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Diet and your gut health

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Our guts are home to trillions of bacteria, some good, some bad. What is most certain is that they have a tremendous impact on our health. These organisms in our gut, or intestinal microbiome, can be influenced by several factors including where you live, stress, and alcohol. But it is believed that our diet has the greatest impact on our gut’s microbiome. Disruption of this delicate system has been linked to an array of maladies including obesity, diabetes, and depression. More and more research is demonstrating that these bacteria have a far greater influence on our general health than we thought.

The traditional Western diet consisting of high fat, high protein, and more than a modest amount of alcohol has been shown to alter the gut’s microbiome in a negative way. The Western diet leads to alterations in the gut’s protective function. Because of this, toxins leak from the gut and into our bloodstream resulting in low grade inflammation. The Western diet has been linked with cardiovascular disease and diabetes – both associated with increased levels of inflammation in the body.

Most research has compared the traditional Western diet with vegetarianism, which not surprisingly is not associated with leaky guts and inflammation. But if you’re reading this you’re probably not eating fast food or buying your groceries at places that also sell clothes and lawn supplies. You may adhere to the Paleo diet, or even be strictly vegan. Although, we know that these diets affect the composition of the gut microbiome I have yet to find research that compares their influence on the protective and more beneficial bacteria of the gut (if you are aware of such research, please share it with us!)

Although, there have been studies showing that high protein and high fat diets contribute to alterations in the gut’s microbiome that result in inflammation and even colon cancer, the types of protein and fats the studies were using are not characteristic of a Paleo diet or any other (non-Western) that focuses on high fat and high protein. There is clearly a difference between lard (used in one comparative study) and the fat found in almonds and avocados.

I think the common thread that connects all “bad” diets is not necessarily a food group, but rather how processed it is, in other words, how far removed is it from it’s original natural source. What is most important for our gut health, in my opinion, is not the food group we consume most of but whether it is real–whole foods. As this article from Nature points out, our bodies have learned to adapt to various diets:

Our findings that the human gut microbiome can rapidly switch between herbivorous and carnivorous functional profiles may reflect past selective pressures during human evolution. Consumption of animal foods by our ancestors was likely volatile, depending on season and stochastic foraging success, with readily available plant foods offering a fallback source of calories and nutrients. Microbial communities that could quickly, and appropriately, shift their functional repertoire in response to diet change would have subsequently enhanced human dietary flexibility.

What is clear is that our body’s adaptation to the modern diet is anything but adaptive. Ultimately, you need to determine what foods are best for you knowing that your gut’s microbiome is influenced by many factors including genetics, where you live, but most importantly your diet. Perhaps, less attention needs to be on whether one specific diet is better, and simply focusing on eating real food – as Jennifer Aniston said “just stop eating shit.”

 

Top Probiotic Foods for Athletes

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Kimchi

Kimchi is pickled cabbage with a strong vinegar and red pepper taste. I’m still waiting for Gu to make a kimchi flavor. Ok, maybe I don't love kimchi that much, but this traditional Korean dish is one of my favorite things to make. Aside from probiotics, kimchi also also contains a healthy dose of calcium, iron, beta-carotene, and B-vitamins. Try putting it on brown rice or glass noodles, or like me, just eating it with a pair of chopsticks from the mason jar.

Sauerkraut

Although, I wouldn't endorse getting your probiotics from sauerkraut while accompanied by corned beef and thousand island dressing I have found several new brands, like Farmhouse Culture, that make it a tasty snack. Making your own sauerkraut is easy too. Try adding it to a tempeh reuben or lentil soup, and it pairs well with roast pork too.

Miso

A traditional Japanese seasoning made from fermented soybeans, you have most likely had miso in soups. It is high in protein and rich with vitamins and minerals, but it also comes with a healthy dose of the probiotic, Lactobacillus.

Kombucha

Kombucha is a fermented tea. You have likely seen more and more brands of the drink popping up in your local markets due to its increasing popularity not only because of the refreshing taste, but its health benefits as well. The fermentation process creates the probiotics found in the tea, helping to maintain ideal gut health.

Yogurt

Do I really have to mention yogurt?

Although, eating foods that contain probiotics is helpful it isn't enough for athletes because the effects of probiotics are strain specific. Certain probiotics have been found to be beneficial in the athletic population, so consuming those specific strains will be your best bet for staying healthy and keeping you training hard.