Cleaning up your diet to support healthy vaginal bacterial colonies

You know who you are. Too many drive-thrus, too much sugar, too many afternoon burgers, not enough vegetables.

How crap food wrecks your insides

If you are eating poor quality food often, unfriendly germs will love you. If you could look inside yourself (just into your intestines, not your soul – that’s a whole other topic) and see the impact this food had on your cells and friendly flora, you would think twice.

Who’s tougher – the baddies or the goodies?

Pathogens are hardy, but your friendly flora my not always be. For this reason, you need to consider your microbes when you put food or drinks in your mouth and wonder what would happen to them.

The daily execution of your friendly microbes starts with bad food. You want to keep these little critters around – they help you in so many ways, not least of all maintaining the balance in your vagina, in some ways.

Why your goodies are so good

There is evidence to suggest probiotic bacteria have an impact on the expression of hundreds of genes involved in the biosynthesis of nutrients. There is also evidence that these microbes affect much more than just our digestion – microbes are now implicated in our moods too.

Foods high in sugar, salt, fat, artificial preservatives and colours have a negative effect on your whole body and mind. Nothing is left unscathed.

When’s the last time you felt great? Vibrant? Healthy? Well?

Plant-based food feeds your healthy flora

There are many reasons we avoid eating good food, including that we just don’t know how to eat well. All of our reasons not to eat well are legitimate, but we have to get over that at some point and make the effort.

This isn’t about just surviving or not being sick. We can do better than that.

Eat as many plants as you can. Plants – fibre – actively supports your good bacteria by feeding them.

Find simple recipes and learn how to cook food that supports your microbes. A vegan diet with lean proteins is usually a great place to start, but there are many diets that can have a deeply beneficial impact on your microbiome.

Tips for choosing food

  • Go for organic where you can to avoid pesticides and often get higher nutrient values
  • Find a healthy vegan cookbook and try the recipes – vegans have learnt how to make vegetables taste amazing all the time, adding meat, dairy and eggs as you wish
  • Go slow, make a plan, and find ways to enjoy yourself
  • If a food upsets your digestion, leave it out for the time being and try again later

The plant-based diet

A plant-based diet is not about being a vegan, but vegans typically have excellent digestive systems and tons of good bacteria. That isn’t to say that vegans can’t get vaginal infections or have bad diets – they can and do!

But, a plant-based (more vegan) diet tends to be very supportive of healthy flora than other diets. (Note: ‘more vegan’ here means more plants, not more pasta!)

Don’t just take foods away – add foods in instead

Simply excluding foods out of your usual recipes is a pathway to failure, since nothing will taste as good if you take away the deliciousness of the sweet, salt or fat – you need new recipes.

Don’t not eat anything; eat what you want, but make the effort to add in more vegetables each time.

Find recipes that are designed to be really tasty by themselves using herbs, spices and as good raw ingredients as you can afford.

Avoiding antacids where possible

If you get acid reflux, heartburn or indigestion regularly, you may have some food intolerances or other problems that need ironing out. Acid reflux is a sure sign that something you are eating isn’t going down very well. Find out what it is.

If you are on long-term medication for gastroesophageal reflux disease (GORD or GERD), a change in diet often helps anyway. Don’t stop your medication, but follow all the other recommendations.

Alternatives to antacids include a diluted (half and half) shot of apple cider vinegar (or any vinegar), which might sound counterintuitive, but acid reflux often occurs when stomach acid is low.

Your oesophageal sphincter (in your throat) closes and opens using acid signals, so if there isn’t enough acid to tell it to close, it remains open, resulting in acid coming up the throat. Don’t drink milk for this reason – it helps temporarily, but then after a short time makes it worse.

You can still get acid reflux on a ‘healthy’ diet, because, enter stage left, food intolerances. Not all vegetables are healthy for all people.

Figuring out if you have food intolerances

Food intolerances can be extremely difficult to detect without doing an elimination diet. These diets are time-consuming but very worthwhile and in many instances, life-changing.

Read our article on food intolerances and vagina problems. If you have ANY digestive upsets, mood problems, sleep problems, or basically anything else unexplainable (like irritable bowel, thyroid, rashes, itches, depression, anxiety…) that is ‘just what you’re like’, investigate food intolerances.

You’ll be surprised what you find out.

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Jessica Lloyd - Vulvovaginal Specialist Naturopathic Practitioner, BHSc(N)

Jessica is a degree-qualified naturopath (BHSc) specialising in vulvovaginal health and disease, based in Melbourne, Australia.

Jessica is the owner and lead naturopath of My Vagina, and is a member of the:

  • International Society for the Study of Vulvovaginal Disease (ISSVD)
  • International Society for the Study of Women's Sexual Health (ISSWSH)
  • National Vulvodynia Association (NVA) Australia
  • New Zealand Vulvovaginal Society (ANZVS)
  • Australian Traditional Medicine Society (ATMS)