Which Foods Can Improve Your Gut Bacteria
Can what you eat change the bacteria in your gut for the better? Dr Michael Mosley has been finding out which foods and drinks can make the most difference.
The gut microbiome – the diverse community of bacteria that inhabits our intestines – is a hot topic in science right now.
Almost every day we come across headlines claiming that it has the power to influence our health in new and surprising ways, whether it’s our weight, our mood or our ability to resist infection.
Unsurprisingly, given this explosion of interest in our inner ecosystem, our supermarket shelves and pharmacies now stock an array of probiotic products – products containing live bacteria and yeasts – that claim to be able to influence our gut microbiome for the better. But is any of this actually possible?
To find out, Trust Me, I’m A Doctor set up an experiment in Inverness with the help of NHS Highland and 30 volunteers and scientists around the country. We split our volunteers into three groups and over four weeks asked each group to try a different approach that, it’s claimed, can boost gut bacteria for the better.
Our first group tried an off-the-shelf probiotic drink of the type found in most supermarkets. These drinks usually contain one or two species of bacteria that can survive the journey through our powerful stomach acid to set up home in our intestines.
Our second group tried a traditional fermented drink called kefir which contains an array of bacteria and yeast.
Miso: A Traditional Japanese Bean Paste
If nothing else, youve probably had some experience with miso soup, but this soybean paste has a whole host of uses in the kitchen.
Plus, its brimming with good bacteria, and may even helpprevent cancer and lower blood pressure.
Miso paste can be used to make soup, added to salad dressings, or turned into a healthy mustard or plant-based miso-mayo.
Remember to choose organic miso products if you can because most non-organic soy is genetically modified.
Always Leave The Table A Little Hungry
It is not just what you eat but how you eat. The Japanese have a saying eat until you are four-fifths full. Islamic culture has a similar rule, and in Germany they say, Tie off the sack before its full.
Always Leave the Table a Little Hungry means that you should get in the habit of restraint and moderation and not eat too much
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Tempeh: A Traditional Soy Product Thats Been Eaten For Hundreds Of Years
This fermented soy food is becoming easier to find these days, with more and more eateries offering it on their menus and more stores stocking it on shelves.
A 2014 study in the Polish Journal of Microbiology showed that this popular protein can increase healthy bacteria, including Lactobacillus.
Try eating tempeh on sandwiches, in salads, or as a plant-based bacon alternative. Unlike most fermented foods, however, tempeh should be thoroughly cooked before you eat it. And most people find that it needs a lot of seasonings to taste good because plain tempeh can be a bit bitter and very bland.
As with all soy products, choosing organic is best if you can.
Eat Lots Of Vegetables Legumes Beans And Fruit
Fruits and vegetables are the best sources of nutrients for a healthy microbiome.
They are high in fiber, which your body cant digest. However, certain bacteria in your gut can digest fiber, which stimulates their growth.
Beans and legumes also contain very high amounts of fiber.
Some high fiber foods that are good for your gut bacteria include:
One study found that following a diet rich in fruits and vegetables prevented the growth of some disease-causing bacteria (
Many fruits and vegetables are high in fiber. Fiber promotes the growth of beneficial gut bacteria, including specific types such as Bifidobacteria.
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Eat At The Table Never In A Car Or Standing Up
Anything that arrives through a car window isnt real food Likewise anything you can grab on the go while hopping between meetings or snacking on the way home most likely isnt food either. Food is to be enjoyed and that requires more respect for meal times and environments.
Sadly the average American eats one in every five meals in their car, one in four Americans eats at least one fast food meal every single day.
What Are Fermented Foods
Thousands of years ago, our ancestors discovered that sealing a food away from oxygen meant bacteria started eating the sugar and starch turning it into acids or alcohol.
This preserved the food, but it also gave it a unique, tangy flavour.23, 27
We all eat fermented foods without really thinking about it.
Yoghurt, beer, sourdough bread, sour cream, chutney, sauerkraut and its Korean cousin, kimchi, all fall into the fermentation category.24
Other fermented products may be less familiar to you, including kefir a milk drink made from a combination of fermented bacteria and yeast and kombucha, a fermented sweet tea drink.25,26
Sometimes bacteria, like lactic acid, is added to aid the natural fermentation process
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Prioritize Variety In Your Meals
Eating a diverse range of foods helps cultivate a diverse microbiome, which is considered a hallmark of a healthy gut . Pick 1 new vegetable to try every week or so, or make a trip to your local farmers market to see what’s in season!
