This is the second installment in our series on reducing your baby's allergy risk. If you missed the first installment, read it here.
In this lesson, we discuss the ins and outs of a healthy gut and how you can get one before your little one is born.
As you make your way through the last trimester, your dreams for your baby start to feel more real. One of the hardest parts of pregnancy (and, let’s be honest, parenthood) is that there is a lot you simply can’t control. I used to feel frustrated that I couldn’t do all the right things and ensure things would be great. But as one of my friends pointed out, not having control means it’s also not your fault!
Here is a short list of things actually proven to have an impact on your baby’s health while you are pregnant.
- Limiting alcohol to one drink a day, slowly
- Limiting coffee to 3 cups a day
- Taking prenatal vitamins including folate
- Washing hands and taking care not to get food poisoning
- Continuing to exercise, especially aerobic exercise
The first thing you’ll likely notice about that list is that these are the same things everyone should be doing for their health.
The second thing you’ll notice is that there are no rules about exactly what to eat. What a mom eats or doesn’t eat has never been proven to directly affect your baby. However, your diet is super important in your overall health, especially your gut health. And the gut biome you have when your baby is born is the biome they will start their life with -- the gut biome that may decide if they develop food allergies.
Here’s the good news. For both mom and baby, the gut biome is always changing, and can always be made better. “Better” in this case means that the gut has more Clostridia strains that reduce inflammation, create butyrate and improve the strength of the intestinal lining.
There are no clear studies on how long it takes to “fix” your gut biome. In fact, that’s the wrong way to think of it. Like all aspects of health and fitness, a healthy gut is something you continue to work towards forever. And like fitness, it’s easier to lose it than to get it back. So what should you do?
Eat Fermented foods
Almost every culture has some fermented foods in their diets —sauerkraut, sorghum, kimchi, pickles, and yogurts. Fermentation was historically used as a way to preserve foods harvested in one season throughout the year. In the fermentation process, bacteria break down the sugar in foods and create happy colonies.
In what is likely not a coincidence, the bacteria in fermented foods are the same commensal gut bacteria that have been with humans for thousands of years. Research has shown that fermented foods promote a healthy gut microbiome because eating fermented foods can repopulate your gut with healthy bacteria.
But not all fermenting is the same —foods fermented with salt allow bacteria to grow, but foods fermented with vinegar (a natural disinfectant) do not. A good rule of thumb is that truly fermented foods are in the refrigerator section of the grocery store because they contain live bacteria.
Incorporating fermented foods in the list below may support a healthy gut biome. Just remember to eat them as-is, and not cook them, because that can kill the live bacteria.
Best Fermented Foods:
- fermented vegetables (i.e.indian pickles)
- kefir / yogurt
Eat Your Veggies
The healthy bacteria in your gut live on healthy foods. Eating a diet high in vegetables, especially fibrous ones, and low in meat, fat, and dairy products will feed the strains of gut bacteria that you want to keep around. These foods are sometimes called pre-biotics because they contain the non-digestible carbohydrates that feed probiotics.
Eating a healthy diet is part of a healthy pregnancy. Make sure to include foods like:
- Spinach / collards/ kale / mustard greens
- whole grains
Avoid High Sugar Foods, Especially Artificial Sweeteners
A diet high in sugar (natural or artificial) can cause dysbiosis, or an imbalance between bad gut bacteria and good gut bacteria. The pro-inflammatory strains of gut bacteria feed off sugar, and so a diet with too much sugar will cause those bacteria to crowd out good bacteria.
A study in animals suggested that the modern American diet includes too much sugar and fat, and may be responsible for the overall worsening of people’s microbiomes. And don’t make the mistake that sweet “zero sugar” foods are an easy fix. Another study concluded that the artificial sweetener aspartame was as strongly correlated with an imbalanced gut microbiome as natural sugar. In fact, artificial sweeteners were linked with the growth of gut bacteria that increased the risk of diabetes, high blood sugar, and heart disease.
Diet sodas are as bad as regular sodas.
Other Steps to Maintaining a Healthy Gut
Just like the information above, nothing in the list below will shock you. But “maintaining a healthy gut biome” is now one more reason to do them!
- Get a proper amount of sleep
- Try to reduce stress
- Exercise, especially aerobic exercise
- Avoid smoking or excessive drinking
- Avoid unnecessary antibiotics
What would you do improve your gut? Let us know in the comments below!