Most of us know the age old adage, “You are what you eat,” but the truth is that you are actually what your microbiota eats. Just like every surface of your body, the lining of your gut is teeming with microscopic creatures, most of which are bacteria- single-celled organisms that have had a bad rap throughout our childhood years. With immunity on the forefront, paying attention to this detail now more than ever can improve the overall health of your body.
While yes, there are some bacteria like E. coli or Pseudomonas that create a myriad of issues for us, most bacteria in our gut are actually good and only work to help us. We have an incredibly broad population of micro organisms that live inside our organs that, when in balance, bring our body vitality, balance, and health. This cluster of bacterial micro organisms is called “gut microbiota.”
Having proper balance of the numerous species of bacteria in our gut is vital, and there are two main ways to establish this balance. The first is to nourish the microbes that are already there with the foods they like, called prebiotics. The second way is to add living microbes directly to your system, which many of us know as probiotics.
The Importance of the Gut Microbiome
Science is coming at us incredibly fast and what we know about the gut microbiota now is very different from what we knew even 20 years ago. What scientists, researchers, and doctors have concluded is that the thirty-nine trillion micro organisms in our colon, most of them bacteria, work to establish health and balance in the body. The gut microbiome, the genetic code of the gut microbiota, has been linked to immunity, metabolism, hormonal balance, cognition, and gene expression.
A myriad of health conditions and symptoms has also been associated with dysbiosis, the imbalance of good and bad micro bacteria in the gut. Things like abdominal pain, food sensitivities, skin breakouts, bad breath, mucus in stool, constipation, gas, mood, and many more can be attributed to the health of our gut microbiome.
And more emerging research shows a clear link between the gut and our immune system. The microbiota helps foster proper development of immune cells, identify invaders, and enhance the fighting power of our immune response. When we take care of our gut microbiome, it takes care of us!
So What Are Probiotics?
Probiotics are foods that contain live organisms, usually strains of specific bacteria that add to the population of the micro bacteria already in your gut. You can take probiotics through both food and supplements. A very common source of probiotics is in dairy yogurt, however, some may not choose to eat dairy yogurt, as it may cause inflammation and irritation for some people. If you’re not a fan of dairy yogurt, there are plenty of other completely plant-based food sources of probiotics that you can use to add to your gut health!
Try bacteria-fermented foods like sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha, sourdough bread, miso, or plant-based yogurts next time you are looking to increase your probiotic intake.
Supplements are also available on the market that contain live organisms. Different supplements include different strains of microbes and most commonly come in blends. The most common one in supplements we see is lactobacillus acidophilus.
Possibly most important in maintaining gut health is the inclusion of prebiotic foods in your diet. And you are probably already doing it! Prebiotics are specialized plant fibers only found in-you guessed it-plants! They are found in many fruits and vegetables, especially those prepared in the whole form that contain complex carbohydrates such as fiber and resistant starch. These types of carbohydrates are not digestible by the body, but that does not mean they are useless. They actually feed our gut microbiota, which keeps them happy and functioning.
The list of prebiotics that you can include in your diet is quite expansive, simply because all plant foods contain fiber. However, some foods are more rich in fiber than others and will be more rich in prebiotics than others. Some examples include: garlic, oats, bananas (more on the green side), onions, asparagus, yams, Jerusalem artichokes, and jicama.
There are also many prebiotic supplements, but they usually contain a large amount of fiber. Supplements can help jump start your pre biotic game, but as always it is best to get nutrients in the whole food form so that your body can benefit from all aspects of the food. This includes the vitamins, minerals, protein, healthy fats, etc.
Some Closing thoughts
It is incredibly vital for our bodies to have a healthy balance of microbiota in our gut for optimal health. These little creatures not only help us process our food, but also help regulate our immune system, hormonal balance, cognition, metabolism, and so much more.
Science is continually evolving and emerging, but what we know for sure is that the better we feed our gut microbiome, the better it takes care of us. Probiotics introduce more helpful bacteria into our bodies, but it’s important to feed them with prebiotics so they may continue doing their job. As always, consult your physician when considering changing your diet or starting a supplement. A registered dietitian or health expert can help you identify and incorporate these foods into your diet.
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