Our microbiome is the trillions of bacteria that live in our intestines. That sounds icky and like something we’d want to get rid of.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Our microbiome – also called our gut flora or intestinal microbiota – is critical to our health, and plays a key role in digesting food, our immune system, and a lot more. Some research even suggests that it plays a key role in obesity.
Long ignored, there’s more and more research into and press about the criticality of our microbiome to our health.
For example, the New York Times ran a major piece in the Sunday edition a couple weeks ago about the link between our microbiome and the rise of autoimmune diseases:
The world today is very different from the one our immune system evolved to anticipate – not just in what we encounter, but in when we first encounter it. Preventing autoimmune disorders may require emulating aspects of that “dirtier” world: safely bottling the kinds of microbes that protect the Russian kids, so we can give them to everyone and guide the “postmodern” immune system along a healthier path of development.
The basic idea is that as we live in increasingly sanitized environments, eat highly processed food deliberately kept free of bacteria, and load up on antibiotics at the drop of a hat, we damage our microbiome in ways that have contributed to all sorts of health problems.
I started looking into this a bit over two years ago. I was sold that there’s something to it, even if the jury is still out on all the science.
So I changed my diet to focus on microbiome health and reducing chronic inflammation. And I saw the results in my own health.
I used to have low-grade allergies basically year round. Not anymore. And since I don’t have a runny nose all the time anymore, I rarely get colds either. It’s a double win.
I also saw a reduction in some mild psoriasis (an auto-immune skin condition).
And I haven’t had any gastrointestinal distress, “food poisoning,” etc. in over two years.
Now, I won’t claim all of my health improvements came from just my microbiome, as I changed a lot of things and got huge results. But I’m convinced it was an important part of it.
I touted this to my mother, who tried it out and has reported great results too. (Obviously our similar genetics help).
After seeing that NYT piece – one of many I’ve come across lately – and hearing my mother’s results from replicating what I do, I decided to put up a blog post about it.
How I Eat For Microbiome Health
The great thing is that the basics of taking care of our microbiome are simple.
We just need to do two things: eat good bacteria, and feed it.
Eat bacteria!?! Yes. We focus so much on avoiding bad bacteria that we often fail to take in the good bacteria that keeps our microbiome healthy.
We use anti-bacterial soaps, thoroughly wash and scrub every single piece of food, etc. That’s part of our problem. We may have become too hygenic.
In fact, the biggest hurdle to focusing on microbiome health may be psychological. We have to get over our fear of “germs.”
I’m not a doctor or scientist. It goes without saying this is not medical advice. I’m just telling you what my personal diet is, why I chose it, and what results I’ve gotten.
The beauty of this is that with the exception of probiotic supplements, which are optional and I don’t take all the time anyway, this is all just food. Delicious food, too!
There’s nothing like getting to eat stuff that tastes great and is also good for me.
I get my bacteria from three main sources: probiotic supplements, fermented vegetables, and farmers market produce.
The nice thing about these is that they are just regular pills. They don’t need to be refrigerated or anything like that.
There’s some debate on whether or not probiotic pills actually make a difference. But you don’t need to take them continually, I figured I had nothing to lose.
Theoretically, once the different strains are established in your gut, you don’t need them anymore.
I take one bottle each of these per year at this point. The other 11 months I do not use probiotic supplements.
The second great source of good bacteria is fermented foods.
It’s old school stuff like raw sauerkraut and kimchi. Not only are these healthy and low-calorie, they are also very tasty.
You’ll find raw kraut in the refrigerated section of your grocery. I buy mine from the Divine Brine stand at my local farmers market. That’s it in the picture at the top. (They also have a fantastic caraway seed version).
Apparently it’s pretty easy to make your own kraut at home, though I’ve never tried it.
For kimchi I insist on home made. The Korean lady at my local Asian market in Indianapolis use to make me industrial sized containers of it for under $20. Unfortunately I’ve not found a convenient supplier in NYC, so I’ve been out of the kimchi game for a while.
Farmer’s Market Produce
Lastly, my favorite source of bacteria is produce from my local farmer’s market. Lots of bacteria straight from the soil.
Not only that, the taste of fresh veggies can’t be beat. I can barely stomach lot of store bought stuff like tomatoes. The taste alone of something like fresh tomatoes, strawberries, or sweet corn is worth the price of admission.
Call me crazy, but I generally eat the stuff from my farmers market without washing it. I don’t want to lose the bacteria.
I guess in theory I could get sick. But if so, it hasn’t happened yet. I don’t get too carried away. If there’s actual dirt, etc. I actually do rinse it off.
Even if you aren’t ready to get that crazy, the superior taste alone makes weekly trips to your local farmers market a must.
There’s only a limited time of year when fresh from the farm fruits and vegetables are available. That limited time is now, so now is the time to take advantage of this.
Once we get the bacteria, we need to keep it healthy. Our regular food will do this to some extent as it passes through the digestive system. But I also eat prebiotics – bacteria food basically.
For me it’s pretty simple: potato starch.
Potato starch is high in so-called “resistant starch” that your body doesn’t easily digest itself, thus passing through for bacteria to feast on. In fact, some probiotic pills come packaged with potato starch.
Potato starch, which you can buy in a grocery store, is dirt cheap. I order Bob’s Red Mill potato starch by the four-pack case. See the pic at the top.
I take two tablespoons of potato starch per day.
One tablespoon I mix with a tablespoon of psyllium husk power (dietary fiber) with about 12oz of water in a blender bottle. If I’m taking probiotic pills, I take them at the same time as this shake.
The other tablespoon I mix with my daily protein shake.
Potato starch also comes in handy for thickening sauces, gravy, and such.
My understanding is that potato starch can cause gas if you take in more than your body can handle. I would start small (maybe even 1 teaspoon) and go from there. That’s what I did initially.
I’m not going to argue that this is the one true way to eat. But this is what I personally do.
It’s very low maintenance, mostly involving eating stuff I already enjoy like farmers market veggies and sauerkraut, stuff that most sources would probably tell you are already good for you for other reasons too.
As it happens, I believe these are also great for microbiome health. I’m very, very happy with the results more than two years on.
PS: I do still wash my hands regularly – let’s not take it too far.