There are countless reasons to desire a healthy gut. Achieving and maintaining a robust microbiome — the trillions of beneficial bacteria and the useful chemicals they’re producing — in the lower section of our gastrointestinal tracts can aid our bodies with everything from battling pathogens to bettering our mental health.
But how do we do it?
“What I get people to do is, firstly, think about diversifying their plants and trying to get 30 different kinds of plants across the week,” Megan Rossi, a Ph.D. holder and registered dietitian who is known in some circles as the “queen of gut health,” recently told us — Raj Punjabi and Noah Michelson, the co-hosts of HuffPost’s “Am I Doing It Wrong?” podcast.
Rossi said that those plants should come from what she calls “the super six”: whole grains, nuts and seeds, vegetables, fruits, legumes, and herbs and spices.
“If we want this diverse range of bacteria in our gut, which has shown to have a diverse range of skills and kind of like superpowers, then we need to feed them that diverse range of fertilizers, otherwise they’ll die off — they won’t grow,” she said.
“It really just comes down to digestion,” she said. “Not only do we start to physically break down food in our mouths, but we have enzymes in our saliva that start to chemically break it down.”
Research shows that the more masticating we’re doing, the more nutrients we’re coaxing out of our food, which is good for our guts.
“One study looked at almonds, and they compared people who chewed the almonds 10 times versus 40 times,” Rossi told us.
“They showed that if you chewed them 40 times, you actually absorb so much more of that good nutrition. ... If you only chew them like 10 times, you’re malabsorbing a lot of it and not getting that full kind of health potential. So chewing your food is really important for extraction of a lot of that nutrition instead of pooping it out.”
However, for many of us, chewing more is easier said than done.
“That’s hard to do,” Punjabi said. “I don’t tend to eat until I’m really hungry and I’ve counted — I will chew like six times [before swallowing].”
“I’m right there with you,” Michelson agreed. “It’s like an entire hard-boiled egg is going down my throat like I’m an anaconda.”
“I get it,” Rossi assured us. “There are loads of different chewing apps out there [to help people chew more and slower] but what I say to a lot of my clients at the clinic is, just focus on the first two mouthfuls of every meal. You’re never going to be doing 30 chews with every mouthful, but just focusing on the first two and that starts to build the habit. Then you kind of start to do more and more [chewing] in each meal that you’re having.”
Rossi added that even just three extra chews could help lead to better chewing habits, which in turn can boost gut health.
“Count next time — literally count how many times you’re chewing [your mouthful of food] — and then add an extra three chews,” she said.
“And then, every meal, just focus on the first two mouthfuls having that extra three [chews]. And then if every couple of weeks you can add an extra one or two chews, then by six months, you’re hitting quite a good number of chews.”
We also discussed a potential connection between our gut microbiomes and our mental health, the truth about probiotics and much more.
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This post originally appeared on HuffPost.