If you don’t know, you’ll want to find out what it is and why gut health is so important.

You have likely heard by now that maintaining a healthy gut is important to human health, but why is that?

Gut health refers to the balance of microorganisms (such as fungi, bacteria, and viruses) that live in our digestive system. You might be surprised to learn that having a healthy microbiome can reduce your risk of allergy, inflammatory bowel disease, obesity, diabetes and even certain types of cancer.

Introduction to the microbiome

Our microbiome consists of trillions of microorganisms of which contain thousands of different types that exist in the largest numbers in our small and large intestines.  The microbiome is even labeled a supporting organ because it plays so many key roles in promoting the daily operations of the human body.

Each person’s microbiome is unique to them. A person is first exposed to microorganisms as an infant, during delivery and through the mother’s breast milk or formula. Exactly which microorganisms the infant is exposed to depends solely on the species found in the mother. Later on, environmental exposures and diet can change one’s microbiome to be either beneficial to health or place one at greater risk for diseases such as inflammatory bowel disease, obesity diabetes, cardiovascular and liver disease.

Good microbiome and the not so good microbiome

Microbiomes are made up of microbes that can be both helpful and harmful. When there is an imbalance of the two, it is called dysbiosis which can lead the body to be more susceptible to disease. Dysbiosis can be caused by infectious illness, certain diets, prolonged use of antibiotics, or bacteria-destroying medications.

Helpful microbes stimulate the immune system by breaking down toxic food components and synthesize certain vitamins and amino acids like vitamin K.

The microbiota of a healthy person will also provide protection from pathogenic organisms that enter the body such as through drinking or eating contaminated water or food.

How to Create a Healthy Microbiome

Now that you know why a healthy gut is so important, you’re probably wondering how do I keep my gut healthy? The answer is prebiotics and probiotics.

Prebiotics are the undigestible portions of fiber and help to nourish the bacteria in your gut. Prebiotics help to promote growth of the “good” bacteria which may improve your gastrointestinal or gut health.

Prebiotics include fructooligosaccharides, such as inulin and galactooligosaccharides. You can get more prebiotics in your diet by including fruits, vegetables, and whole grains such as bananas, onions, garlic, leeks, asparagus, artichokes, beans, and whole-grain foods.

Probiotics are live bacteria and yeast found naturally in your gut. They can help change or help promote good intestinal bacteria to balance your gut flora. This may promote a boost in immunity and overall health.

You can find probiotics naturally in fermented foods such as yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi, miso, tempeh, and cultured non-dairy yogurts.

In summary, prebiotics and probiotics work together to improve your gut health. You can think of prebiotics as the food that “feeds” the probiotics in your gut.  Consider incorporating both prebiotics and probiotics to your next meal by topping yogurt with fruit, adding kefir to a fruit and vegetable smoothie, or incorporating tempeh to a vegetable stir-fry dish.

Eating Right for Your Gut

Choosing the right foods to create the best environment for your gut can lead to a healthier you! So, the next time you are thinking about what to eat, aim to include a variety of different foods and incorporate foods that contain both pre- and probiotics. You might be surprised to find that your digestion, mood, and overall health improve by making some intentional changes to your food choices.

References:

1. Zhang YJ, Li S, Gan RY, Zhou T, Xu DP, Li HB. Impacts of gut bacteria on human health and diseases. Int J Mol Sci. 2015 Apr 2;16(4):7493-519. doi: 10.3390/ijms16047493. PMID: 25849657; PMCID: PMC4425030. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4425030/

2.  Harvard School of Public Health. The Microbiome. Available at: https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/microbiome/

3. Ursell LK, Metcalf JL, Parfrey LW, Knight R. Defining the human microbiome. Nutr Rev. 2012 Aug;70 Suppl 1(Suppl 1):S38-44. doi: 10.1111/j.1753-4887.2012.00493.x. PMID: 22861806; PMCID: PMC3426293. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3426293/

5.  Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Prebiotics and Probiotics: Creating a Healthier You. Available at: https://www.eatright.org/food/vitamins-and-supplements/nutrient-rich-foods/prebiotics-and-probiotics-creating-a-healthier-you