As Naturopaths, we believe the premise of good health begins with the healthy functioning of our digestive system. This concept isn’t new, however in recent years there has been a growing appreciation among the wider community regarding the importance of our digestive system, more specifically our Gut Microbiome.
Every one of us has an individually unique microbial ecosystem; it is seeded during birth and develops over the first 3 years of life. With approximately 100 trillion microbial cells inhabiting our digestive tract (and elsewhere throughout the body) it is not surprising the Gut Microbiome is often referred to as the ‘Hidden Organ.’
This complex community of commensal and symbiotic bacteria, collectively known as Microbiota, plays a central role in human health. It is involved in Energy & Nutrient Utilisation, Metabolism and Immune Health.
An imbalance to this community can wreak havoc on our health.
We are what our Bacteria eat.
As adults, an upset to this balanced community can occur through lifestyle and dietary factors, with diet a significant determinant in influencing the composition and diversity of our resident microbiome. There is growing concern that our current Western-style diets (high-fat, high-sugar and low-fibre) may be responsible for the adverse changes in our microbiome's diversity.
Fortunately, diet is also one of the easiest factors to control that can manipulate the gut microbiota and subsequently improve our health. It’s all about the PRE + PRO biotics. Working together, pre and probiotics have the potential to favourably change our Gut Microbiome because probiotics are the live micro-organisms and prebiotics are the non-digestible carbohydrates which feed and stimulate the growth and further enrich our gut microbiota.
We can nourish our bodies (including our Gut Microbiome) by treating food as medicine. Listed below are seven simple dietary recommendations to improve your unique microbial ecosystem.
- Listen to mum’s advice & “Eat your Fruit & Veg” - In general, a higher intake of fruits and vegetables is associated with an increased diversity of the gut microbiota. This is because many fruits and vegetables are fantastic sources of prebiotic fibre, giving the gut microbiota something to “feed off and survive”. Prebiotic powerhouses include: asparagus, onion, leek, garlic, dandelion greens and Jerusalem artichoke.
- Add in fermented foods - For very good reason, Fermented Foods are on trend. They are packed with probiotic bacteria (such as Lactobacilli and Bifidobacterium) and help to boost these levels in our digestive tract. The variety of fermented foods feels like a quick trip around the world - from sauerkraut, to kimchi, to kefir, to miso and even yoghurt, fermented foods have played a significant role in many traditional diets for thousands of years. We can gain the most benefit from fermented foods when we include them in our diet on a regular basis. As they can be slightly pricey, try fermenting your own foods at home. If you are sensitive to dairy, coconut milk is an excellent dairy-free alternative when making yoghurt or kefir.
- Don’t resist Resistant Starch (RS) - As the name suggests, RS is a type of fibre known to “resist digestion” in the small intestine and when it reaches the large intestine undergoes fermentation which subsequently increases the production of the ‘protective’ short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs). This nourishing fibre is found in many plant foods and the amount can vary depending on the state of the food. For instance, green unripe bananas contain 38g of RS, compared to ripe bananas which contain only 5g of RS (per 100g).
- Be mindful of meat consumption - Although dietary proteins are an important component of a balanced diet, some research indicates that the regular consumption of red meat can promote the growth of harmful bacteria and potentially increase our susceptibility to disease. Always eat meat in moderation, with vegetables dominating the plate (rather than meat) and also ensure you’re eating high quality produce - such as grass-fed meat.
- Sip on a glass of red wine - Really!? A recent study showed a moderate intake of red wine polyphenols positively encouraged the growth of beneficial bacteria, whilst inhibiting non-beneficial bacteria. The beneficial result was not isolated to the red wine per se, as a high intake of alcohol is not particularly helpful; however the focus was on the polyphenol content. Other polyphenol-rich foods include: berries, green tea, and even dark chocolate!
- Stick to a Wholefood Diet - Steer clear from the excessive consumption of highly-refined, sugar-rich, processed foods; as such foods may not favour the beneficial bacteria, instead aiding in an imbalance in our Gut Microbiome. Cooking food from scratch with fresh wholefoods is always preferred.
- Consider a Probiotic Supplement - We can do a lot with diet, however if you are after an added boost to support your microbial population, you may like to try a probiotic supplement. Don’t forget to always pair a probiotic with prebiotic-rich foods.
Our overall dietary pattern can help to determine our gut microbial outlook. Show your microbiome some love by spoiling yourself with a variety of foods including increasing your intake of vibrant, colourful fruits & veggies, as well as introducing the regular consumption of fermented foods including sauerkraut, kefir and even kimchi.
Top it off and wash it down with a glass of kombucha! After all, there’s certainly truth to the saying “You are what you eat!”