By Leah Zerbe
If you’re belly’s totally out of sorts these days, you are not alone. A jolt to your daily routine — and meal plan — can definitely affect your microbiome.
So if an out-of-whack schedule is filling your plate with not-so-perfect meals, recommit to supporting your gut with good food and 'good bacteria’ for supporting a healthy immune system, digestive health, healthy intestinal immunity and more.
And why is this important? Because this goes way beyond the gut. Science tells us that more than 70 percent of our immune system is housed in the gut, meaning it’s always a good time to focus on keeping a healthy ratio of probiotics, or “good guy” bacteria in the gut, versus the “bad guy” microorganisms.
Maintaining a healthy gut microbe balance is tied to immune system health and our bodies’ ability to manufacture certain vitamins and amino acids, including B12.
To give your gut some extra love when your schedule is whacked out, it’s important to learn what could be disrupting it — and easy steps to take to get it back on track (see the gut-support hacks at bottom).
Top 5 Probiotic Disruptors
1. Your Out-of-Whack Schedule
Turns out, your microbiome is impacted by that midnight snack.
Late-night eating can throw off our natural circadian rhythm and promotes an imbalance in the microbiome, according to some recent research.
So if you’re staying up late, spending more time inside sitting in front of the TV and indulging in not-so-healthy comfort foods a little too often, your gut could be feeling it.
2. Empty Supermarket Shelves and Processed Foods
In times when supermarket shelves are sometimes empty and restocking is unpredictable, you may find yourself reaching for things your gut isn’t used to digesting.
Instead of the normal selection of gut-friendly fresh fruits and vegetables, you may be relying on more processed and packaged foods which oftentimes contain excess sugar, fat and salt, along with refined grains and genetically engineered ingredients.
An added wellness tidbit of information? Many nonorganic corn and soy ingredients found in thousands of ultra-processed foods are grown from genetically modified seeds, and those could be foods you’re typically not used to eating or your gut’s not accustomed to.
Interestingly, Danish scientists found what they termed “excessive” levels of glyphosate in U.S. soy, and independent testing routinely IDs glyphosate in U.S. processed foods.
3. Excessive Sugar Intake
Eating too much added sugars, including man-made sweeteners like high-fructose corn syrup, can impact the gut in ways that can throw you out of balance.
Opt for small amounts of stevia or raw honey or real maple syrup when you need an occasional sweetener, but be careful not to overdo it.
4. Overloading on Grains and Gluten
Eating too much gluten can impact the gut for some people, while opting for a low-gluten, but high-fiber diet seems to promote gut wellness, in general.
5. Excess Stress
We all know too much stress on a daily basis is bad. But too much fight-or-flight mode can actually agitate the body’s gut microbiome.
5 Gut-Support Hacks
1. Source as Many Gut-Friendly Foods as You Can
Look for digestive tract-friendly foods and drinks, including fermented foods like sauerkraut, kombucha and kefir.
Other gut-friendly drinks and foods include green tea, coconut water, sprouted seeds, avocados, olive oil, coconut oil, bone broth, ghee, cooked vegetables, fiber-rich fruits and made-from-scratch soups and stews.
Here’s an easy recipe to get started making your own fermented foods at home on the cheap.
To make your own sauerkraut, follow these simple steps:
- Clean one head of cabbage and chop it into small pieces or shreds.
- Add 1½ to 2 teaspoons of sea salt.
- Massage the two together for several minutes in a large bowl so some of the water is released from the cabbage. (Keep it, you’ll need it!)
- Pack mixture into a quart-sized glass jar with a tight-fitting lid.
- After waiting for several days or weeks, depending on conditions, you've got homemade sauerkraut containing live probiotics, fiber and other nutrients.
2. Use ‘Tough’ Probiotics for Tough Times
In addition to a gut-friendly diet and lifestyle, many people choose to take gut support to the next level using probiotic supplements.
Here’s the thing: The point of probiotic supplements is to make it to your intestines to offer gut and digestive health support. But many strains of probiotic products require refrigeration and experience “die off” by body temperature and acids before even making it to the GI tract.
This is why soil-based organisms (SBOs), or supplements like SBO Probiotic, come into play.
