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Want to Make Your Gut Microbiome Happy? Start with These 8 Steps

Taking the reins on your gut health starts in the kitchen.

Imagine your gut is like a garden: Every garden has a mix of flowers and weeds, but its overall health depends on the balance of the two. Like a garden, your gut contains elements that help it thrive (good bacteria) and elements you’d like to have less of (bad bacteria).

These bugs—the bacteria, fungi, and other microbes that reside in your gut—are collectively known as the microbiome, and they serve numerous important functions. They impact your immune system, control inflammation, affect digestion, create neurotransmitters that influence mood, and help make certain vitamins. Research has shown that healthy gut bacteria are linked to protection from diseases including type 2 diabetes, obesity, metabolic syndrome, and many autoimmune conditions.

When the ratio of good bacteria to bad bacteria is off, called dysbiosis, disruptions to certain gut bacteria communities occur. Some of the causes of this imbalance include antibiotic usage, chronic stress and gastrointestinal infections. According to a 2015 study published in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences, dysbiosis can lead to chronic diseases such as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), obesity and cancer. Just like maintaining a healthy garden, to maintain a balanced microbiome and ward off disease, you have to give it the right kind of nourishment. A gut-healthy diet includes fiber-rich foods (vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts, seeds, legumes), plenty of polyphenols (coffee, tea, red wine, dark chocolate) and lots of water. The weeds (bad bacteria) love processed grains and sugar, so a gut-healthy diet will help keep them in check.

These six recipes are easy, delicious, and cover all your bases for creating healthy gut bacteria. But for long-lasting gut health, keep these eight steps in mind in your quest to a healthier microbiome and happy gut bugs.

1. Eat Lots of Fiber

The fiber in plant foods passes through the digestive system until it reaches the colon. Bacteria in the colon then break the fiber down into short-chain fatty acids, the largest amount as butyrate. Butyrate is the preferred energy source for cells in the colon and can help prevent colon cancer.

2. Eat Fermented Foods Every Day

Fermented foods, such as kimchi, sauerkraut, kefir, kombucha, tempeh, and miso all contain beneficial bacteria that can help fight against and crowd out the bad bacteria in your gut, resulting in a healthy balance of bacteria in the intestines.

3. Consume Prebiotic-Rich Foods

Prebiotics, preferred by your gut’s good bacteria, are indigestible fibers found in plant-based foods. Excellent sources of prebiotics include onions, garlic, artichokes, jicama, green bananas, green banana flour, and oatmeal.

RELATED: What Runners Should Know About Prebiotics and Probiotics

4. Choose Polyphenol-Rich Foods

Polyphenols (found in red wine, green tea, blueberries, pomegranates, cherries, and dark chocolate) act as antioxidants. They decrease inflammation and stimulate growth of beneficial bacteria.

5. Take a Probiotic

Most probiotics contain various Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium species. Another class of probiotics are soil-based organisms (SBOs), which better survive the trip through the digestive system and reach the intestines intact. Opt for a probiotic with lots of different strains.

6. Limit Sugar Intake

Sugar and artificial sweeteners feed the bad bacteria and can cause gastrointestinal distress in the forms of gas, bloating, and diarrhea.

7. Incorporate Collagen

Your hair, skin, nails and connective tissues are made of collagen. Collagen also acts as a protective covering for body organs like the kidneys. Unfortunately, aging, genetics, environmental pollutants and nutritional deficiencies deplete collagen. Adding it to your diet can help soothe and protect the gut lining and build new tissue.

RELATED: How Collagen and Vitamin C Work Together to Make Our Bodies Stronger

8. Be Mindful of Antibiotics

Antibiotics kill bad bacteria that make you sick and good bacteria that keep you healthy. If you take antibiotics for a bacterial infection, consider also taking Saccharomyces boulardii, a yeast that acts like a probiotic, as well as a multi-strain probiotic or a soil-based probiotic in between antibiotic doses. This will help repopulate good bacteria.