The Future of our Health: The Human Gut Microbiome
In 2006, the National Institutes of Health got ambitious. They had just completed the Human Genome Project identifying all the genes in human DNA. They then decided to map the diverse microbial communities that live in and on our bodies. The Human Microbiome Project wrapped up in 2016 and the results are changing everything we know about human health.
The results? Our gut and the collection of bacteria that live there are at the center of our health. The question then becomes…. what does that mean to me? It means, we are what we eat! The research is revealing that our gut health and the health of the microbiome are dependent on the nutrients and fiber we get from the foods we eat. There is your answer!
These results are exciting, as they are beginning to show us we DO have control over our health, we don’t have to endure annoying gut symptoms like gas, bloating, constipation, diarrhea and abdominal pain, or begin medications to control them. The gut microbiome’s health determines our health.
The science is new and it’s exciting, but we are at the very beginning. The most interesting part about these revelations is it puts our diet at the center of the solution! This puts you in the driver’s seat of your health. Working with a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN), the food and nutrition expert, is a great place to start. We can assess your gut health and develop a personalized nutrition plan tailored to your health needs. (Check out our Reset Your Gut Microbiome program here!)
But before we take a deeper dive into our gut and microbiome health, it is important to get up to date on how the power of food shows up on your plate. Research is telling us that what we eat is making or breaking our health.
As Americans we are currently getting 60% of our calories from highly processed foods. Highly processed foods are loaded with refined oils, sugars, flour, and chemicals. When we eat a diet high in processed food, we eat about 10-15 grams of fiber a day. What we need is around 25-30 grams a day. Processed foods are deficient in fiber and nutrients. The results of the Human Microbiome Project tells us our gut health is determined by eating nutrients and fiber! So where do we get these? You get them from eating a diet of whole foods full of diversity. The Mediterranean diet is a great example of what a diet full of nutrients and fiber looks like.
The power of food is real. Power is defined as influence over something, and it can be good or bad. Highly processed foods are powerful, but in the wrong way. These foods create inflammation which harms cell function over time, causing disease and killing off the good bacteria in our gut. Our gut health thrives when we have the perfect ratio of good and bad bacteria. The good bacteria hold bad bacteria in check! Choose your foods wisely.
Here’s some interesting facts that show the power of real food:
The Power of Prebiotic Fibers
Prebiotics are mainly fiber, or complex carbohydrates, from foods that we cannot digest. Certain species of bacteria found in the gut break these prebiotic fibers down and use them for fuel. This byproduct of this breakdown is short chain fatty acids. Our body loves them, as they are some of the most anti-inflammatory compounds in the body! Certain prebiotics have also been shown to reduce insulin, triglycerides, and cholesterol levels.
- Kiwi Fruit- eating 2 kiwi fruit a day increases Lactobacillus by 35% and Bifidobacteria by 17% within days! Both bacteria are considered beneficial bacteria, producing short chain fatty acids which lowers inflammation.
- Brassica family – (broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower)- decrease the presence of harmful bacteria.
- Bamboo shoots- Bamboo shoots increase Bacteroidetes by 300%. Bacteroidetes is a keystone species. This group of bacteria are essential for the whole ecosystem of bacteria to function properly.
- Dark chocolate (70% cacao)- increases Bifidobacteria and Lactobacillus while lowering cortisol to reduce stress.
- Mushrooms- contain prebiotic fibers and helps lower proteins related to gut inflammation by 40%.
- Walnuts- a handful of walnuts/day can bring balance to the good and bad bacteria in your gut.
Spices have also been shown to act as prebiotics and help improve overall gut health. Studies show that foods that have prebiotic-like effects promote the growth of beneficial bacteria and suppress pathogenic bacteria. Here are a few you can add into your next meal:
- Black Pepper
- Cayenne Pepper
The Power of Probiotic Foods
Probiotics are incredibly important since they are the foods that help maintain gut health once it is on track. Fermentation is a process in which bacteria and yeast break down sugars, increasing the number of beneficial bacteria, or probiotics, in your gut. Probiotics are known to improve digestion, better immunity, and even increase weight loss.
Here are few fermented or probiotic foods that can help maintain your GI health:
The Power of Fiber Containing Foods
We talked about prebiotic fibers but all high fiber foods show a positive impact on gut health. The result being overall improved health outcomes, including improved insulin resistance, weight management, and reduces the risk of heart disease and cancer. Studies show that blood sugars react differently based on the bacteria found in a person’s gut.
Some high fiber foods include:
How to Reset Your Gut Microbiome:
Our current healthcare system is most often reactive, instead of proactive, when it comes to nutrition and our health. In turn, we only think about it when disease takes over. We often feel uneasy about making changes to our diet or having to avoid foods we enjoy. Change involves commitment and with the busy lives we lead, it can get moved to the bottom of our “to do” list. These changes are easier than you think when you work with a qualified professional, a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist.
A Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) is the food and nutrition expert. Our expertise is to translate the science of nutrition into practical solutions on your plate that help you gain control of your health. We give you a compassionate and personalized experience, building a program for you, not fitting you into a diet.
Medical nutrition therapy provided by an RDN is typically a covered benefit on your health insurance plan. There is no silver bullet for any one disease or for overall health, but remember nutrition is foundational to health and immunity. Don’t ever underestimate your power to transform and restore your health. Bon Appetit!
If you are interested in working with a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist to improve your health, contact us at The Nutrition Professionals at 480-294-6543.
Averi Atkinson, BS
Stephanie Espinoza, MA, RDN, LRD
Li, William W. (2021). Eat to beat disease: The new science of how your body can heal itself. GRAND CENTRAL PUB.
Mayer, Emeran (2016). The Mind-Gut Connection: How the Hidden Conversation Within Our Bodies Impacts Our Mood, Our Choices, and Our Overall Health. HARPERCOLLINS