More and more research is suggesting that our gut bacteria, known collectively as the microbiome, can influence almost every aspect of our health, from balancing our blood glucose to affecting our mood. In recent years, modern lifestyles have had a detrimental effect on our microbiome, and this has a knock-on effect on our health.
Scientist are now suggesting that to improve the diversity of the bacteria that live inside us we need to “rewild” our gut bacteria by eating less processed foods and increase the range and amount of natural plant food in our diet.
Can you tell me more about what the microbiome is?
The microbiome is a collection of bacteria living in the gastrointestinal tract (or gut). It plays a complex and critical role in the health of all of us. It interacts with and influences all the organ systems throughout the body including the brain, lungs and cardiovascular systems.
The microbiome and you
The microbes that live in your body are unique to you and are determined by the kind of life you lead. They vary according to where you live i.e. in a rural location or a city, whether you are ill or stressed, how old you are and of course what you eat.
How is it linked to good health?
We rely on the bacteria in our gut to produce many of our essential nutrients and vitamins. They also produce chemicals which keep our immune system working normally. Our immune system fights disease and infections.
Is there anything we can do to change this inner ecosystem for the better?
Yes there is a lot we can do. Certain foods act like a fertilizer for gut bacteria providing nutrients which help ‘good’ bacteria thrive. These foods also help your gut to stay healthy as well as helping keep other systems in your body working well. Scientists have found that the greater the diversity of the food we eat, the more diverse and healthy the microbes in our gut are.
Which foods should I eat to improve the diversity of healthy beneficial microbes in my gut?
The following foods provide a very good start for improving the health of your gut as well as your overall health.
They provide complex carbohydrates and dietary fibre which feed the gut bacteria and keep the contents of the gut moving.
These are an excellent source of inulin* (a complex a carbohydrate) and dietary fibre which microbes love to digest
Apples are high in nutrients and the fibre pectin which certain microbes love to feed on - eat the skin if you can. Microbes also like bananas.
Legumes like lentils and chickpeas are rich in fibre which gut bacteria also love.
Despite their fat content, nuts have great fibre and polyphenol* content. Just go easy on salted nuts.
Yogurt is a fermented food containing live bacteria. Like unpasteurized cheese, kimchi and kefir, fermented foods contain live bacteria that encourage microbes to produce more healthy chemicals for the body to use.
Jerusalem artichokes have high levels of the complex carbohydrate inulin* which gut bacteria thrive on
Extra virgin olive oil is packed with polyphenols* that microbes use and which help produce antioxidants.
Red wine has around 100 different polyphenols providing a diverse chemical feast for gut bacteria. White wine does not contain as many.
Dark chocolate with high cocoa content (at least 70%) has a wide range of polyphenols* - avoid the sweet milky stuff. It does not have the same good effect.
PREBIOTICS – foods that contain non-digestible fibres that feed bacteria in the gut
PROBIOTICS – live bacteria found naturally in some fermented foods
*INULIN –a carbohydrate that can’t be digested in your upper intestine and is fermented by ‘good’ bacteria
*POLYPHENOLS – a group of chemicals in many plant foods which are released after the microbes in the gut digest them. Many polyphenols have health benefits.