Approximately 40 trillion bacteria live inside your body, most in your gut. They make up the gut microbiome, which is essential for overall health.
Nevertheless, some strains of bacteria can cause many diseases in your intestines. Many factors can affect the type of bacteria in the digestive tract, including the foods you eat.
Here are some ways how you can enhance and strengthen your gut microbiome:
Diversify your diet
Several hundred species of bacteria live in your intestines, each with a unique role and requiring different nutrients to thrive. In general, healthy microbiomes are diverse.
Unfortunately, the typical Western diet is not very nutritious and is rich in fat and sugar. 75 per cent of the world’s food is produced by only 12 plant species and 5 animal species, according to an estimate .
Rural diets are often more varied and richer in plant sources. This explains why gut microbiome diversity is much greater in rural African and South American areas than in urban areas in Europe and the United States .
Make sure you eat lots of beans, fruit, legumes and vegetables
The best sources of nutrients for maintaining an optimal microbiome are fruits and vegetables. However, their high fibre content makes digestion difficult. In contrast, some bacteria in your gut can digest fibre, allowing them to grow.
Fibre is also abundant in beans and legumes. You can improve your gut bacteria by eating foods high in fibre, such as:
- green peas
- whole grains
Studies have shown that eating vegetables and fruits prevents the growth of specific disease-causing bacteria . There is also evidence that apples, artichokes, blueberries, almonds and pistachios can increase bifidobacteria in humans. Beneficial bacteria, such as bifidobacteria, can prevent intestinal inflammation and improve gut health .
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Take fermented foods regularly
Foods that have been fermented are made by breaking down sugars in them by bacteria or yeast. Some examples are:
Lactobacilli are beneficial bacteria found in many of these foods. In addition, intestinal lactobacilli are more abundant in people who eat yogurt frequently.
Furthermore, yogurt may also improve the microbiome‘s function and composition. However, it is necessary to note that most yoghurts, particularly flavoured ones, contain a high amount of sugar. Therefore, plain, unsweetened yoghurt or a flavoured variant made only from milk and bacteria mixtures is best.
To reap the gut health benefits, ensure the label says “contains live active cultures.” Further, fermented soybean milk can increase the number of beneficial bacteria, like bifidobacteria and lactobacilli, by lowering the number of harmful bacteria. Kimchi may also benefit the gut flora .
Consume foods that have prebiotics
In the gut, prebiotics promote the growth of beneficial bacteria. Usually, they are fibre or complex carbohydrates that humans cannot digest. They are therefore broken down by bacteria in the gut and used for energy.
Several fruits, vegetables and whole grains are rich in prebiotics, but they can also be found separately. Resistant starch can also be prebiotic. This starch is not processed in the small intestine and moves into the large intestine, where the microbiota breaks it down.
If applicable and possible, breastfeed for at least six months
The microbiome of a baby begins to develop at birth. Despite this, some studies indicate that babies may be exposed to bacteria even before birth .
The microbiome of formula-fed infants contain fewer bifidobacteria than that of breastfed infants [8, 9, 10]. In addition, breastfeeding may also reduce allergies, obesity, and other health conditions that may be caused by differences in gut bacteria .
Eat whole grains
Beta-glucan is a nondigestible carb found in whole grains. In the large intestine, these carbs promote the growth of beneficial bacteria instead of being absorbed in the small intestine.
Bifidobacteria, lactobacilli, and Bacteroidetes have been shown to grow in humans after eating whole grains . Aside from increasing feelings of fullness, whole grains reduced inflammation and certain risk factors for heart disease in these studies.
It is advisable to keep in mind, however, that gluten-containing grains, such as wheat, barley and rye, may negatively affect gut health due to increased intestinal permeability and inflammation . Further research is necessary to determine if eating grains containing gluten may also alter gut microbiomes in healthy adults without celiac disease or a gluten sensitivity.
Plant-based diets are healthy
Diets containing animal-based foods stimulate the growth of different intestinal bacteria than plant-based diets do. Due to their high fibre content, vegetarian diets may benefit the gut microbiome.
One small study from 2013 found that vegetarian diets reduced levels of disease-causing bacteria, inflammation, and cholesterol in people with obesity . While according to a 2019 review, specific nutrients in plant foods may support gut health by enhancing beneficial bacteria levels and decreasing harmful strains . Although other factors may also play a role, it is still unclear whether vegetarian diets have health benefits for the gut microbiome due to a lack of meat consumption.
Eat foods rich in polyphenols
Many health benefits can be attributed to polyphenols, including reducing blood pressure, inflammation, cholesterol levels, and oxidative stress. Note that polyphenols cannot always be digested by human cells.
It is most likely that polyphenols make their way to the colon, where they are broken down by gut bacteria. The following foods contain polyphenols:
- dark chocolate and cocoa
- grape skins
- green tea
- red wine
Take in more probiotics
In general, probiotics are live microorganisms that have a specific health benefit when consumed. Most of the time, probiotics don’t permanently colonise the intestines.
Nevertheless, they may benefit your health by modifying the composition of your microbiome and boosting your metabolism. Healthy people’s gut microbiomes were little affected by probiotics, according to a review of seven studies.
In those with certain diseases, however, probiotics may improve their gut microbiome. There was mixed evidence regarding the effectiveness of probiotics in altering the microbiome in a review of 63 studies.
But the researchers noted that the probiotics’ most substantial effects seemed to be returning the microbiome to a healthy state after it had been compromised . In spite of this, some studies have shown that probiotics can improve certain gut bacteria’s function and produce specific chemicals.
Fermented foods such as kimchi, kefir, sauerkraut, and yoghurt are probiotic-rich foods that you can consume to increase your intake of probiotics. Supplements containing probiotics are another option. Be sure to consult your doctor before starting supplementation, especially if you take other medications or have underlying health conditions.
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Hit the Gym
Your microbes feel that if they’re working hard to keep you healthy, you should be working too! The microbiomes of physically active people are more nutritious and diverse .
One of the best ways to de-stress after a long day is by working out. Even walking for 30 minutes a day could impact your gut health and help these little microbes continue to manage your stress levels and your mental health.
Many aspects of your health depend on your gut bacteria. A disrupted microbiome has been linked to many chronic diseases in many studies .
A healthy microbiome can be maintained by eating various fresh, whole foods, mainly from plant sources such as fruits, vegetables, legumes, beans and whole grains.