Having an immune system without sufficient defenses to fight disease is like going to war without enough soldiers to fight the enemy. In the battle against disease, the estimated trillion bacteria in our gut represent some of the soldiers who fight disease. Many individuals have damaged their gut defense system with poor dietary choices, overuse of antibiotics, stress and inadequate rest.
Low amounts and inadequate varieties of bacteria in the gut has been linked to diseases such as cancer, diabetes, depression, eczema, asthma, fibromyalgia, heart disease, autoimmune diseases, and allergies. A diet high in processed foods, unhealthy fats, and limited fiber are the biggest contributors to poor gut health. The misuse of antibiotics also accounts for a large decrease in the amount of the gut’s healthy bacteria. A great example of this is the C-difficile infection, which is common in patients who receive high-dose antibiotics. This is a bacteria normally present in the gut, but, after antibiotics kill off the healthy bacteria along with the harmful ones, it grows to dangerous levels and causes unpleasant symptoms in the patient. In addition to antibiotics and poor diet, research indicates that inadequate rest may cause the body to send signals to the gut which damage the healthy microflora.
There are over five hundred species of bacteria in the gut that create a microbiome unique to you. This microbiome requires both prebiotics and probiotics to live. Prebiotics are food ingredients that pass through the digestive system mostly undigested, like oats and bananas. They act as a food source for bacteria and promote the growth of beneficial bacteria. Probiotics are active cultures or good bacteria found in certain foods, mostly aged or fermented, that help to replace and increase the number of bacteria (microflora) present in the gut.
Some ways to improve gut health include: eating whole grains, limiting processed food, and choosing plant-based, high-fiber meals. In addition, choosing foods high in Omega-3’s such as walnuts, flax seeds, chia seeds, salmon, tuna, mackerel, and sardines and healthy fat sources such as avocado, almonds, and olive oil have been shown to have a positive impact on the gut. Since the gut is also influenced by sleep, getting the recommended 7-8 hours daily could positively impact gut health.
The chart below lists the best sources of both prebiotics and probiotics. Consuming a variety of foods from this list can help restore gut health and decrease the risk of illnesses, therefore, increasing your bacterial army’s chances of being victorious in fighting the war on unhealthy germs and bacteria.
Best Sources of Prebiotics and Probiotics
|Type of Bacteria||Food Sources|
· Whole wheat foods
· Dandelion Greens
· Flax seeds
· Miso/miso soup
One way to increase the intake of prebiotics and probiotics is a breakfast smoothie. This recipe is quick and easy to prepare and can act as a meal on the run.
Healthy Gut Breakfast Smoothie
1 cup skim milk kefir
1/2 cup non-fat plain Greek yogurt
1 -2 cups spinach or kale
1 cup mixed fruit
1/2 Tbs flax seed
1 Tbs chia seeds
1/2 Tbs hemp seeds
Blend until smooth and enjoy!
Provides: 341 calories, 31 grams protein, 10 grams of fiber.