Unlike more fragile refrigeration-required probiotics, “survivable” SBO probiotics are built tough to withstand the heat, acid and harsh journey from your mouth to your intestines. All of this happens even when they are stored at room temperature.
SBO Probiotic, for instance, contains many of the same soil-derived strains your great-grandparents and ancestors ingested when they enjoyed fruits and veggies straight out of the garden. This SBO Probiotic version contains those same strains, but is formulated to maximize quality.
The Bacillus subtilis in the SBO Probiotic formula supports normal microflora in the gut, a healthy immune system and normal digestion, while the Lactobacillus plantarum supports a healthy intestinal community. Other benefits include digestive comfort support and more.
3. Clean Up Your Diet
Here’s a list of foods to limit or completely avoid:
- Processed foods: fried foods, baked goods, fast food, convenience meals
- Refined carbs: white bread, pasta, crackers, chips, tortillas
- Processed meats: bacon, salami, bologna, beef jerky, lunch meats
- Sugary drinks: soda, fruit juice, sweet tea, sports drinks, energy drinks
- Added sugar: high-fructose corn syrup, table sugar, agave nectar, molasses
4. Start Supporting Your Gut with Supportive Ingredients
Between stress, diet choices and an inactive lifestyle, our guts can take a beating. But one time-treasured ingredient people have turned to for centuries is bone broth. There’s a reason moms around the world still give their kids chicken soup when they’re needing a boost.
Traditionally used for centuries, chicken bone broth inherently features glucosamine, chondroitin, hyaluronic acid and 19 amino acids to bring whole food-based gut support.
The only downside is it does take about a day or more to make a batch, and that batch doesn’t always last very long. Compounding matters, many meat coolers in grocery stores are facing shortages, so it may be hard to find the ingredients you need to cook up a pot.
Thankfully, you can now get the benefits of bone broth in an easy-to-use instant powder mix that can be added to hot water to make a savory homemade chicken broth in seconds, or slipped into rice, soups, sauces and stews for a wellness bump with each scoop.
5. ‘Weight Train’ Your Diaphragm to Get Your Body Out of Stress Mode
The first step to dialing down your body’s overreaction to stress is to retrain the body to breathe the way it’s meant to: diaphragmatically.
For most folks, everyday stress leads to habitual shallow “chest breathing,” where secondary respiratory muscles like the scalenes, pectoralis minor and sternocleidomastoid muscles take over the diagram muscle’s main job.
This promotes a vicious cycle, keeping the body tethered to fight-flight-or-freeze mode while deterring it entering “rest and digest” mode.
A simple way to work with improving diaphragmatic breathing is “sandbag breathing” using a five-pound bag of rice.
- Lying on your back with a thin cushion under your head, extend the legs long, resting on the floor, placing your arms on the floor along your sides with the palms facing up. For lower-back support, place a rolled up blanket behind the backs of the knees.
- Close your eyes and start envisioning the diaphragm muscle underneath your lungs and heart. As you inhale, picture the muscle turning into a dome, or parachute, drawing down toward the navel as your lungs fill with air and your belly rises.
- On an exhale, visualize the diaphragm rising back up.
- Soften your abdomen as you continue to visualize the work of the diaphragm as you feel the breath enter the nose and travel in and out of the body.
- Notice any jerkiness in the breath, and without trying to control the breath, breathing in and out of the nose if comfortable, aim for a continuous flow of breath, deep without effort, with inhalations and exhalations about the same length.
- Once this breath is established, place the five-pound bag of rice across the abdomen to start strength training your diaphragm muscle. As you inhale, the diagram draws down, belly lifts, ribs expand, then let it go on the exhale.
- As long as the weighted breathing is comfortable, start off with 5 minutes. Then, remove the rice bag and continue breathing diaphragmatically for a few more minutes resting on your back. Notice any changes you may or may not experience.
With an B.A. in journalism from Temple University and a M.S. in exercise science from California University of Pennsylvania, Leah Zerbe covers health news and functional fitness topics. She’s also a certified personal trainer and corrective exercise specialist through the National Academy of Sports Medicine and is a certified yoga teacher through Yoga Alliance. Leah resides on her family’s organic farm in Pennsylvania.