How The Microbiome Impacts Health
There are both upstream and downstream effects to consider when it comes to gut health and the microbiome. In other words, the bacteria in your digestive tract are directly affected by your direct environment, and your microbiome in turn influences your immunity, mood, hormones and other bodily systems. Your geographic location, social and emotional environment and diet all play a role in the health of your gut.
This novel way of looking at the role of the gut as it impacts health is the microbiota-gut-brain (MGB) axis. The microbiome is a critical mediator in the communication between the digestive system and the brain, via the vagus nerve. From an early age, this complex pathway helps to set up how our body responds to stress and our internal and external environment and continues as we age.
Similarly, studies have found that the microbes in our intestines can help protect us from getting certain diseases. Inflammatory bowel diseases like ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease, obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart problems and cancer can all be ameliorated, at least in part by modulating the microbiome. Scientists now know that the food we eat can change the microbe distribution and population in our gut. Lab studies confirm that within a single day, you can alter your microbiome to improve your health. Due to this correlation, it's feasible to consider that altering your gut microbiota through your diet can have an immensely positive impact on your health in general.
Here are 6 ways to naturally improve your gut health with food
Eat Fermented Foods
Fermented foods are a traditional staple in many cultures around the world. They have gained popularity over the last few years due to their numerous health benefits, especially for digestive and immune system support. Fermented foods contain beneficial bacteria that help maintain a healthy balance of bacteria in your gut, which can improve digestion and boost immunity.
Eating fermented foods regularly may help improve digestion, reduce inflammation and increase nutrient absorption from other food sources. Some studies suggest that regularly consuming fermented foods can reduce the risk of certain diseases such as obesity, type 2 diabetes and heart disease. So if you’re looking for ways to improve your overall health and well-being, incorporating fermented foods into your diet is a great place to start.
Popular fermented foods include:
- Picked vegetables
Include Resistant Starch
Resistant starch is a type of dietary fibre that has been gaining attention for its potential health benefits. It is found naturally in certain foods, but can also be added to other foods as an ingredient. Resistant starch resists digestion in the stomach and small intestine and instead, passes through to the large intestine. This has many beneficial effects on gut health, including increasing the production of short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs).
Foods that contain resistant starches include:
- Green bananas and plantains
- Green peas
- Grains such as Oats and Barley
- Cooked-and-cooled Rice
- Cooked-and-cooled Potatoes
Enjoy Polyphenol Foods
Polyphenols are plant compounds that have potent antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial properties. These beneficial compounds can be found in many different types of foods including fruits, vegetables, herbs and spices like ginger and turmeric as well as grains. Eating foods high in polyphenols has been linked to improved digestive function and gut microbiome health.
Proanthocyanidin-rich foods, such as grape seeds, cacao, green tea and blueberries have been shown to significantly increase the number of Bifidobacteria bacteria species in the large intestines. Research demonstrates that polyphenols were observed to foster the growth of beneficial bacteria such as Lactobacillus spp., while also inhibiting other groups like Clostridium spp. based on studies conducted both in vivo and in vitro.
Examples of such high-polyphenolic foods include:
- Sesame Seeds
- Green Tea
Drink Plenty of Water
Besides eating foods that support digestive function, it's also important to stay hydrated and drink plenty of water to maintain the health of your microbiome. The digestive system needs water to maintain proper function and to move food through the digestive tract, eliminate toxins and support the osmotic balance in the large bowel. Water also helps ensure you have regular bowel motions and helps to avoid constipation. This in turn helps promote a favourable environment for the growth of beneficial bacteria.
When it comes to the quality of water, filtered water is the best option. Filtering your water can remove toxins, bacteria and other contaminants which can harm the health of your gut. Sufficient water intake is important for maintaining healthy gut flora as well. To ensure everything moves smoothly, aim to drink 8-10 glasses of water per day. Feel free to add lemon juice or apple cider vinegar to your glass for an added digestive boost.
Include Dietary Fibre
Soluble and insoluble fibre are both essential for digestive health as well as supporting the microbiome. Soluble fibre is a type of dietary fibre that dissolves or partially breaks down in water to slow down digestion. Insoluble fibre does not dissolve in water, but it adds bulk to your stool and helps food move through your digestive system more rapidly.
Both types of fibres are important for maintaining healthy gut bacteria, improving nutrient absorption, preventing constipation and promoting regular bowel movements. As mentioned, supporting the gut with fibre helps promote a healthy brain and balance your mood. A recent study published in Nutritional Neuroscience showed that including just a teaspoon of fibre per day in the diet, helps improve mood and reduce anxiety symptoms.
Examples of soluble fibre:
- Chia seeds
Examples of Insoluble Fibre:
- Fruit and vegetable skins (pectin)
Eat Stinky Cheese
Cheese, especially aged varieties such as Parmesan, cheddar and Swiss, contains high levels of propionic acid, due to the long ageing process. This acid not only adds a tangy flavour to the cheese but also helps to preserve it.
