It seems as though each day we hear ‘probiotic this’, ‘prebiotic that’ and which foods will make us slimmer, smarter, and let us live longer; but how it is that what we eat can have such powerful effects on so many aspects of our wellbeing?
Enter: your gut microbiome – an ecosystem of billions of bacteria and microorganisms whose numbers rival that of the number of cells in your entire body. The microbiome, which lives in our intestinal tract, has been an ongoing topic of interest in medical research and has been implicated in our mental health, allergies, weight, our immune system and even brain health, and there is mounting evidence to suggest that the more diverse your gut bacteria, the better.
What can you do about it?
Almost like a gut fingerprint, every person as a unique microbiome, whose make-up depends on a number of things, including your genetics, where you live, what you eat and even illnesses or stressful events that you may experience in your lifetime.
Imbalances in the microbiome can lead to ‘leaky gut’, which is where a weak gut lining allows bacteria or even small particles of food to pass into the bloodstream, triggering the immune system into action. Over time, this triggering of the immune system can put us at risk of a number of both physical and mental health complications.
While some factors are out of our control, like our genes, there are many things we can do to keep our microbiome happy and balanced.
Having a complex network made up of many different types of good bacteria and microorganisms can mean the ecosystem is more stable and better able to help you fight off infection, regulate your digestive system and improve your mental wellbeing. Eating a wide range of healthy foods, getting enough sleep and exercising regularly are simple, everyday actions that can toughen up our gut army.
Which foods are good for gut health?
- Fermented foods like sauerkraut and kimchi
- Foods high in prebiotics such as lentils and asparagus
- Foods high in probiotics such as natural yogurt
- A wide range of fresh fruit and vegetables (think lots of colours on your plate)
Which foods are NOT good for gut health?
- Highly processed foods
- Emulsifiers, artificial sweeteners
- Foods high in added sugars
For more information on the gut microbiome, visit the Food and Mood Centre.