Nutrition plays a major role in the health of your gut microbiome.
When it comes to popular health topics and trends, all eyes are on the gut microbiome – its importance to overall health and the many actions we can take every day to improve its vitality. In recent years, interest in the gut microbiome has exploded and the research surrounding it has become more robust.
What is the Gut Microbiome?
Found primarily in the large intestine, the gut microbiome is a group of trillions of microorganisms, mainly bacteria, but also some yeast varieties and viruses. As more studies are completed, we are discovering that these microorganisms may be steering the ship when it comes to so many different health outcomes.
What role does gut health play in overall health?
Digestion, metabolism and absorption of nutrients
Given the location of the headquarters, you might guess that the microbiome is in charge of healthy digestion and metabolism – and it certainly is. But it also plays a key role in the synthesis of certain amino acids and vitamins, while potentially helping to break down toxins found in our food.
The microbiome contains both beneficial and harmful bacteria, so boosting the population of healthy bacteria in this ecosystem is also essential for a healthy immune system. In addition, the biome plays a huge role in the modulation of many different types of immune cells in our body, making it an MVP in immune health.
Brain function, nervous system, mental health
The gut microbiome also has a surprisingly deep connection to your mind and mood: The gut is actually lined with nerve cells that communicate with the central nervous system. This connection, called the gut-brain axis, is a bidirectional communication pathway between these intestinal nerve cells and the central nervous system, of which the brain is the star. And because of this connection, our brain health can influence our gut health, and vice versa. In fact, research has shown that the health of our gut microbiome is linked to mood disorders such as anxiety and depression, cognitive function and stress management.
Longevity and chronic diseases
Finally, the gut microbiome plays another super important role in the development and expression of chronic diseases. A review of multiple studies found that microbiome health is closely linked to the prevention (or expression) of many chronic diseases ranging from metabolic, neurological, cardiovascular and respiratory diseases. Some of these include type 1 and 2 diabetes, asthma, inflammatory bowel disease, irritable bowel syndrome, kidney disease, liver disease, and asthma. In addition, gut health has been found to play a critical role in calcium absorption and bone cell health, helping to maintain healthy bones and prevent osteoporosis.
What can help and harm your gut health?
Several genetic and lifestyle factors can affect the balance of microbes in the gut, both directly and indirectly, including exercise, stress levels, sleep, hydration status and, of course, diet. What you eat is really the foundation of the microbiome. The best foods for gut health are those rich in good gut bacteria, rich in nutrients to feed all those good bacteria, and rich in compounds that temper and prevent inflammation.
Armed with all this information about the importance of gut health to overall health, you may be itching to give your microbiome a boost. Fortunately, one of the best ways to restore your gut is to make informed food choices. Here are some core guidelines when it comes to eating healthy for your gut.
The best types of foods to eat for gut health
Fiber – to feed healthy gut bacteria and regulate digestion.
: Crispy Broccolini With Lemon And Pecans
When it comes to digestive health, fiber is a key player, providing structure to keep digestion regular. There are two main types of fiber: soluble fiber and insoluble fiber, and we all need both because they provide different benefits. Soluble fiber dissolves in water and forms a gel in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. While insoluble fiber actually does the opposite: it doesn’t dissolve in water and adds volume, helping to keep things moving and preventing constipation.
Certain types of fiber are not completely broken down during the digestive process and end up entirely in the intestines. These survivors are really important food sources for our healthy gut bacteria and another name for them that you may be familiar with is prebiotics (which we’ll get to in a minute). While not all sources of fiber are prebiotics, many of the favorite high-fiber foods include bananas, apples, asparagus, berries, flaxseed, broccoli, garlic, oats, onions, leafy greens, tomatoes, and legumes, including beans, lentils, and peas.
Prebiotics – to feed gut bacteria.
:Baked barley risotto with pumpkin
Prebiotics are typically soluble fibers that are indigestible to humans, but not to our gut bacteria. Prebiotics act as food for our gut bacteria and help them thrive. There are so many prebiotic foods available to us. Some examples of prebiotic food sources include barley, onions, garlic, leeks, honey, cocoa, linseed, seaweed, whole grains, dandelion greens, mushrooms, asparagus, cabbage, apples, oats, watermelon, bananas, and chickpeas.
Probiotics – to boost healthy gut bacteria.
:Miso Roasted Eggplant With Sesame Seeds
An important way to start building a thriving gut microbiome is to introduce more healthy bacteria into the biome. This is most easily achieved by consuming foods rich in probiotics, a term for healthy bacteria. Probiotic foods are enriched with bacteria or bacteria are grown in the food through fermentation. Fermentation is a metabolic process in which bacteria enable a chemical change in the food or drink in question, which produces the desired results. These results can be increased health benefits, longer shelf life or an improved flavor profile. Some fermented foods, such as sourdough bread or beer, do not contain probiotics, but many others do. Some great ways to eat your probiotics include sauerkraut, tempeh, kombucha, miso, kimchi, kefir, yogurt, buttermilk, and certain types of pickles (which are actually fermented, not just pickled in vinegar).
Anti-inflammatory foods – to keep your gut happy.
:Avocado Grain Bowl With Beet Ginger Dressing
A final pillar of gut-healthy food choices is eating foods that help your body fight and prevent inflammation. Pro-inflammatory foods can irritate the gut and negatively affect the microbiome, especially if consumed in excess, and this can hinder the biome from performing its vital bodily functions. In general, anti-inflammatory foods will be full of vitamins and minerals. Some also contain omega-3 fatty acids, while others contain important plant compounds. Polyphenols, or plant compounds, are particularly beneficial for gut health because they have antioxidant properties, encourage healthy growth of microorganisms, and inhibit the growth of harmful pathogens in the gut.
Sources of polyphenols include berries, nuts, dark green vegetables, tea, beans, apples, cherries, onions, olives, cloves, capers, oregano, sage, thyme and many more. The list is long, because all plants contain some of these amazing compounds (which is why eating more and a variety of plants is great for gut health). A good rule of thumb: The more brilliantly colored the plant food, the more likely it is to be loaded with polyphenols. Other anti-inflammatory foods contain omega-3 fats: walnuts, chia seeds, hemp, salmon, sardines, anchovies and soybeans.
Limit or omit gut-inflammatory foods when you can.
: Oven Baked Garlic-Parsley Shoestring Fries
There are some foods and ingredients that unfortunately do not support gut health or in some cases actively irritate it. All foods have a place in our diet and nothing is completely off limits. However, striking the right balance and de-emphasizing the less beneficial snacks and drinks will be a game-changer for your microbiome. Mindfulness and moderation are key when it comes to inflammatory foods, many of which are either inherently fiber-free or stripped of their natural fiber (think refined grains). Alcohol, processed foods, added sugars, and fried foods fit into this category. Red meat is also something to be careful about, as research has shown that consuming red meat can release an inflammation-promoting metabolite in the body that has been linked to heart disease. (Plus, there’s robust evidence linking red meat to colon cancer.) Added sugars are also an ingredient to be wary of and limit where possible. Not only are they a major inflammatory agent in the gut, but research has shown that added sugars can negatively impact the balance of good and bad bacteria in the gut and compromise the gut’s mucosal barrier, making us more susceptible to illness and disease. infection. Artificial sweeteners can also disrupt the balance of bacteria in our biome.
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