The Microbiome: The Four Pillars of Gut Health

The third pillar of gut health I’m going to discuss is gut health itself – specifically – fostering a healthy and happy microbiome!

Our large intestine naturally contains bacteria that make up our “intestinal flora”. There are billions of different bacteria in each of our guts, some beneficial to our health and others harmful.

Probiotics

Probiotics are supplements with microorganisms that at specific doses have a beneficial effect on health in the gut. Certain strains of bacteria in probiotics have been shown to alleviate IBS symptoms such as abdominal pain, bloating and bowel movement irregularity.

Some fermented foods such as certain yogurts, kefir, kimchi, tempeh, kombucha and sauerkraut naturally contain bacteria; however, the bacteria in these products (i.e. the specific strains as well as the doses) have not been tested to see if they help with IBS symptoms. Probiotics may be beneficial to help manage IBS symptoms, but should be discussed with your doctor, dietitian or pharmacist.

Picking a probiotic can be overwhelming given the number of probiotic supplements on the market. One simple tool you can use is the Clinical Guide to Probiotic Products. It’s a useful tool because it provides a summary of the evidence to date, rather than having to read through every study produced on each probiotic supplement. This resource also contains information about dosage forms and amounts for each probiotic; be sure to review it with your physician, pharmacist or dietitian to determine a probiotic that is right for you.

Fiber

While taking a probiotic may help to improve symptoms, fueling your gut bacteria may actually be more important! Fiber serves as the fuel our good gut bacteria need to thrive, which means it’s critical to get enough to keep it alive and healthy. Men require about 38 grams of fiber per day, and women, 25 grams of fiber per day, but remember: Start Low, Go Slow! Increasing your fiber too quickly (especially without enough water) could cause constipation, so consider adding one or two high-fiber foods to your diet every couple of days.

Fiber is found in all plant foods: grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts and seeds. Adequate fiber can be challenging since some grain products, fruit, and vegetables are limited on a low FODMAP diet. During the elimination phase, try adding some of these foods to your diet to boost your daily fiber intake:

  • Low FODMAP vegetables: carrots, potato, spinach, squash, kale and eggplant
  • Low FODMAP fruits: blueberries, bananas, oranges, tomatoes, kiwi and pineapple
  • Low FODMAP grains: quinoa, oatmeal, whole grain rice (red, black or wild)
  • Nuts and seeds (in low FODMAP portions): 1tbsp each of chia seeds or flax seeds, ¼ c each of peanuts, walnuts or macadamia nuts
  • Legumes (in low FODMAP portions): ½ c canned lentils, ¼ c canned chickpeas

Talk to your dietitian about ways to boost your fiber while following a low or restricted FODMAP diet to fuel those gut bacteria well – as this may be more important than taking probiotics!

At Ignite, we encourage everyone to work on their gut health with these three tasks:

  1. Start swapping 1 processed item for a whole-food item in their cart each week (habits are easier to maintain if done in small, ‘achievable’ chunks),
  2. Ensure you get 2 cups of veggies in at lunch and supper every day,
  3. Try for at least 1 ‘meatless’ meal a week to encourage intake of plant based proteins, and a variety of different fibers and phytochemicals

Seeing a dietitian can help you to determine how you can individualize your nutrition habits for a healthy happy gut!

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The IrritableBowelSyndrome.net team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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