazon have up to 1,600. It seems that our western diets have diminished our healthy gut bacteria, potentially increasing our susceptibility to disease and inflammatory conditions. But don’t panic. These eight lifestyle modifications (let’s call it Gut Rehab) can help make your gut more microbe friendly.

How to Get a Healthy Gut

8 Tips for a Healthier Gut

  1. Feed your bacterial residents. Bacteria feast on fibrous foods (aka prebiotics) and need them for survival. Aim to eat fiber-rich foods, such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, whole grains, beans, or legumes at every meal, and ideally snack time, too. 
  2. Eat probiotic-rich foods regularly — Foods with “healthy” bacteria help prepare your resident gut bacteria to fight off potential harmful microbes in the future, which strengthens your immunity. Examples of probiotic-rich foods include yogurt, kefir, kombucha, miso, tempeh, and fermented vegetables such as kimchi, sauerkraut, and pickles of all kinds (buy refrigerated, not shelf-stable pickles). A probiotic supplement is an option, too.
  3. Play in the dirt — Take up organic gardening, go hiking, or sit outside on the grass (no blanket needed) every now and then….all ways to pick up some healthy bacteria from the great outdoors.
  4. Minimize antibacterial soaps and sanitizers — Instead, use regular soap and water to wash hands. Killing off all traces of bacteria in our environment with excessive use of antibacterials may be one reason our internal colonies are depleted.
  5. Use antibiotics thoughtfully  —  There’s no doubt that kids sometimes need a dose of antibiotics, but overusing these medications is another reason our gut bacteria have suffered. Antibiotics kill off the pesky bad bugs, but the good ones too. If you do take antibiotics, be sure to include probiotic-rich foods in your diet and talk to your doctor about a probiotic supplement as well.
  6. Cut down on processed food — Some research has shown that certain additives, such as artificial sweeteners, can alter gut bacterial colonies.
  7. Focus on a plant-based diet, with less red meat, saturated fat, and refined grains — These foods do not feed your gut bacteria, whereas the vegetables, fruits, legumes, and other whole foods within a plant-based diet do.
  8. Know that it starts at the beginning — As someone who had my first child by C-section, I’m aware that a Caesarean birth is not typically a choice. That said, it’s good for women to know that delivering vaginally and then breastfeeding your baby start the formation of a child’s bacterial colonies, which they will carry for a lifetime.


If you want to learn more about gut health, I suggest you tune into this interview with Dr. Erica Sonnenburg on the Meal Makeover Moms’ podcast.  It’s fascinating stuff! And if you’d like to get a copy of her book, just click on the image above. 

P.S. Stay tuned for a prebiotic-rich (and delicious) recipe coming your way later this week

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