If you’re feeling lonely, rest assured that you contain multitudes…of microbes, at least. Did you know that your gut hosts trillions of living microbes? To put that in context, think of it this way: one million seconds is equivalent to 11 days, 13 hours, 46 minutes and 34 seconds. One billion seconds equals 31.1 years. And one trillion seconds is just over 31,688 years.
That’s a lot of lifeforms hanging out in your gut. But unlike that ex-boyfriend who could never seem to put his socks and towels in the hamper, the microbes in your gut are actually helpful. When you have a healthy gut microbiome, your overall well-being improves. You’ll enjoy better digestion, an improved immune system and even better mental health.
Strengthening your gut flora is easier than you think. Here’s how you can foster a healthy living situation for yourself—and several trillion of your closest pals. Follow these tips to enjoy better gut health:
- Don’t overuse antibiotics: Antibiotics can help your body fight off illness, but they cut a path of destruction along the way. This medicine kills all bacteria in your system, include your gut microbes. Therefore, it’s best if you look for antibiotic-free meat and dairy products—and don’t take antibiotics unless your doctor prescribes them. If you do need to take them, use a probiotic daily to mitigate damage.
- Eat your vegetables: Vegetables are full of fiber. Fiber can’t be digested, but it’s a great food source for the good bacteria in your intestines. People who eat diets full of fruits and vegetables are less likely to foster harmful bacteria growth. Some top performers include asparagus, broccoli, spinach, artichokes, leeks and onions.
- Embrace fermented foods: Are you eating enough fermented foods? Yogurt, kombucha, pickles, sauerkraut, kimchi and even natto are full of helpful bacteria to keep your gut regular.
- Find your perfect probiotic: Probiotics contain live bacteria to help you maintain a healthy microbiome. Different strains and cultures may be more beneficial than others, so consider talking to your doctor about which kind of probiotics are right for you. Some probiotics claim to contain live cultures but do not, so research is often required.
- Get familiar with prebiotics: Prebiotics are what the microbes in your gut eat. Just like you don’t want to eat too much sugar and starve them to death, you want to make sure they’re getting the right foods. Whole grains, nuts, seeds, beans, apples, asparagus and other fiber-rich foods are great for keeping your gut flora happy.
- Make exercise a priority: We all know exercise is good for us, but did you know that it’s also good for several trillion of your most helpful friends? Physically active people tend to have healthier gut biomes. Just a 30 minute walk per day is enough to help that helpful bacteria thrive.
- Pass on the red meat: Steak and hamburgers are delicious, but they’re also commonly full of antibiotics. Studies have also shown that vegetarians tend to have a healthier microbiome—although it’s not clear if that’s due to the increased fiber content or the lack of red meat. You don’t have to cut out meat entirely. Just cut back for a happier gastrointestinal system.
- Set a reasonable bedtime: If you have trouble sleeping, chances are that your microbiome isn’t as healthy as it could be. That leads to inflammatory diseases and other uncomfortable conditions. Try to get at least eight hours of sleep every night.
- Skip the sugar and processed junk: While treats are fine in moderation, sugar and processed foods aren’t conducive to good gut health. Monosaccharides, a type of quickly digesting sugar, enter your bloodstream so fast that gut microbes can’t feed off them. If you eat simple sugars too often, you could starve the microbes to death—and then they’ll start eating away at your intestinal lining. Instead of monosaccharides, satisfy your sweet tooth with healthier options, like dark chocolate, honey, berries, mango, sweet potato and other naturally sweet treats.
- Take some time out: Finally, don’t forget to take some time out. Our lives are busier and more connected than ever—but all that connection and activity can take its toll on your health. Find mindfulness solutions that help you manage stressors. Whether that’s meditation, yoga or simply cutting back on nights out on the town, it’ll make a big difference in your gut health.
At the end of the day, strengthening your gut comes down to treating it with care. Pay attention to what you’re eating and when. Nourish your microbiome with nutrients and pass on bacteria-destroying foods. Most importantly, when it comes time to eat, trust your gut!