You aren’t alone. But really – even when you think you’re alone, you’re not. You have a full community of bacteria living in your gut: your gut-microbiome. When you eat, you are not only feeding yourself – you are also feeding that community. It sounds alarming and maybe even gross, but don’t worry. They are incredibly helpful for your health – if you are feeding them what they need.
How did they get there?
Your first exposure to the bacteria that inhabits your gut [and other areas of your body] happens at birth. Vaginal birth provides bacteria from the mother and every other interaction thereafter provides additional bacteria exposure. Breastfeeding also provides antibodies and other microbes that will eventually colonize in the gut. They live primarily in the large intestine (colon). Everything that is consumed can have an impact on the gut-microbiome.
How to feed the gut-microbiome?
Research is still on going in this area. The preferred bacteria count for each species (there are MANY species), has yet to be determined. There still is not a lot of research on what species are most beneficial. Human beings are very unique and it has been tough to find consensus in this area because of the uniqueness of each human being [and other factors].
What we do know is that fiber, particularly plant-based fibers help this community thrive. When they are fed with plant-based fibers, they too create waste-products (like we do). The waste-products they produce are beneficial molecules that actually interact with many systems of our body and seem to provide some protective benefits. Some of the systems include our immune system, nervous system, endocrine system, digestive system and more. If you are consistently consuming colorful, plant-based fibers, the beneficial bacteria will continue to thrive and multiply.
Eat the rainbow. Find as many colorful vegetables and fruit that you are willing to try. Also incorporate things like legumes, nuts, whole grains, and seeds. The more consistently diverse your diet is, the more diverse your gut-microbiome will continue to be. Fermented foods can also be helpful in populating the gut with new bacteria.
Processed Foods and Alcohol
Processed foods are not inherently bad. They are convenient, cheap and quick to find. The problem is that because of the convenience they provide, processed foods have replaced many of these whole, fiber-rich foods. If person’s diet is consistently filled with mostly processed foods, the beneficial bacteria are unable to thrive because they are not being fed what they need. Regular alcohol intake has been shown to have a poor impact on the gut-microbiome. in addition to other negative health impacts. Regular consumption of both of these things can result in some not so pleasant gastrointestinal symptoms. Instead of focusing on food restriction, try focusing on what can be added into an overall diet. Below are some examples.
Plant-Based Food Ideas
- Peppers, onions, garlic, asparagus, carrots
- Kale, spinach, zucchini, celery, cabbage
- Kiwi, apple, lemon, orange, tomato
- Quinoa, Chia seeds, flax seeds
- Black, pinto, kidney beans
- Whole grain bread, sourdough, oats
- Blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, blackberries
- Fermented foods: kombucha, sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir, greek yogurt
These are just a few ideas – the list doesn’t end here!
If you want to read more about this, here are a few great resources on this topic that are easy reads:
The Good Gut – written by two well-known PhD’s out of Stanford who study this topic.
Leeuwendaal NK, Stanton C, O’Toole PW, Beresford TP. Fermented Foods, Health and the Gut Microbiome. Nutrients. 2022;14(7):1527. Published 2022 Apr 6. doi:10.3390/nu14071527 – if you want to get really science-y.
If you are looking for a gastroenterologist that specializes in IBS and other specialty related illnesses – please check out https://gastrodirectnc.com. Dr. Scholl has a huge interest in the gut-microbiome. She is very knowledgeable, compassionate and WILL LISTEN TO YOU.
This is not medical advice. This is a subject that I am extremely interested in as a future registered dietitian. I am so interested in this that I am considering doing a PhD in this very topic [if I don’t do PA school]. Stay tuned for more on this in the future.
Thanks for reading x