Eating for a Better Microbiome

by Thera Kusch
Women holding stomach

Considering we can’t see them, it may be hard to believe that trillions of microorganisms live inside you in what is called the gut microbiome. Most of the time, we don’t have to think about these tiny living creatures, but when we experience digestive issues, such as diarrhea or bloating, many people look to the gut microbiome for answers.

If you’re curious about what goes on in your gut, keep reading to find out more about the gut microbiome, how food can impact your gut microbiome, and how a Registered Dietitian (RD) can help you eat for gut health.

 

What is Your Microbiome?

Your gut microbiome is an extremely large collection of microorganisms, including bacteria, that exists in the human colon. These microorganisms have many roles in your body and are an essential part of good health.

A well-known function of the gut microbiome is to ferment unabsorbed carbohydrates and turn them into new substances. One of these substances is known as short chain Fatty Acids (SCFAs) which can provide energy for your colon, discourage the growth of harmful microorganisms, and more.

These microorganisms may also aid your immune system. Humans and the microorganisms that live in and on them can work together to prevent illness and combat harmful microbes.

While still being researched, the gut microbiome has been linked to brain and nervous system functions through the gut-brain axis. Your mental state may also impact the health of your gut. Just think of the stomachache you get when you are stressed!

Weight status has been linked to the health of your gut microbiome. Dysbiosis, or having too many unhealthy microorganisms in your gut, can cause inflammation which may alter your metabolism in a potentially undesirable way.

These are only a few of the possible impacts the gut microbiome has on the human body. This area is constantly being researched, but as you can see it is very important to human health!

What Should You Eat for a Healthy Microbiome?

Your gut microbiome can contain many different types of microorganisms and the foods you eat may alter the types, amount, and variety that grow.

Registered Dietitian Serena Benali says one common myth about the gut microbiome is that people believe taking a probiotic on its own is enough to maintain a healthy microbiome. In reality, she says a healthy microbiome requires a diet of a variety of whole foods

Here are some suggestions to get you started on eating for a healthy gut microbiome.

Plant Foods

Eating plant-based foods is becoming increasingly popular and Lindsey McGregor, RD says they benefit your gut microbiome. 

Plant-based foods are rich in fibre and other nutritious compounds which have been associated with a greater variety of microorganisms in the gut. This greater variety may be better able to produce the beneficial SCFAs described above.

As previously stated, the gut microbiome is involved with many body functions. Therefore, by increasing the number and diversity of microorganisms in your gut through plant food consumption, you may also be working to prevent and manage chronic diseases.

Learn more about plant-based proteins here.

Fibre

Dietary fibre may be the most important food component for your gut microbiome. This is because many of the microorganisms feed off the undigested fibre from food and use it to grow and produce other beneficial compounds.

Serena Benali, RD says she recommends a diet rich in diverse, fibre-filled foods for clients who are looking to support gut health, boost immune function, and reduce the risk of chronic disease.

One example of this, is a study investigating the impact of whole grains (a fibre-rich food) on subject’s gut microbiome. They found daily consumption of whole grain cereals was beneficial to the growth of healthy gut microorganisms.

Fermented Foods

Lindsey McGregor, RD recommends exploring fermented foods if you are trying to eat for a healthy gut microbiome. 

Fermented foods are made using live bacteria which can help improve the health of the existing microorganisms in your gut.

Yogurt is one example of a fermented food. It has been seen to increase the number and variety of microorganisms found in subjects consuming yogurt versus those who were not. 

Other fermented foods include kimchi, kombucha, sourdough bread, natto, and kefir.

Variety

A healthy microbiome may not be only about the specific foods you eat, but also the overall diversity of your diet.

Serena Benali, RD says she emphasizes a diet of diverse foods for clients focusing on gut health. This is important because the types of foods you eat influence the types of microorganisms that can grow in your gut, therefore the greater variety in your diet, the greater variety in your gut.

Foods to Eat in Moderation

Those who consume a diet rich in red and/or processed meats have been found to have a less diverse gut microbiome. RD Lindsey McGregor explains this does not mean you can never eat these foods, but that you should remain mindful when eating them and be sure to include a variety of plant-based options as well.

Artificial sweeteners are often chosen by people wanting a sweet food or beverage without consuming the calories found in regularly sweetened products. They are safe for consumption, but researchers says artificial sweeteners may alter the variety and number of microorganisms found in the gut. In addition to altering the microorganism communities of the gut, artificial sweeteners may also increase gut inflammation.

Learn more about artificial sweeteners here.

 

How Can a Registered Dietitian Help You?

Navigating the world of eating for a healthy gut microbiome can be confusing and overwhelming. A registered dietitian has the expertise and experience to help you design a pattern of eating that not only supports the health of your gut microbiome, but fits into your life.

Serena Benali, RD recommends clients work with a dietitian because they can help create personalized nutrition plans for each and every client. She says dietitians can work with clients to find foods they enjoy that include prebiotics, are fibre-rich, and provide overall diet balance. 

Serena says clients often come to her experiencing bloating, gas, reflux, constipation, and diarrhea, all of which can significantly disrupt their daily lives. As a dietitian with specialized training in gut health, she can address the root cause of these digestive issues and provide expert guidance to help them regain and maintain a healthy gut microbiome. If you’re in Nova Scotia, Northwest Territories, Alberta, or Saskatchewan, book a session with Serena here!

Learn More

The Let’s Gut Real Podcast by Andrea Hardy, RD has episodes with many science-backed tips for maintaining a healthy gut. 

Check out the Canadian Digestive Health Foundation including their section on the microbiome and constantly updated news section.

Check out the other article titled “5 Tips on How to Improve Your Gut Microbiome Through Diet” by Dawn Furman. 

Find a dietitian from all over Canada and the US here and find our list of the Top 10 Digestive Health Dietitians in Canda here.

 

About the Author: Thera Kusch is a third-year Dietetic student at the University of Saskatchewan.

Reviewed by: Lindsey McGregor, RD 

Images from Unsplash and Pexels

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