Maintaining a healthy microbiome
By Anne-Marie Gagné, PDt Dietitian/Nutritionist for our partner, Gordon Food Service
In recent years, extensive research has focused on the gastrointestinal microbiota, a term designating the community of microorganisms that inhabits the human intestine. Also referred to as gut flora or the microbiome, this ecosystem contains the hundreds of trillions of bacteria—belonging to approximately 160 different species—that live in our digestive tract.
The research suggests that our gut microbiota acquires its diversity over time, a process that begins at birth. Type of birth, breastfeeding and genetics all play important roles in determining the composition of a person’s intestinal ecosystem. For example, infants born by Caesarean section (C-section) have a vastly different microbiome population from that of babies born by traditional delivery. It’s impossible to change the past, but there is one factor within our control that can influence our gut flora: what we eat.
Microbiome: strengthen your immune system with “good” bacteria
The key to a healthy microbiome is to have more “good” bacteria than “bad” bacteria in your gut. Having a large and diverse population of “good” bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract strengthens your immune system and may even help ward off chronic illnesses like obesity, diabetes, Crohn’s disease and metabolic syndrome. While the causal link between the composition of the microbiome and chronic illness requires more thorough scientific investigation, the topic offers a promising avenue for research.
One thing is certain: the eating habits of the Western world, and especially North America, have a negative influence on the composition of gut flora. Excessive beef consumption in particular seems to lead to higher quantities of “bad” bacteria, particularly clostridium. Fried foods also seem to have an unfavourable effect on the microbiome. By contrast, vegetarian diets appear to be associated with healthier gut populations.
According to the latest research, the most gut-friendly foods are:
- Whole grains: Whole-wheat or wholemeal bread, oatmeal, oat cereals, quinoa, barley, millet, bulgur, buckwheat, wild rice, whole-grain crackers, whole-grain pasta
- Fruits and vegetables: Fresh unpeeled fruit, canned fruit, fruit salad, frozen fruit, fruit purée, fresh/frozen/canned vegetables
- Nuts: almonds, cashews, walnuts, hazelnuts, macadamia nuts, pecans, Brazil nuts, pistachios, peanuts
These foods contain fibre that can be fermented very rapidly in the large intestine. Eating more of these foods is the most practical way to maintain and promote a healthy bacterial population in your gut. Additionally, the fibres and phytochemicals consumed by the intestinal bacteria produce, among other things, a fatty acid called butyrate. Butyrate has gained fame for its role in stimulating the immune system. It may also have anti-inflammatory and perhaps even cancer-fighting properties.
There are also factors that can negatively influence your microbiome. Antibiotics and exposure to toxins—such as those found in cigarettes—both have major consequences on the diversity of your gut ecosystem. Thanks to science, we now know ways to promote greater gut bacteria diversity: for example, by limiting the use of medication whenever possible, cleaning hands with soap rather than hand sanitizer and increasing exposure to natural (non-sterile) environments.
In conclusion, the research on the gastrointestinal microbiota looks extremely promising. In the future, gut flora and the factors influencing it may become key to the prevention and treatment of numerous diseases.
What do you do to keep your microbiome in good health?
To learn more about Gordon Food Service, visit their website.