|Today I would like to focus on gut health and the importance of our microbiome which refers to the microorganisms in a particular environment – in this case our gut. As research has progressed we see more and more illnesses and dis-ease stemming from gut issues. I found a very interesting video (a TED Talk in fact which I love watching when I have spare time) by Shilpa Ravella which is easy to understand and a well illustrated animation that gives us an idea of how the food we eat affects our gut. I have summarized the talk with added notes from me here and there otherwise click on the link below to watch full video.
Trillions of bacteria, viruses and fungi live inside us and maintaining a good balanced relationship with them is to our advantage. Together they form the gut mircobiome, a rich ecosystem that forms a variety of functions in our bodies. The bacteria in our gut breaks down the food the body cannot digest, produce important nutrients, regulate the immune system and protect against harmful germs. It is important for a healthy gut microbiome to have a variety of species. Many factors affect our microbiome including our environment, medication like antibiotics (anti meaning against; biotic meaning biome/bacteria – these generally are broad spectrum so kill off both ‘bad’ and ‘good’ bacteria), and even whether you were delivered by c-section or not.
Diet too is emerging as one of the major factors in the health of our guts. While we cannot control all these factors we can pay attention to what we eat. Dietary fibre from foods like fruit, vegetables, nuts, legumes and whole grains are the best fuel for gut bacteria. When bacteria digest fibre they produce short chain fatty acids that nourish the gut barrier, improve immune function and can help prevent inflammation which reduces the risk of cancer. The more fibre you ingest the more fibre digesting bacteria colonise your gut.
So what goes wrong with our gut bacteria when we eat high processed foods? Lower fibre means less fuel for the gut bacteria essentially starving them until they die off. This results in less diversity and hungry bacteria. In fact, some can even start to feed on the mucous lining of our gut! In newsletters to come I will talk about gut repair and ‘leaky gut syndrome’ and allergies possibly associated with these.
In a recent microbiome study, scientists found that fruit, veg, tea, coffee (not instant), red wine and dark chocolate (bonus!) is correlated with increased gut bacterial diversity as these contain polyphenols which are naturally occurring antioxidant compounds that encourage their growth.
How food is prepared also matters – minimally processed, fresh foods that are lightly steamed, sautéed or raw are best.
One of the best ways to encourage and introduce a diversity of bacterial growth is by introducing probiotics (pro meaning to encourage or for; biotic meaning biome or bacteria) into your diet and through supplementation. This can be taken in capsule form, liquid or through fermented foods which contain Lactobacillus and Bifidobacteria. Fermented foods include Kimchi, Sauerkraut, Tempeh, Kombucha and Kefir (most of which you can find at your friendly local healthy store). These add diversity and vitality to our diets. Yoghurt also contains friendly gut bacteria but not all are made equal – avoid those that contain sugar, colourants and flavours.
More research is needed before we fully understand how any of these foods interact with our microbiome. We see positive correlations but the inside of our gut is a difficult place to make direct observations. While we’re only beginning to explore the vast wilderness inside our guts, we already have had a glimpse of how crucial our microbiomes are for overall health. The great news is we have the power to fire up the bacteria in our bellies, fill up on fibre, fresh and fermented fods and you can trust your gut to keep you going strong.