Many of us have associated bacteria with disease and infection ever since we were kids – after all, from an early age we’re taught about how diseases are spread through bacteria, and even today many people die every year from stubborn bacterial infections.
But there are bacteria that do us more good than harm – and they’re found inside our guts.
The human microbiome is made up of 100 trillion different types of bacteria living in our intestines(1), most of which have beneficial functions. These bacteria have a huge effect on our health, as well as on our risk for developing specific diseases, our mood, and even our weight.
The Important Role Of Gut Bacteria
As we come to understand better how our bodies work (thanks to modern science), we’ve realized that our gut bacteria are instrumental in some seriously life-sustaining functions.
They balance our immune system(2), control inflammation(3), help detox our bodies(4), aid in the production of serotonin(5), manufacture vitamins(6), harvest nutrients from the food we eat(7), and keep us from developing a “leaky gut”(8).
Preventing leaky gut is particularly important, as the breakdown of the lining of our intestines is associated with all kinds of serious health problems – like depression(9), obesity(10), anxiety(11), type 2 diabetes(12), and Alzheimer’s disease(13).
Clearly, keeping our gut lining – and the bacteria that live there – healthy and functional should be a high priority for everyone.
When our gut bacteria are healthy, we’re less susceptible to chronic inflammation, which is associated with several chronic health conditions, including coronary artery disease(14) and certain forms of cancer(15). But when they’re unhealthy, it can make us seriously sick in more ways than one.
Eating For A Healthier Microbiome
Food has a major role to play in the health of our gut bacteria. Our food choices have a profound effect on the diversity of our gut bacteria – and more diversity means a healthier microbiome. So how can we choose foods that promote microbiome health instead of inhibiting it?
First of all, limit your intake of refined sugars – these can encourage the growth of bad gut bacteria. And it’s not just refined sugar that can mess with your microbiome – artificial sweeteners like aspartame can actually be worse than sugar when it comes to fostering an environment that these “bad bugs” thrive in.
A recent study found that Americans who ate diets heavy in processed fast foods had significantly limited bacterial diversity in their guts, as compared to residents of South Africa, whose diets were higher in fibre. Switching diets for two weeks revealed that the impact diet has on our guts is not only significant, but can happen – and be reversed – fairly quickly(16).
Foods To Eat That Promote Microbiome Diversity
The foods that promote healthy bacterial activity in our guts may not always be the most appetizing, but there’s plenty of ways to incorporate them into your diet. Fermented foods, which are naturally rich in probiotics, are great to start with – foods like kimchi, cultured yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, pickles, and cultured sour cream(17) are all things you should try eating regularly.
The good news is that many of these foods are readily available in most grocery stores and supermarkets. Try to have about 1 to 2 servings of fermented foods per day.
But the potential benefits don’t begin and end with probiotics – prebiotic foods, rich in prebiotic fiber, are important as well.
Foods that contain prebiotic fibers include chicory root, dandelion greens, onions, garlic, and asparagus(18).
Many people find that when their diet is tailored to help keep their microbiome healthy and flourishing, they have more energy and an easier time losing weight. So start making these gut bacteria-friendly foods a part of your diet as soon as you can.