Propionic acid is a type of short-chain fatty acid (SCFA) which is a prebiotic food for the bacteria in your gut. Research has shown that propionic acid helps to prohibit fat storage in the liver, helps curb food intake, has anti-inflammatory properties and may improve insulin sensitivity.
As such, propionic acid plays a key role in regulating blood sugar levels and improving cholesterol health, making fermented cheeses an excellent choice for people who are potential diabetes candidates. Emerging evidence also shows that the consumption of foods containing propionic acid may help to ameliorate Parkinson’s disease symptoms, both non-motor and motor in nature.
Other foods that contain propionic acid include:
- Sourdough bread
- Fermented vegetables
Best Gut Health Foods - FAQs
Do whole grains support gut health?
Yes, whole grains are an excellent source of dietary fibre and can help support gut health. Whole grains contain both soluble and insoluble fibre which is important for maintaining healthy gut bacteria, preventing constipation and promoting regular bowel movements. Eating a serving of whole grains each day is a great way to naturally improve your gut health.
Do probiotics support digestive health?
Yes, probiotics can be beneficial for supporting digestive health. Probiotics are live microorganisms that can help restore and maintain beneficial bacteria in your gut microbiome. Eating probiotic foods such as yoghurt, kefir, sauerkraut and kimchi can help to improve digestion and overall gut health. Taking a quality probiotic supplement may also be beneficial in restoring the balance of good bacteria or addressing an imbalance (dysbiosis) due to travel sickness etc. Check with a qualified health provider, nutritionist or naturopath to determine if a probiotic supplement is right for you.
What are prebiotics?
Prebiotics are non-digestible carbohydrates that stimulate the growth of beneficial bacteria in your digestive system. They are the food that probiotics (bacteria) eat. Prebiotics are found naturally in many fruits and vegetables, as well as in certain grains and legumes. Eating sufficient amounts of prebiotic-rich foods can help to promote the growth of beneficial bacteria in your intestine, reduce inflammation and support brain and immune function. Including prebiotic-rich foods in your diet is a great way to naturally improve your gut health.
Do herbal supplements help with digestive health?
Herbal supplements may also be beneficial for supporting digestive health. Certain herbs, such as ginger, chamomile and peppermint, can help to reduce inflammation in the gut, promote healthy digestion and relieve gastrointestinal discomfort. Taking a quality herbal supplement may also be beneficial for supporting digestive health. However, it is important to consult with your healthcare provider first before taking any herbal supplements.
What are short-chain fatty acids?
Butyric acid, propionic acid, and acetic acid are all types of short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) consumed by gut bacteria during the fermentation of dietary fibre. These SCFAs promote the growth of beneficial gut bacteria and improve overall digestive function.
Foods rich in butyric acid include butter, ghee, and fermented milk products like kefir. Butyric acid has been shown to reduce inflammation in the gut and protect against colon cancer.
Propionic acid can be found in Swiss cheese, sourdough bread, and fermented vegetables. Propionic acid can improve insulin sensitivity and reduce systemic inflammation.
Acetic acid is abundant in vinegar and pickled foods. Acetic acid can help control blood sugar levels and improve feelings of fullness, making it a great addition to a weight loss diet. Incorporating these SCFA-rich foods into your diet can have a significant impact on your overall health and well-being.
Simple Foods To Transform Your Gut Health & Improve Digestion
There are many ways you can restore gut health and naturally improve your digestion with food. Eating the right types of fibre, fermented foods and prebiotics can help to restore the balance of good bacteria in your gut, improve nutrient absorption and promote regular bowel movements. In addition, drinking plenty of water is a great way to ensure your digestive system is working well. Following these simple tips can help you achieve optimal digestive health.
Finally, if you have any specific digestive issues, it is important to consult your healthcare provider before making any changes to your diet. With the right guidance, you can make positive dietary changes that will help support and improve your digestive health.
Pear and Almond Yoghurt Bowl with Cinnamon Honey Drizzle
Pears contain dietary fibre, while yoghurt is a classic gut-loving food that boosts beneficial bacteria. Almonds add some protein and crunch, cinnamon has anti-inflammatory properties, and honey is a natural sweetener with some intriguing medicinal properties. Together, these ingredients make for a tasty and nutritious breakfast or snack that supports digestive health.
- 1 ripe pear, sliced
- 1/4 cup plain natural yoghurt
- 1/4 cup sliced almonds
- 1 tbsp honey
- 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
- In a small bowl, drop the sliced pears and yoghurt and mix to combine.
- Sprinkle the sliced almonds on top of the pear and yogurt mixture.
- Drizzle the honey and sprinkle the cinnamon on top.
- Enjoy your delicious and healthy breakfast bowl!