But science is moving us in a very different direction.
We love bugs
It turns out we are possibly 10 times more microbes than cells. We are more bugs than ‘human’. However ‘human’ as a definition now may not reflect only the collection of cells creating skin and muscle, but a whole interconnected ecosystem, including the microflora, working together to keep us functioning.
Human microflora, comprising of bacteria, fungi, yeasts and even viruses, is a hot topic in the worlds of research and health and wellness. And understandably. Population composition of good microbes and bad microbes can have serious health implications.
Microbes are most well known for their role in the digestive system (a.k.a the gut). Addressing imbalance in gut microbe populations can ameliorate digestive conditions like ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease, celiac disease and irritable bowel syndrome. However, these little critters are also connected with systemic conditions such as obesity, depression, type 1 diabetes and type 2 diabetes. (1)
This is not new news! Hippocrates was famous for saying “All disease begins in the gut”. A wise, wise man.
So what can we do to help the gut microflora help us? By feeding them! Here, we look at prebiotics (food to feed beneficial microbes), what to avoid (so to not feed harmful microbes), and the inclusion of probiotic rich foods.
The primary food source for the intestinal flora is sugar. Therefore when feeding our flora, the important factor is selecting the right TYPE of sugar – as some feed good bugs, and some feed the not so good bugs.
Prebiotic fibre – fuelling good flora
Prebiotics are sugars, or carbohydrates, that the human digestive enzymes cannot breakdown. These act instead as food for the microbes we want to proliferate. Prebiotics are fibres, and include:
- Fructans (including inulin, oligofructose and fructoligosaccaharides)
- Some cellulose and hemicellulose fibres
- Polydextrose and polyols
- Resistant starch (including amylose and retrograde starch)
- And to a lesser extent, lignans (2)
Prebiotic rich foods are listed below. In general, to promote good gut health, start smashing the fibre!
Jerusalem artichokes, chicory, garlic, onion, leek, shallots, spring onion, asparagus, beetroot, fennel bulb, green peas, snow peas, sweetcorn, savoy cabbage
Chickpeas, lentils, red kidney beans, baked beans, soybeans
Banana (the less ripe the better), berries, apples, nectarines, white peaches, persimmon, tamarillo, watermelon, grapefruit, pomegranate
- Grains & psuedo-grains
Barley, buckwheat, rye bread, rye crackers, gnocchi, couscous, wheat bran, oats
- Nuts and seeds
Cashews, pistachio nuts
Refined simple sugars – no go zone
What you want to steer away from are high amounts of refined sugars. The nasty gut bug populations THRIVE on refined sugars, and can lead to a leaky gut, digestive issues like bloating and IBS, mood dysfunction, weight gain, inflammation, and conditions like thrush.
Wherever possible, stay clear of the refined sugars.
Get fermented, get probiotics
A trend on the rise, boosting intake of fermented foods will get your gut brimming with health. Studies have shown that fermented foods containing various bacterial strains such as Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium can positively impact not only digestive disorders, but also the brain’s processing of emotion and sensation, immune function and allergies, cholesterol levels, blood pressure, and as well as other various chronic and systemic disorders. (3,4)
Food in its fermented form is thought to have enhanced nutrient availability too, making it a kick-ass food as medicine!
Fermented foods to consider including in your every day are:
- Sauerkraut and other fermented vegetables
- Plain yoghurt with live cultures (and without added sugars)
- Kombucha tea
- Miso and tempeh (non-genetically modified and organic)
Feed your gut!
A healthy microbiome means effective absorption and utilisation of nutrients from our food and drink. So what we want is to feed the good existing gut bugs the prebiotic goodies, and replenish the stores with probiotic rich fermented foods, to create our own happy, healthy ecosystem for a happy, healthy life!
- Brown, K, DeCoffe, D, Molcan, E & Gibson, DL 2012, ‘Diet-induced dysbiosis of the intestinal microbiota and the effects on immunity and disease.’, Nutrients, vol. 4, no. 8, pp. 1095–119
- Gropper, S & Smith, J 2013, Advanced Nutrition and Human Metabolism, 6th edn, Wadsworth Cengage Learning, Belmont, CA
- Kechagia, M Basoulis, D SKonstantopoulou, S Dimitriadi, D Gyftopoulou, K Skarmoutsou, K and Fakiri, EM 2013, Health Benefits of Probiotics: A Review, ISRN Nutrition, vol. 2013, Article ID 481651
- Tillisch K, Labus J, Kilpatrick L, Jiang Z, Stains J, Ebrat B, Guyonnet D, Legrain-Raspaud S, Trotin B, Naliboff B, & Mayer EA 2013, Consumption of fermented milk product with probiotic modulates brain activity, Gastroenterology, no. 144, no. 7, pp. 1394-1401