If you had a chance to read our last post on the microbiome, then you most likely finished it realizing just how much the microbiome affects nearly all aspects of our health. Those trillions of bacteria living in our gut have the ability to wreak serious havoc on our bodies through yeast overgrowth, or—when fed with a proper diet—keep the inner-workings of our bodies balanced and healthy.
While the bacteria in our gut feed off of and multiply by foods like carbs, refined sugars, caffeine, alcohol, trans fats, and other processed foods, foods that are prebiotic or probiotic begin to restore the microbiome, and can actually help stave off those unhealthy food cravings. There are two types of foods that should become your best friend if you want to up your microbiome health—prebiotic foods and probiotic foods. Prebiotic foods are those that feed the beneficial bacteria within our gut, while probiotic foods are those that contain the beneficial bacteria themselves.
If you love junk food and feel like your microbiome could use some major TLC, the good news is that the bacteria living in our gut respond pretty quickly—like, your body can create a new microbiota in as little as 24 hours pretty quickly—to pre- and probiotic heavy diets, and the damage that has occurred in your microbiome can most likely be reversed over time.
Heavy on the Veggies
If you’ve started poking your head around the microbiome world, then you know a plant-rich and veggie heavy diet is the key to getting your microbiome back on track. Almost every veggie under the sun is encouraged for consumption as you work toward a healthier microbiome, as most veggies contain high amounts of fiber which feed the healthy bacteria in our guts and promote immune function while the alkalizing properties in veggies help to reduce inflammation. In Ann Boroch’s book The Candida Cure, Boroch believes that to have a truly healthy and high-functioning microbiome, 60% of your daily diet should be comprised of vegetables.
Leafy greens like spinach, arugula, and kale are the most nutrient-dense and should be eaten the most regularly. Other vegetables that support microbiome health include cucumbers, zucchini, celery, broccoli, cabbage, tomatoes, and peppers. Onion, garlic, asparagus, artichokes, spinach, and leeks are all considered prebiotic foods, so don’t skimp out on these the next time you hit the grocery store. To keep it easy, the few vegetables that don’t do a lot of positive work for the gut are corn, mushrooms, peas, and potatoes, as these can still cause inflammation to those who have a sensitive or damaged microbiome.
Let’s get it out of the way—while fruit isn’t inherently bad for you by any stretch, it’s also pretty high in natural sugars, making it not the friendliest of foods to stock up on if you’re actively working toward a healthier microbiome. We’re not suggesting that you banish fruit from your diet, but instead that you choose fruits naturally lower in sugar content than others.
Some of the best fruits to eat as you heal your gut include fresh cranberries, blueberries, and blackberries, the skins of which contain beneficial antioxidants. Apricots, avocados, honeydew melon, peaches, grapes, cherries, green apples, and greenish bananas (which are also a great prebiotic food), are all fruits with lower sugar content and can be eaten in moderation to maintain a healthy gut.
One of the most closely linked food groups to the anti-candida eating movement are fermented foods. Fermented foods fall within the gut-loving probiotic food category we mentioned earlier. Fermented foods are considered the holy grail of gut-friendly foods because they are “alive” with cultures containing hefty doses of probiotics.
Probiotics themselves are healthy bacteria and yeasts that live in the microbiome that work to balance your gut, aid in digestion, and promote a healthy immune system. In order to restore health to our guts, consuming probiotic-rich foods help to counteract the bad bacteria that tend to multiply when we consume refined and processed foods. If you want to integrate more probiotics into your diet, start eating foods like kimchi, plain yogurt (look for containers that say they contain live probiotic cultures), kefir, sauerkraut, miso, tempeh, and of course—kombucha.
Beware, though, as you begin to purchase fermented foods—lots of “fermented” foods at grocery stores use vinegar or other additives to pickle the food (like a jar of pickles or peppers, for example) instead of relying on natural fermentation processes to ferment the food. When you’re shopping for probiotic-rich foods, look for labeling on packages that read “naturally fermented." You’ll typically also be able to tell what is naturally fermented and what isn’t by the bubbles and strings of probiotic cultures in the items you buy.
One of the benefits of eating animal proteins, according to The Candida Cure, is that the protein from the meat breaks down into amino acids as your body digests it, and these amino acids go into major work mode to regenerate and repair cells, tissues, organs, and aid in keeping your blood sugar balanced. If you do eat meat and you’re working toward a healthier gut—and even if gut health isn’t a primary concern—opt to buy free-range animals that are never given any hormones and are either grass-fed or given vegetarian feed that’s antibiotic and GMO-free.
The very best meat you can eat isn’t just “free range”—which still means they might live in crowded sheds or lots—but rather “pasture-raised” meat, which means they are genuinely free to roam outdoors on large swathes of land. Lean proteins such as turkey, chicken, eggs, and fish are usually the healthiest types of proteins to consume if you’re aiming to restore gut health. While some do well with red meat, red meat holds a high amount of saturated fat that can cause inflammation within the gut.
Balance is Everything!
Remember that because your body can respond rather quickly to a diet change targeting microbiome health, you may not feel great at the beginning as your body works to rid itself of the bad bacteria plaguing your gut. However once the bad guys are out of your system and the good guys are fed with pre & probiotic-enriched foods, you’ll start to notice your gut’s improvement through better digestion, a lack of bloating, more energy, a healthier complexion, and a stronger immune system throughout.
Emma Trevino is a freelance writer who splits her time between Los Angeles and Wimberley, a small town situated on the Blanco River just outside of Austin. She's combined her passion for wellness and beauty with her knack for telling stories to help brands communicate their narrative in an honest way. When she's not writing, you can find her swimming in the river, growing veggies in her garden, finding tasty natural wines, and reading on her porch.