Alternatively, you can also order Trifecta for ready-to-eat meals packed with variety and nutrient density.
Sweeten & Season Your Food Yourself
Foods and beverages that have been prepared by corporations contain far higher levels of salt and sugar than any ordinary human would ever add says Pollan.If you season and sweeten foods yourselves youll find youll be consuming far less salt, calories as well as avoiding other harmful additives.Better still if you cook the food from scratch in which case youll also be omitting all the additives and favour enhancers that are so common in commercial food and even restaurants.
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Probiotic Foods To Support Your Gut
Including these probiotic foods in your diet can help your gut microbes to flourish
Want to know which probiotic foods to eat to improve your health and wellbeing? As well as breaking down foods and absorbing nutrients, the gut has a massive impact on how well the body and mind works. Probiotics are live bacteria in either food or supplement form that can help the digestive system to function more efficiently by improving or restoring balance in the gut microbiome.
Research by Kings College London in the UK revealed that what we eat impacts our gut flora even more than genetics. The study pinpointed a group of 15 good and 15 bad gut microbes that are linked to better or worse health outcomes, including inflammation, blood sugar control and weight.
Gut health is clearly important, but how does it work and where do probiotic foods come in? The enteric nervous system in our guts communicates with the brain, and they work closely together to keep the body healthy and fight disease. This complex relationship is known as the gut-brain axis. One of the simplest things we can do to optimize this connection is eating a diet rich in probiotic foods, or taking probiotic supplements.
Probiotics Are Great For Your Gut
Probiotics are chock-full of live bacteria that will help ensure your gut is populated by mostly the good types of microbes. You can get a good probiotic supplement at your local health food store, however, make sure you ask your doctor what strains of cultures are best for you, and the condition you are trying to treat. There are many probiotic products out there that claim to have live cultures but do not, so it is important to do your research beforehand and speak to a registered dietitian or health care professional about choosing a probiotic that is right for you.
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The Good Gut Bacteria List
There are more than 30,000 named strains of bacteria. With so many options, how do you know which ones are the good ones that belong in your gut?
Here are some of the strains that will provide the strongest health benefits.
- Lactobacillus: helps digest food, creates unfavorable conditions for bad bacteria
- Bifidobacteria: helps repair stomach ulcers, treats constipation
- Streptococcus: alleviates gastrointestinal issues associated with lactose intolerance, eliminates halitosis
- Bacillus coagulans: treats gastrointestinal issues, may prevent respiratory infections and promote the immune system
All Things In Moderation Including Moderation Itself
One of my favourite sayings I cant remember who or where I first hear this from but it applies to all walks of life.Exercise self restraint most of the time but reward yourself when you deserve it and dont let your discipline prevent you from enjoying the odd indulgence.As has been noted in many studies stress has been found to be just as harmful as a bad diet so remember to enjoy life and treat yourself once in a while.
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Eat More Whole Grains Nuts Load Up On Veggies Beans And Fresh Fruits
Here is yet another reason to eat fresh, whole foods. Barley, oats, quinoa, bulger, and other whole grains have fiber that we need to bulk up our intestines and help things to move through.
Whole grains then become a type of feed for the bacteria inhabiting the microbiome. It may sound strange that we have all these minute bacteria floating around in there, but they keep things running smoothly.
Eating more whole grains has been shown to increase the types and numbers of bacteria in our gut. The same is true of nuts, so pick up a variety of walnuts, pecans, pistachios or almonds, remembering that a serving is what fits into the palm of your hand.
Whole, fresh vegetables, beans and legumes, and a variety of fresh fruits serve as nutrition for the bacteria in our gut. Shop your local farmers market for fresh, whole foods in season and prepare your microbiome for your locale.
The Link Between Your Teeth And Your Gut
Brush and floss your teeth regularly. Having regular dental cleanings and check-ups may not seem to be important to a healthy microbiome, but studies at Cornell University and in Sweden have found that bacteria from your mouth can get into your stomach and cause problems.
Avoid the bad guys taking over the good guys in your tummy by taking care of your teeth.
Limit sugary foods, said Susan Mintz, RN, BSN, CDE, of Brunswick County Health Department in Bolivia, North Carolina. In addition to being inflammatory to the system, sugar can cause yeast to grow and it can throw off delicate gut balances. In addition, avoid prepackaged foods and stay away from processed foods.
