A healthy gut is influenced by the foods we consume on a daily basis, among other factors. Our gut microbiome is made up of trillions of microorganisms with over 1000 different bacteria species varying from a person to a person’s gut flora.
It is crucial to have a diversity of gut bacteria if we are to keep healthy. Research reveals that our microbiome started to form as soon as we were born and is influenced by genetics, the environment we live in along with what we eat and lifestyle, among other factors.
According to research there are a large number of bacteria in the human gut microbiota than can be found anywhere else in the human body such as the skin, genitals, mouth, etc. There are friendly bacteria also referred to as commensal bacteria that contribute to a healthy gut and unfriendly bacteria that cause disease in the intestinal tract.
We are what we eat. This statement holds true in the sense that our food choice can either feed the good bacteria which in turn shield us from invading pathogens or can weaken our defense system and expose us to disease-causing bacteria.
Processed foods are detrimental to gut flora as they lack fiber and polyphenols which contribute to a healthy gut and are thought to reduce the diversity of gut bacteria
“Western dietary patterns containing large amounts of processed foods might create an imbalance in the gut system by affecting gut bacteria and their metabolism”
Exercise is good for the gut microbiome and boost health. “Recent studies suggest that exercise can enhance the number of beneficial microbial species, increase microfloral diversity and improve the development of commensal bacteria”
Gut microbiota is said to be a complex subject and research is ongoing. “The diverse gastrointestinal microbiota is predominantly composed of bacteria from three major phyla namely firmicutes, Bacteroides, actionobacteria”.
“This diverse and complex microbiome serves as a functional expansion of host genomes and is estimated to harbor 50 to 100 fold more genes compared to the host. These extra genes have added various type of enzymatic proteins which were none encoded by the host and play a critical role in facilitating host metabolism, thus contributing to host physiology”
That said, not all bacteria are bad “guys” and this goes to show that our lives are not fully functional without a good balance of gut bacteria. If we feed them the right kind of stuff, they will, in turn, take good care of us.
Let’s unpack what foods contribute to a healthy gut and other factors associated with a healthy gut
Foods For A Healthy Gut
These are some foods that may promote healthy gut. Each person’s microbiome is distinct, some may have an allergic reaction to certain foods while some may not. You may have to choose what works for you.
- Broccoli and other greens
- Brown rice and other whole grains
Probiotics And A Healthy Gut
Probiotics are live bacteria found in fermented foods and are good for a healthy gut and the overall health. They are found in supplements as well.
As mentioned above there are various microbial species living in human gut. Different bacteria perform different tasks and they collectively, maintain a healthy gut and overall health. Diversity of gut bacteria is key for an all healthy gut.
“Research is ongoing into a relationship of the gut microflora to disease. The health benefits of the currently available probiotics and prebiotics have not been completely proved” Mayo Clinic.
The overuse of antibiotics can compromise the human gut bacteria. According to research the use of antibiotics heavily disrupts the ecology of the human microbiome. Processed foods such too much sugar and saturated fats can be counter-productive to the gut microbiome.
Research shows that “prebiotics may be ineffective and possibly counter-productive in restoring the baseline of gut microbiome after it has been altered by antibiotic treatment”
Foods Containing Probiotics:
- Yogurt is the best source of probiotics. It has healthy bacteria such as bifidobacteria and lactobacillus due to fermentation. Yogurt has many potential health benefits according to research “Frequent consumption of yogurt has shown to improve risk factors for cardiovascular disease, to lower diabetes risk, enhance development for host immunity and to lower the risk of symbiosis and chronic kidney disease.
- Kefir is a source of prebiotic, a product of fermented milk and kefir grains. The drink originates from Europe and Russia and can be made from cow, goat and sheep milk.
- Kimchi is made with fermented vegetables especially cabbage. It’s a Korean spicy side dish and good source of probiotic. It is rich in vitamin C, fiber and other nutrients.
- Kombucha is a fermented black or green tea, commercially sold or home-brewed. Kombucha is a good source of probiotic. It is said that “Kombucha has various health benefits, such as treating arthritis, aging, aneroxia, diabetes, among other ailments but there’s no evidence supporting these claims”
- “Drinking Kombucha can be harmful for people with pre-existing ailments due to its microbial sourcing and possible none sterile packaging. Kombucha is not recommended for people with poor immune function”.
- Souerkraut is an excellent source of probiotic. It is rich in vitamin C, fiber, vitamin K and other nutrients. It is a finely cut raw cabbage with sour taste due to lactic acid produced by lactobacillus bacteria during fermentation process.
- Sourdough bread (dough) is made with lactobacilli bacteria and yeast which are naturally occuring during fermentation. The lactic acid produced during fermentation provide a sour taste to the bread. The bread is packed with good bacteria beneficial to gut health.
- Miso is a thick paste used for sauces etc. It’s derived from fermented soybeans and is commonly used in Japan. Its packed with several nutrients, minerals and also high in protein. Miso is beneficial to a healthy gut due to bacterial environment it elicits.
- Sour Porridge it’s African staple, commonly used for breakfast after fermentation. It is a byproduct of sorghum, whole grain.
- Tempeth originates from Indonesia and is made from soybeans though fermentation process. It has a nutty and/or earthy taste and is rich in protein, dietary fiber and vitamins.
According to research the consumption of probiotics found in fermented foods is found to cause significant positive improvements in balancing intestinal permeability and barrier function
Prebiotics And A Healthy Gut
Not all fibers are prebiotics, but most prebiotics are fibers. Prebiotics are non digestible compounds, meaning that human body lacks the enzymes that can digest most of them. They are then broken down by bacteria in the gut. Prebiotics and fibers enhance gut bacteria thus contributing to well-being .
Foods Containing Prebiotics
- Broccoli and other greens
- Lentils and other legumes
Dietary Fiber And A Healthy Gut
Some dietary fiber are also prebiotics. There are different types of dietary fiber, soluble and non-soluble. Soluble fiber is digestible whereas non soluble fiber is not digestible as the human body lacks the enzymes that breaks them down.
They are then subjected to bacterial fermentation, influencing the gut microbial composition and their metabolic activities, according to research. It helps to eat diverse whole foods to get different types of fibers and expand the diversity of your gut flora. For more details about fiber rich foods click here
Research show that an increased dietary fiber intake (depending on an individual RDI) and whole grains enhance the diversity of gut bacteria. The US, compared to other countries worldwide, is said to be the lowest in terms of fiber intake.
This leads to an impaired gut microbiome and causes an increased risk in the chronic non-communicable disease, like obesity cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and colon cancer, which are prevalent in the US.
Stress And Gut Flora
Experts reveal that there’s a strong connection between the brain and digestive system and that stress can impact the gut flora and cause disturbances in the gut.
“Early life stress can change the development of nervous system as well as how the body reacts to stress. These changes can increase the risk for later gut diseases or dysfunction ” says American Psychological Association.
Research indicates that stress can alter gut microbial population thus influencing neurotransmitters mediated by microbiome and gut bacteria barrier function and that meditation can help regulate the stress response and suppress chronic inflammation states maintaining a healthy gut barrier function.
According to research the human gut microbiome is composed of trillions of microorganisms with nearly 1000 bacterial species genes and stress can alter the gut microbial population and weaken the immune function and influence metabolic activities and ultimately our physical and emotional well-being.
Ingesting foods containing probiotics, prebiotics and fiber can promote a healthy gut and overall health.
Research indicates that exercise can also enhance the diversity of microbial community in the human gut while the overuse of antibiotics and processed foods can change the gut flora composition and make us vulnerable to disease causing bacteria.