Feed Your Gut Bacteria with Healthy Foods
This past year has been interesting with a focus on keeping hands clean and being extra cautious about cleanliness because of the Covid-19 pandemic. But I am going to turn the tables a bit and discuss the health benefits of the trillions of bacteria that live in our intestinal tract or the microbiota. We literally cannot live without them! They are dependent upon our intake of both prebiotics and probiotics, as well as our overall food intake.
Probiotics that we eat are the food/fuel for healthy bacteria that live in our intestines. The fiber-containing carbohydrates are the most beneficial food supply for bacteria, and they include:
- garlic, onions, leeks and shallots
- oats and barley
- cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower
Probiotics are living micro-organisms, including bacteria and yeast. Once they reach the intestinal tract they help to break down food to produce beneficial short-chain fatty acids, vitamins, and other protective substances. Probiotics help with nutrient absorption from the foods that we eat, and they may neutralize harmful bacteria.
- yogurt with live active cultures
- fermented foods that have live active cultures such as kefir, sauerkraut and kombucha
Research continues to uncover the many potential health benefits to having lots of diverse healthy gut bacteria (microbiota). The microbiota seem to:
- improve and strengthen our immune system
- help reduce inflammation in the body
- help regulate glucose levels
- enhance the absorption of more nutrients from the digested foods that we eat
Research has also shown that people who are obese or overweight have a diminished diversity of bacteria in the gut, as do people with diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease and celiac disease. Rat studies have shown that a high intake of artificial sweeteners such as saccharin, aspartame and sucralose can reduce the number and diversity of gut bacteria. Other studies indicate that very high intake of salt and salty preserved foods may destroy the number of gut bacteria.
The good news? We know that a variety of minimally processed foods such as produce, grains and nuts can promote more bacteria of a diverse nature. And that will benefit our overall health.
About the Author
Rita Smith is a Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator. She's been working in the field of nutrition and disease prevention for more than 35 years and currently works at Sentara Martha Jefferson Hospital in Charlottesville, Va. Each week, Rita provides nutrition counseling to clients who have a variety of disorders or diseases including high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, celiac disease, irritable bowel syndrome, gastroparesis and weight management. For these clients, food choices can help them manage their health problems.
By: Rita P. Smith, MS, RD, CDE, Sentara Martha Jefferson Hospital