Let’s take a look at the microcosm of the human gut and how it serves to protect our health! Specifically, let’s talk about how you can adapt your diet to support the positive influence of your gut bacteria on your intestinal health.
Bacteria have a reputation of being the villains of almost every health story ever told. In many cases, this is deservedly so.
Certain strains of these microorganisms can wreak havoc on your health, causing infections, inflammation, and various diseases. Other bacteria, however, happily coexist inside your intestines, offering you all kinds of support in maintaining your overall health.
The Microbial Ecosystem of your Gut
The Human Microbiome Project (HMP), whose aim is to map out and explore all the microbial communities on the human body as well as their role in human health, was kind enough to share some of their most significant research findings regarding the symbiotic relationship between humans and bacteria. Thanks to their research, we know that over 10,000 species of microbes inhabit every person’s body, including on our skin, teeth, and in our saliva, lungs and intestines.
According to the European Society of Neurogastroenterology and Motility (ESNM), the human gut is home to at least 1,000 different bacterial species in varying numbers. They have a different composition in every person’s gut, and they outnumber human cells by 10 to 1.
It’s important to note that their roles and numbers change depending on our state of health, diet and other factors.
The Gut Microbiota and Health
Despite their infinitesimal size, they have an enormous and irreplaceable physiological role in our health.
The HMP, ESNM, and independent researchers all agree that without these tiny creatures, our bodies wouldn’t be able to perform numerous functions such as:
- Digesting food properly
- Producing crucial nutrients, such as vitamins K and B,
- Supporting our immune system by protecting us from various diseases
- Maintaining our mental health
While we have much to learn, the existing research points to food as one of the key influences on our intestinal microbiome.
Intestinal Health: Feeding the Friendly Bacteria
A healthy gut is brimming with a wealth of diverse bacterial species, and in order to maintain balance, our diet needs to be equally diverse and healthy.
So, how can you make sure that your diet is feeding your gut and promoting a healthy intestinal balance?
Focus on Fiber
Including fiber-rich foods into your diet will help feed your intestinal bacteria, promoting their diversity and optimal function. This is because your gut bacteria use the fiber for fuel. As a byproduct, they produce healthy fatty acids, such as acetate, propionate, and butyrate, which help your immune system regulate potential inflammation.
Plants are the only natural source of fiber. Fruits, vegetable, beans, nuts, seeds and grains provide a rich in diversity of healthy types of dietary fiber, including cellulose, lignin, and pectin. Aim to consume 30 to 35 g of healthy fiber from whole plant foods!
Hitting this fiber intake goal will improve your gut bacterial health and lower your risk for developing:
- Inflammatory bowel diseases
- Type 2 diabetes
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Autoimmune disorders
- Colon cancer
Find Friendly Probiotics
Probiotics are living microorganisms belonging to the same bacterial families found in your intestines. Some of them are able to survive the digestion journey to your gut and contribute to your friendly bacterial colony.
You can find probiotics in fermented foods including sauerkraut, tempeh, miso, pickled vegetables, vinegars (including apple cider vinegar), kimchi and natto. Finding ways to mix these foods into your daily diet can do wonders for protecting the healthy balance of your gut bacteria.
If you really aren’t a fan of fermented foods, or you just don’t eat them enough, you can, of course, turn to probiotic supplements as well.
Take Home Message
Foods that are rich in fiber, probiotics and prebiotics help protect your gut health. A diet rich in these foods is perfect for optimizing your gut function.
Once again, a diet based on a variety of powerhouse fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds for your daily needs of prebiotics. Consuming fermented foods rich in probiotics will also help you maintain a diverse and healthy gut microbiota.
Since each of our microbiotas is structured differently, there is no “template” for a perfect diet. You need to listen to your body and tailor your diet to how your body reacts to individual foods.