What is gut microbiota or gut health?
Gut microbiota is the bacteria population that resides in our intestines and is made up of trillions of organisms and over 1000 different species. An alteration in gut bacteria, also known as gut dysbiosis, has been associated with the development or worsening of inflammatory-driven diseases and infections. While it has been heavily established that diet is the main driver of our gut microbiota composition, other environmental factors have also been shown to alter gut microbiota: geographical location, surgery, antibiotic use, infection, smoking, stress, depression and living arrangements (urban or rural).
How does gut microbiota and dysbiosis affect our health?
In cases of autoimmune and chronic diseases, the immune system and inflammation both play a role. Research shows that a lack of bacterial diversity and/or overgrowth of certain bacteria can increase the risk of developing diseases. In autoimmune diseases, the immune system attacks body cells and tissues, subsequently causing a continuous inflammatory response. However, a healthy microbiome can strengthen the permeability of the gut mucosa, a membrane that lines body cavities, which makes it harder for the pro-inflammatory cells to cross into other parts of the body. Therefore, the makeup of microbiota can influence our susceptibility of developing autoimmune issues or other chronic diseases, such as Crohn’s disease, irritable bowel syndrome, obesity, and diabetes mellitus. Additionally, it has been linked to cardiovascular disease, cancer, dementia and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, especially when the body is already in a chronic pro-inflammatory state.
How does diet play a role in gut health?
As mentioned earlier, diet plays a very important role in promoting or inhibiting bacterial diversity. Changes to the diet may alter gut bacteria if fiber, fruits, and vegetables are implemented, as well as consuming a wide variety of foods. Incredibly, one study found that the addition of these fibers to one’s diet almost immediately changed the abundance of several species of bacteria. Fiber containing foods will come from plants, such as fruits (berries, bananas, apples, oranges, etc.), vegetables (Brussels sprouts, broccoli, carrots, kale, spinach, etc.), whole grains and legumes (beans). However, when getting your fiber from whole grains, it’s important to limit processed versions like cereals and breads as these can have added sugars and preservatives and some research suggests this can lead to dysbiosis. Lastly, it is well-known that probiotics and fermented foods have a positive impact on gut health. Foods like yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi, miso, tempeh and kombucha are all fermented and contain “good” bacteria.
What can I eat to improve my gut health?
While all of this information may seem a little overwhelming, small changes like adding kimchi to your black bean tacos or miso to your soups/ramen can positively change your microbiota. Breakfast is also an easy meal to add in fiber. For example, oatmeal with Greek yogurt, diced apples and mixed berries mixed in packs a huge fiber punch and is also simple and quick to make. Additionally, aim to fill half of your plate with fruits and/or vegetables for extra fiber throughout the day!
Article written by Mallory Lawson, Ashton Housholder and Hannah Carillo. Mallory, Ashton and Hannah are students in the Cox College Nutrition Diagnostics Dietetic Internship program.
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