By Caroline Thomason
*not gummy worms*
You may have heard of it… the Microbiome has become somewhat of a nutrition buzzword lately. Some also call it the microbiota or the human gut flora. Either way, if you haven’t heard of it, the microbiome is a collection of trillions (!!!) of bacteria found inside the human gut. This topic isn’t sexy at first; but bear with me, and you’ll see that there is more than what meets the eye (literally, they are microscopic ;)).
Our intestines house these little gut bugs – who out number our human cells up to ten times! There are thousands of different strands of bacteria amongst them. Normally when we think of bacteria, we think of contamination or disease. The bacteria of the microbiota play a beneficial role in helping us digest and process certain foods – predominantly indigestible fibers. Some researchers have suggested that we should consider the microbiome its own organ because of all the metabolic processes in which it plays a role.
Quite literally, whatever we eat; our microbiome “eats”. This simple fact has proven to be pretty important, as the microbiome changes its composition of good or bad bacteria based on OUR diet. For example, a diet high in sugar, salt, and saturated fat is known to increase the amount of bad bacteria in our gut. If that’s not already disturbing, these bad bacteria will secrete their own hormones that are picked up by the human cells to create a desire for more salt, sugar, and saturated fat. Thus, it appears that there is a cycle: the types of food you eat influences your gut bacteria which in turn influences you to crave more of the food you have been eating! However, the silver lining is that foods that promote the good bacteria will also reinforce us to eat more of the same foods.
Foods that nourish the good bacteria in our gut include prebiotics and probiotics. Prebiotics are found in fibrous vegetables. These compounds are indigestible fibers that human cells cannot break down. However, the microbiome “eats” these fibers and allows us to better absorb nutrients. Probiotics are found in fermented foods (think: sauerkraut), dairy products (think: Greek over regular yogurt), or supplements. If you are considering a probiotic supplement, you will want to find one that contains not only *millions* of bacteria, but also a diversity of strands. As prebiotics are food for our microbiome, probiotics replenish and diversify the different strands of the microbiome. Probiotics add more bacteria to our gut.
The microbiome has proven to influence more than digestion: cognitive function, insulin production, and even the immune system positively benefit from a healthy microbiome. These are all great things! There is so much emerging research on the microbiome… next time you hear of it, I hope you understand a little more of what they’re saying!
Tips for improving YOUR microbiome:
- Eat a variety of vegetables for the prebiotic properties (Bonus: you might find that you want to eat more vegetables once you start)
- Eat fermented foods for added probiotics (sauerkraut, Greek yogurt, or even Kombucha)
- Eat a diet high in healthy Omega 3 fats (Salmon, walnuts, coconut oil) to assist in anti-inflammatory gut healing
- Eat foods naturally low in salt, sugar, and saturated fat