I have this theory that the goal of a lot of diets is to limit what you eat. Not because avoiding cheese or gluten or whatever is particularly healthy, but because if you have a limited diet you will be so bored of eating that you just won’t overeat. That’s my theory, anyway.
Three years ago, I decided I needed to re-haul my diet. I was slowly gaining weight, no matter how much I exercised. I had a host of health issues, including eczema, vitamin deficiencies, and food sensitivities. I had lots of chronic pain, and caught every single cold and flu that came home from school with my kids. It got to a point where I began to wonder what was wrong with me. Why was my body fighting against me? My diet wasn’t that bad, but it just didn’t seem to be enough to keep me healthy.
That’s when I got interested in feeding my microbiome.
WAIT! HOLD ON A MINUTE… WHAT IS A MICROBIOME?
Here’s the truth about our bodies: human cells make up less than half of the cells of our body. The rest of the cells in our body are our microbiome or human microbiota. It is made up of millions of bacteria, fungus, viruses, and yeasts that cover every surface of our body, inside, and out.
The even wilder fact is that not only are our bodies a home for tons of tiny organisms, those micro-organisms actually play a huge role in who WE ARE as people. The research into the role of the human microbiome is only just beginning, but it seems to be important for all sorts of things.
Mood: The health of our microbiome has a huge role in depression, anxiety, and quality of sleep. In fact, the microbes in our intestines actually produce 95% of our body’s serotonin (sorry for the geek out… serotonin is the neurotransmitter involved in the regulation of mood).
Skin protection: Ever gone home from your doctor with a warning to stay out of the sun after a large dose of antibiotics? (Or did that only happen to me?) That is because our microbiome protects our skin from sun damage.
Immunity: The microbiome is your body’s first line of defense against colds, flus, and infections. A kick-butt microbiome kicks the butt of all invaders. So take that e.coli!
Food Preferences: You are what you eat… because the community of organisms in your body like to be fed their favourite foods. So if you are a sweet tooth, then it’s because you have some sweet-loving yeasts and bacteria living in the universe that is your body.
So, how did I kick out the crappy members of my microbiome and get everyone else doing their job? Well, Google gave me a number of websites with complicated microbiome diets… but in the end I followed my gut and went with my own science-based diet. (Sometimes a degree in Neuroscience can be handy!)
Here is my…
SIMPLE 3-STEP MICROBIOME DIET
1. Eat probiotics: I try to eat something probiotic every day. Personally, I don’t trust probiotics that come in pills, potato chips, or chewing gum. Reach for the yogurt, sauerkraut, and miso instead.
2. Eat fiber: Fiber and resistant starches is what your microbiome gets to eat after your dinner exits the acid bath that is your stomach. So eat whole grains, nuts, seeds, beans, fruit with the skin on, and vegetables.
3. Cut down on sugar: This is the hardest part of a microbiome diet. And I’m the first to admit that I probably have sugar (ahem chocolate) every day. But my goal is to limit myself to one treat a day.
This is particularly tricky because sugar has so many different names, and a bunch of them are considered “healthy” because they aren’t digestible to humans… while still feeding the not-so-healthy yeasts and bacteria in your microbiome. Try to avoid sugar, honey, maple syrup, coconut sugar, xylitol, agave, brown rice syrup, fruit juice. Then there is all the dextrose, maltose, and things that look like a chemical experiment…
It’s pretty tough to avoid sugar because it is probably in your breakfast cereal, pasta sauce, chicken broth, and pretty much everything else. So I put this in the “do your best” category.
However, I also know that part of the reason that sugar is put in so many foods is because so many of us have microbiomes that are sugar-addicted. It took me about two months of a pretty much only one serving of sugar (chocolate) a day to cut the cravings. And I would say it was worth it! My health is so much better. Better than it has been in years. And that makes me so much more happy than a chocolate pecan ice cream sundae.
How are YOU feeding your microbiome?