Here’s everything you could possibly want to know about your microbiome

“Microbiome” is a buzzword that’s taken over the nutrition world in the last few years.

No, it’s not that Pauly Shore movie from the 1990s. (That’s Bio-Dome.) Microbiome refers to the vast and complex populations of bacteria that live on and in your body.

At first, research suggested that one class of bacteria—probiotics—helped people improve digestion. But eventually, researchers discovered that there’s much more to it.

“These bacteria in our gut are wired into our immune system, our metabolism, and even our brain,” says Erica Sonnenburg, Ph.D., a microbiota researcher at Stanford University Medical School.

“I think if you have allergies, asthma, weight issues, , and even  and anxiety, it could mean that your gut is not in an optimal state,” she says.

In the words of Ron Burgundy, your microbiota is “kind of a big deal.”

Sonnenburg speculates that we are only as healthy as our bacteria.

“If you count up all the collective genome that our microbiota provides and compare that to our human genome, humans are actually 99 percent microbe and only 1 percent human,” she says.

So how do you benefit? It starts with your diet.

Maybe you’ve heard that you should be eating more fermented foods—stuff like kombucha, kimchi (keep reading for a recipe below), yogurt, kefir, and sauerkraut—to introduce more good bacteria into your gut.

But you also need fiber in order to help feed new and existing good bacteria. So on top of fermented foods, you should also be taking in fiber-rich vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts, seeds, and grains.

Second, stop applying hand sanitizer more often than Kim Kardashian updates her Snapchat. New research shows that frequent hand sanitizer application kills good bacteria living on you, increasing your risk of illness.

And, lastly, limit antibiotic use to only when absolutely necessary.

“Antibiotics don’t help fight off viral infections, which are the bulk of the infections we deal with,” Sonnenburg says.

While all this may seem complex and mysterious, the great news is that your microbiome is under your control. And with these simple dietary changes and health practices, you can improve your microbiome within a few days.

If you’re looking for some inspiration to get started, try the following kimchi recipe.

Lucia Shin’s Simple Kimchi Recipe

This homemade kimchi recipe comes from my friend’s mom and has been passed down through generations in Korea.

Try the tart, spicy fermented condiment in a quesadilla with sharp cheddar cheese or mixed into scrambled eggs.

What You’ll Need:

1 head Napa cabbage, cut into bite-sized squares, washed and drained½ cup Kosher salt¼ cup crushed red pepper flakes2 Tbsp fish sauce4 scallions, cut into 1-inch pieces½ small onion, chopped4 garlic cloves, minced1 thumb-sized piece fresh ginger, peeled and minced1 tsp sugar

How to Make It:

1. In a large bowl, toss together the cabbage and salt. Let stand, stirring every now and then, until the cabbage is limp and soft, about 2 hours.

2. Rinse the cabbage well under cold water. Drain it thoroughly in a colander, about 20 minutes. Taste the cabbage. If it’s too salty, rinse and drain it again.

3. In a large bowl, mix the drained cabbage with the crushed red pepper flakes, fish sauce, scallions, onion, garlic, ginger, and sugar. Season to taste with salt, if necessary.

4. Pack the kimchi into a jar and let the jar stand at room temperature for 1 to 2 days to ferment. Then store it in the fridge.