So a couple of short weeks and back to the gut biome. Part three starts to deal with how to feed your biome and follow best practice. Again the subject fascinates me and I promised a whole document on fermented foods but have split this into two parts, this week concentrating on general biome treatment, care and foods.
Our large intestine houses trillions of microorganisms, including bacteria, viruses, fungi, and archaea, collectively referred to as the “gut microbiome,” these microorganisms influence everything from our metabolic health and weight, to our tendency towards anxiety and depression, colorectal cancer risk, and our likelihood for developing autoimmune conditions and allergies. Actually, the gut microbiome’s influence over our health is so profound that it’s often referred to as an organ system.
Studies demonstrate that one of the most effective ways to shape our gut microbiome is through our diet. Differences in the composition of our gut microbiome can be observed in as little as 24 hours after making dietary changes, it is clear that certain foods and dietary practices promote a healthier, more resilient gut microbiome, while others trigger inflammation. Here are five simple, actionable practices you can incorporate to potentially improve your gut microbiome starting today. And be sure to talk to your Doctor or Dietician about the best ways to incorporate these foods into your diet, especially if you have certain health conditions.
Add Prebiotic-Rich Foods to Every Meal.
In short, probiotics are the beneficial gut bacteria themselves, found in both supplements and fermented foods, whereas prebiotics are food for probiotics. More specifically, according to the International Scientific Association for Probiotics and Prebiotics, prebiotics are substances that selectively feed our healthy gut-associated microbes when we consume them. It’s important to populate and support a healthy balance of these healthy microbes in our gut, but we must also feed them properly with plenty of prebiotic-rich foods, so they stick around and provide us with health benefits (and are not crowded out by the more disease associated microbes). It is probably worth noting that a good supply of natural prebiotics is far more beneficial than taking a supplement. With a natural supply the biome can select the amount and type of nutrients that it absorbs, with a supplement you are forcing the gut to absorb a greater and one dimensional prebiotic and can well over power the biome and cause further issues.
Prebiotics are found in foods such as apples, artichokes, bananas, barley, oats, chia and flaxseeds, alliums like garlic and onions, beans and legumes, green and black teas, and even cocoa. Adding chia seeds to oatmeal, cooking with a generous amount of garlic and onion, incorporating chickpeas and black beans into salads, and enjoying a square of dark chocolate with a cup of green tea, are all easy and delicious ways to increase your prebiotic intake.
Embrace Fermented Foods.
Fermented foods are those produced or transformed with the help of microorganisms, such as bacteria and yeast. Fermented foods act as a natural probiotic supplement, populating the gut with beneficial microbes when we consume them. A study published in the journal Cell in July 2021 found that consuming a diet high in fermented foods increases the diversity of microbes in the gut, and lowers markers of inflammation. Foods such as yogurt, kefir, kombucha, miso, tempeh, sauerkraut, and kimchi are just a few of the many fermented food options to choose from. Whether you incorporate kefir into a smoothie, snack on Greek yogurt, add sauerkraut to a sandwich, or whip up a tasty salad dressing with miso paste, your gut will surely thank you.
Include a Wide Variety of Plants in Your Diet.
Just as a healthy ecosystem is rich in plant diversity, a healthy and resilient gut microbiome is one that is diverse, encompassing a variety of microorganisms with unique roles. The greater the microbial diversity in the gut, the greater the health benefits. Think of it this way: we need doctors, but if everyone were a doctor, there would be no teachers to educate, no police officers to maintain order and safety, no engineers to develop essential technologies, nor farmers to grow food. We need each profession to exist in order to have a well-functioning society, just as we need a variety of gut microbes to have a well-functioning gut microbiome.
One of the best ways to increase the diversity of your gut microbiome, is to eat a wide variety of whole plant foods. Data published in May 2018 from The American Gut Project, an initiative intended to help us better understand the human gut microbiome, demonstrated that those who eat greater than or equal to 30 plant varieties per week have a more diverse gut microbiome compared with those who eat less than or equal to 10 plant varieties per week. To reach your weekly quota, try adding one to two new plant varieties to your grocery shopping cart each week, and visiting your local farmer’s market to discover unique varieties of seasonal produce you may not have tried before. Additionally, cooking with fresh herbs and adding them to salads, starting your day with a plant-filled smoothie, snacking on fruit with nuts and seeds, and incorporating plant-based proteins into your meals such as beans and legumes, are all tasty ways to promote a diverse gut microbiome.
Dump The Artificial Sweeteners.
Artificial sweeteners may appear healthier than regular sugar since they’re calorie-free, but some research indicates that they may actually wreak havoc on our healthy gut bacteria. A cross-sectional study published in the Journal of Obesity in October 2019 found that in those with morbid obesity, artificial sweetener intake was positively correlated with gut microbiome changes linked to insulin resistance, one of the main contributors to the pathogenesis of type 2 diabetes. Additionally a meta-analysis published in July 2017 demonstrated that among human prospective studies, artificial sweetener intake is correlated with increases in body weight, body mass index (BMI), and waist circumference over time, increasing risk for chronic illness. While the mechanisms behind this phenomenon are likely multifactorial, changes in the gut microbiome likely play a huge role.
Rather than regularly consuming artificial sweeteners, it’s likely healthier to consume real sugar in moderation. To avoid artificial sweeteners, look out for saccharin, sucralose, aspartame, acesulfame potassium, neotame, and advantame on ingredient labels of foods, beverages, and supplements., these are the artificial sweeteners currently approved.
Steer Clear of Dietary Emulsifiers.
Dietary emulsifiers are food additives that improve the texture and consistency of various processed foods, by holding food particles together. They’re added to foods like salad dressing to prevent separation of oil and water, ice cream and gelatin desserts to improve their texture and mouthfeel, and milk alternatives to prevent their components from separating out.
While certain foods naturally have emulsification properties, like egg yolks, emulsifiers can also be chemically synthesized or extracted. It is speculated that unlike foods with natural emulsification properties, chemically processed emulsifiers may have detrimental effects on our gut microbiome and as a result, promote intestinal inflammation. According to a study published in the BMJ in July 2021, higher intakes of ultra-processed foods are significantly associated with increased risk for inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), IBS and a whole host of other diseases and dysfunction. Ultra-processed foods often contain chemically processed emulsifiers, and while the effects of these emulsifiers on the human gut microbiome require further research, they certainly can be doing no good at all.
Additionally, various therapeutic diets recommended for IBD, such as the IBD Anti-Inflammatory Diet (IBD AID) and the Crohn’s Disease Exclusion Diet (CDED), specifically restrict these emulsifiers. Maltodextrin, carrageenan, polysorbate-80, and carboxymethylcellulose are examples of common chemically processed dietary emulsifiers to look out for on ingredient labels. Since these additives are only found in packaged, processed foods, concentrating your diet around whole, minimally processed foods is an easy way to avoid them.
As I mentioned at the beginning, in the next Blog ……………………………. Fermented foods or as you could say, food of the gods.