The microbiome is a collection of bacteria that lives in the digestive tract that is critical to health and well-being. There are hundreds or even thousands of different species of bacteria present in the gut and all have their own function. Some aid in digestion, produce enzymes to break down food, while others assist with metabolism or produce vitamins. The gut microbiota, if not looked after correctly, can contribute to insulin resistance, low grade inflammation, fat deposition and therefore indirectly participate in the onset of obesity and metabolic diseases.
The microbiome is established shortly after birth and determined by many different environmental factors, including natural vs caesarean birth. By the age of 2-5 most children have a full adult ‘set’ of gut microbiota, which weighs about 2kg!
A healthy balance of gut bacteria is crucial to health and well-being. If an imbalance is present, individuals can be more susceptible to illnesses and have issues managing weight. A balance includes diversity – the more diverse your gut microbes are, the more likely you will be healthy, however, the sparser or limited your gut microbes are, the more likely you are to be unhealthy or overweight.
The quality and diversity of the bacteria present in your gut can deteriorate with a poor diet. To ensure that your bacteria stay healthy, it is important to eat a wide variety of foods every day, especially plant based foods. These plant-based foods feed the good bacteria in your gut and are known as prebiotics – non-digestible carbohydrates that trigger the growth of good bacteria. Foods that are high in prebiotics include onion, garlic, leeks, artichokes, stone fruit, watermelon, dried fruit, barley, rye, wheat based products and legumes.
A gluten free diet will often contain limited amounts of complex carbohydrates and associated fibre. In order to maintain adequate gut health, it is recommended to use gluten free wholegrain equivalents when following a gluten free diet. These include gluten free pasta, quinoa, rice, buckwheat. Not only do these foods contain fibre, they are also a source of prebiotics, which are essential for feeding gut bacteria.
You can improve the quality of the bacteria present in your gut with the consumption of probiotics (‘good bacteria’), however, in order for these new ‘good’ strains to stay in the gut, the consumption of probiotics needs to be regularly and ongoing, enabling these bacteria to colonise and become the predominant strain. So, taking probiotics every day for one week and then not again will provide no long-term benefit to your gut health.
Top rules for improving gut health:
- Eat as many wholefoods as possible.
- Eat fermented food – yoghurt, kimchi, sauerkraut all contain good bacteria needed for the gut.
- Decrease alcohol and sugar. Avoiding these for 2 weeks will improve gut performance and weight loss.
- Eat fibre rich food after a junk meal. Fruit, veggies and wholegrains help to replenish good bacteria that have been wiped out.
- Consider taking a high-quality probiotic, daily.
Written by PPN Dietitians – Kate Save and Prue Mynard
15 Railway Grove Mornington, 03 59 741 011