Miracle Microbes; tips for a healthy life

Shilpi Madan

How often have you heard happiness is a healthy gut? Chances are rarely!

Our microbiome—the collective expression of healthy bacteria and fungi inhabiting our gastrointestinal tract—wields super influence on everything that matters, from our metabolic rate and appetite to immunity, body weight, and even moods.

Call them colon commandos or nano ninja, these microbes mainly live in the lower intestine, forming cool colonies to better our digestion and happiness quotient. When this tribe gets knocked up, pooping issues, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), flatulence, excess weight and more irritants loom up. It is 2022, and a great time to begin on your gut project now, if you’re lagging behind.

The Good Gut Guys
According to Karishma Chawla, functional nutritionist and lifestyle educator from Mumbai, around 80 percent of the immune system lives in the gut. “Gut microbiome connects with human feelings. An optimum gut flora determines how well you feel. From birth onwards till three years, the human gut microbiota swiftly increases in diversity,” she says.

The composition hence fluctuates in response to diet, environment, and antibiotic ingestion. So eating traditional fermented foods allows airborne bacteria to grow on food. “Once consumed, this lactic acid bacteria breeds a healthy population of bacteria in our intestines, preventing diseases and inflammation. The best way to improve gut diversity is to have rainbow colours on your plate,” she adds.

But what’s an assessment of the sound presence of healthy gut flora? Explains Dr Roy Patankar, Gastroenterologist and Director of Zen Multispecialty Hospital, Chembur, Mumbai, “Pain-free pooping, not offloading during the night, and experiencing minimal bloating and flatulence are signs of a relatively healthy gut.”

Eat probiotics, fermented foods, whole grains, vegetables, legumes, pulses, fresh fruits, and beans. It is best to eat fresh, local, and seasonal to pack in the nutrients rather than relying on supplements. “Eat around 25 grams of fibre per day. Consume one fruit a day for a healthy gut,” adds Dr Roy. Of course, the fibre-savvy BFFs of our gut microbiome include pears, apples, bananas, beans, broccoli, and peas.

But if you thought potatoes were the bad guys, think again. Says Chawla, “As we crowd out refined flour, sugar, packaged foods, and go low on animal foods (they alter the gut microbiome), we must add in resistant starch—the nutritional feed for probiotic bacteria in the colon. It travels through the digestive tract without breaking down, becoming fuel for the cells throughout your system.

On reaching the colon, resistant starch converts to short-chain fatty acids that increase the population of good colon bacteria. Cooked potatoes, legumes, green plantains and their flour are rich in this starch.” Meanwhile, polyphenol antioxidants pump up the microbiome, aiding good bacteria growth. Good news? Red wine is rich in polyphenols.

“But consume in moderation,” says Chawla, adding, “Eat other polyphenol-rich foods such as blueberries, raw cacao, hazelnuts, flaxseed powder, cherries, resveratrol, curcumin, green tea.” Also, gas is a natural byproduct of the gut bacteria munching on the food we eat. Healthy gut activity gets us farting between 10-20 times a day.

Come Clean
In our urban pressure cooker lifestyle, how do we go about fostering our unique microbiome? Clean diet studded with plant-based nutrients, zero junk food, nil processed stuff, and rich toss-ins of fermented goodies comes to our rescue. “Fermented specials in idli, and curd rice bring in live microbes to strengthen gut flora diversity. Most of us tend to self medicate, killing good microbes.

It can take up to two months to replenish the loss of microbiome by antibiotics,” says Dr Shalini Joshi, Senior Consultant, Internal Medicine, Fortis Hospitals, Bannerghatta Road, Bengaluru. The gut reboot demands a revision of pre-existing habits. Says Delhi-based nutritionist, dietitian and lifestyle coach, Saloni, “Even stress works directly with the cortisol levels. When our cortisol levels shoot up, our digestive system stands disrupted.”

Healthy Tracker
A restful sleep cycle, good skin and energy levels, and infrequent stomach infections are sound markers of optimum microbiome health. As Dr Joshi informs, smooth textured medium to dark brown stool is an indicator too. “But pooping more than three times a day is a cause for concern. The gut transit—time taken for digestion and travel of food through the intestines—must not be too long.”

The thicker the mucus wall and the better the barrier between our body and our busy bacteria population, the more microbes we have in our intestines. “The mucus barrier reduces inflammation throughout the body while the bacteria aid digestion, resulting in a win-win situation,” says Shraddha Gadit, Nutritionist, Gold’s Gym Fitness Institute, Mumbai.

That’s it. Win by lending a helping hand to the microbes in your gut as they can help you to be happier, stay fit and live longer.

The Microbiome Mambo

✥ Eat one cup of fibrous vegetables per meal
✥ Consume two fresh, seasonal fruits daily
✥ Restrict red meat to a weekly intake
✥ Get eight hours of sleep per night
✥ Eat fermented foods as they are rich in live microbes
✥ Pair antibiotics (if you must ingest) with good probiotics
✥ Skip sugary soda and saturated fats
✥ Wash hands with soap and water instead of sanitising before meals

Inputs by Simrun Chopra, deep health coach and founder, Nourish with Sim, Bengaluru