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We have a great guest post written for you by our recent dietetic intern Matthew Conye. In this post he focuses on the up and coming area of interest and research of the gut microbiome and some options for supporting your gut microbiome naturally throughout our day to day eating lifestyle choices. Read the article below for these great tips and insights!

In recent years our intestinal bacteria (aka our gut microbiome) has entered the healthcare spotlight as more research points towards it playing an important role in our overall health.  There is still much to be uncovered when it comes to how our microbiome specifically functions, but current studies all point to it having some form of involvement in breaking down our food to allow for better nutrient extraction, aiding our immune system, and regulating aspects of our mental health such as stress, memory, and anxiety.   It appears that keeping our microbiome in a healthy state contributes much to keeping us in a healthy state.  

So how do we go about keeping our guts healthy? 

The trillions of bacteria that makeup our microbiomes are populated by 6 main groups (phyla) which are primarily made up by 160 bacteria species.  Research points to a “healthy” microbiome as being characterized by diversity amongst its species and the right proportion amongst those main groups.  Diversity and proportions are influenced by several factors including genetics, birth delivery method, geography, stage of life, use of antibiotics, and diet.  

We are unable to make change to many of these factors, but diet stands out as the one we can contribute to daily.  Here’s what current research is saying on how to take care of our microbiome through our diet.

  • Include a diverse diet that emphasizes plant foods.  This means we are regularly consuming a variety of fruits and vegetables, fiber, whole grains, lean meats, dairy, and healthy fats. 
  • Include prebiotic foods.  These foods contain fiber that help feed and encourage growth in our good gut bacteria and include foods such as apples, bananas, artichokes, garlic, onions, and leafy green vegetables among many others. 
  • Include probiotic foods.  Probiotics foods have helpful live bacteria assist in building and repairing our microbiomes. Yogurt, miso, kombucha, kimchi, fermented cheeses, and sauerkraut are excellent probiotics sources to incorporate into our diets.
  • Minimize Western diet foods.  This includes processed sugars, highly processed foods, excessive red meat and saturated fats, and excessive alcohol and have been shown to decrease immunity processes within our guts, negatively change our microbiome population, and can cause negative gut inflammation. 
  • Mindfully use antibiotics.  Doctor prescribed antibiotics can be necessary in certain medical situations, just be aware that they can significantly diminish our microbiome.  Speak with a dietitian about recommended probiotic intakes to restore the microbiome population.

This overall food pattern steers away from the typical Western diet and emphasizes a diverse, plant-based diet and while these patterns are frequently recommended from many research studies to promote that microbiome diversity, keep in mind that other studies have found other positive dietary recommendations that may differ from the ones listed here. 

An exact blueprint of what a healthy microbiome looks like currently doesn’t exist since every individual’s gut and overall health are affected by a number of factors, but certain trends are beginning to emerge as researchers further their understandings of microbiome processes and functions.  

These quick dietary recommendations are a great place to start building a healthier gut, but there is much more to learn about the microbiome!  Research has found links between how our microbiome health affects chronic intestinal conditions such as Celiac disease, Crohn’s Disease, Ulcerative Colitis, and colorectal cancer, to the microbiome’s contributing role to overweight and obese states, and to mental health.  Look into these topics for yourself and chat with your dietitian and healthcare provider more about this subject to see what they recommend; keeping your microbiome healthy could very well significantly impact your own health journey!