Growing a Healthy Microbiome “Garden”

As you may be aware, your gut is home to trillions of bacteria (collectively called your “intestinal microiome”)... and when these bacteria are happy and healthy, it seems that our bodies and minds are happy and healthy. But it can be hard to know where to even begin!

Personally, I find it can be helpful to think about your gut (both your intestines themselves, and the bacterial life that lives there) as a garden. Just like a garden, you need both a welcoming physical space where life can flourish, as well as the raw materials to support healthy growth.

Let’s break it down into four steps:

1) First, experiment with “weeding your garden” in whatever way appeals to you. In other words, try to remove "weeds" and "garbage" that make it difficult for good bacteria to grow. Consider cutting out environmental toxins, gluten, conventional dairy, refined sugar, and packaged food. It's okay to start with whatever fits for you and your lifestyle. Remember: if you're eating anything other than the "standard" American diet, you're ahead of the curve.

2) Second, prepare your “garden,” by making your gut the type of place good bacteria can flourish. You can make your body a healthy place for good bacteria to grow through exercise, good sleep, making sure you drinking plenty of water, and practicing mindful eating. You can also support a healthy microbiome by adding in gut-friendly foods like bone broth, grass-fed gelatin, and fiber.

3) Next, it’s time to “sow the seeds” of good microbiome health by sending in microbial reinforcements. You can do this by ingesting food, drinks, and/or supplements that actually contain live bacteria. Examples include probiotic pills and eating foods like yogurt, kimchee, pickles, kombucha, and sauerkraut.

4) Finally, help life grow in your “garden” but supplying good bacteria with the materials they need to grow robust and strong. Make sure to supply your microbiome with plenty of water, and try to include prebiotic foods in your diet, which are foods high in a special type of carbohydrate called oligosaccharides that enhance the growth of beneficial bacteria. Examples of prebiotics include (among others) leeks, garlic, onions, jicama, and asparagus.

Putting these four steps in practice in whatever way feels like the best fit for you can help you along the path toward cultivating a resilient, happy, diverse microbiome. And, once your “garden” is growing strong, you can count on a “harvest” of good mood, sustained daily energy, and a balanced body weight. You have the power to cultivate a healthy ecosystem… and then reap the benefits!

Sarah Gupta