In addition to being inflammatory to the system, sugar can cause yeast to grow and it can throw off delicate gut balances.
The science to back this up shows high sugar environments are bad for gut health.
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Why Gut Health Is Important For Your Body And Your Mind
The gut is composed of a whole host of microbes that affect your physiology and keep your body and brain functioning as they should.
As studies tell us, these gut microbes affect the way you store fat, how you balance levels of glucose in your blood, and how you respond to hormones that make you feel hungry or satiated.
The wrong internal mix can set the stage for obesity and other health issues later in life.
Scientists have also found that gut bacteria produce neurotransmitters that regulate your mood including serotonin, dopamine, and GABA.
Researchers have also discovered that a nervous system in your gut communicates with the brain in your head. It also plays a role in certain diseases and in mental health.
In other words, the wellness of both your body and your brain depend on your gut health.
Dont Eat Food That Is Advertised
94% of advertising budgets for food are for processed food. Real food is not being advertised says Pollan. The farmer doesnt have money to advertise his broccoli.Advertising is fuelling the profits of the large corporations such as Nestle, Coca-Cola, Pepsi and Kraft-Heinz. These companies dont produce healthy food!Whats more avoid any food that claims to have health benefits these claims such as No added sugar or contains whole wheat can create the false impression that a product is healthy when its not.
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How To Get Good Gut Bacteria
Colonies of beneficial bacteria are naturally present in your body. But you can strengthen them, and your health, with probiotics.
Probiotics are bacteria found in food, drinks, and supplements that are the same or close to the good bacteria in your gut. They add to the numbers of beneficial bacteria, encourage the colonies to thrive, and crowd out bad bacteria.
Lets take a look at your best options for introducing more good gut bacteria into your system.
What Is The Gut Microbiome
Trillions of microorganisms that live in our digestive tract and directly impact our immune function comprise our gut microbiome. In fact, we can boost the good gut bacteria with gut-healthy foods.
Furthermore, according to research, several diseases are influenced by an imbalanced microbiome where beneficial microbes may be missing because of poor diet or other causes. These illnesses include cancer, autoimmune disorders, multiple sclerosis, and even autism. The good news is, theres a lot we can do to boost our gut-healing capacity through eating whole foods like kefir and fermented foods that help with digestive health.
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The Effect Of Bad Gut Bacteria
When your gut microbiome is off-balance, the bad bacteria take over. Their colonies grow in strength and numbers, effectively crowding out the good bacteria until they can no longer flourish.
This unwelcome state is known as dysbiosis, and its surprisingly common. In fact, theres a high probability that your body is currently in dysbiosis and you just havent realized it yet.
Your body, however, does realize it and will let you know through subtle signs. And if you dont pay attention and heed its warnings? Those signs will become even stronger, until your health wont let you ignore them.
Your body will start the bacterial warning bells with subtle signs, including:
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome
- Ulcerative colitis
All in all, when the majority of your gut bacteria are bad bacteria, it will negatively impact your emotional, mental, and physical health.
Follow These 5 Steps To Improve Your Gut Health
Given that we all want to live long, vibrant lives, lets dive into simple ways to improve your gut microbiome.
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What Happens In The Gut
The gut is a nine-metre-long tube that starts at the mouth, moves from the oesophagus to the stomach, through the small and large intestines, and ends at the back passage.
Its where digestion takes place, and this involves three important processes:
Processed And Refined Foods
“While I wouldn’t go as far as to say you need to cut certain foods out of your diet foreverfood is about enjoyment too, after alllimiting highly processed foods loaded with additives and salt will do you and your gut microbes good,” says Rossi. It’s hard to study “processed foods” as a whole because each food has different ingredients, but the biggest issue with processed and refined foods is that they lack diversity and fiber and are often filled with added sugars, salt, artificial sweeteners and/or additives and preservatives. Your microbiome thrives on diverse fibers and polyphenols from a variety of colorful fruits, vegetables and whole grains.
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Probiotics And Prebiotics: Two Gut
These two terms probiotics and prebiotics are becoming more widely known, so youve probably heard them.
Probiotics are beneficial good gut bugs. And prebiotics are food for these bacteria.
You can get both probiotics and prebiotics by eating the right foods.
Probiotics are found in fermented foods, as well as in some supplements. And prebiotics are found in certain fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. The most central prebiotic of all is fiber.