What is Your Gut Microbiome?
If you’re like most people, you may have heard or read that it is good to eat yogurt because your body needs the bacteria. Maybe you read the back of a yogurt container and wondered what they meant by “live and active cultures”. You may not be sure what these cultures are exactly, but you think they are good for your gut microbiome. And, you are right!
Foods like yogurt that are rich in probiotics are great for our bodies as they fuel our microbiomes. A healthy microbiome leads to a healthy body. But what exactly is a microbiome?
What is a microbiome?
A microbiome is defined as a community of microorganisms living in a habitat. Within these microbiomes are microbes or bacteria. Microbiomes are found everywhere, from the ocean to plants, to even animals. In our bodies, we have a microbiome within our guts. This microbiome, like the ones found in other animals and habitats, is essential for our overall health.
What role does a microbiome play in our bodies?
Our human gut microbiome aids in digestion, influences our mood and energy levels, assists with our immune system, and a great number of other things. Our understanding of the human gut microbiome is very limited as researchers are still studying its immense roles in our bodies.
Why do we need a healthy microbiome?
From what we do understand about the human gut microbiome, it directly affects our health (digestion, mood, immunity). Because of this, it is important that we maintain a healthy microbiome. A healthy microbiome can be kept by eating certain foods and limiting others.
Foods that are good for the human gut microbiome include:
Fermented foods like sauerkraut, kombucha, tempeh, and yogurt are full of probiotics. Probiotics are live bacteria and yeast that help the good bacteria in your gut. As you eat more probiotics, your gut will become healthier.
Foods high in fiber
The more fiber you eat, the more good microbes are in your gut. And with high amounts of good microbes, your body is able to easily digest food, and have a positive impact on your mood and immunity.
Prebiotics feed the good microbes in your gut. Examples of prebiotic foods include garlic, onions, asparagus, and bananas.
Foods that are not good for the human gut microbiome include:
It is always a good idea to limit your sugar intake, but especially so when considering the health of your gut microbiome. Sugar, high fructose corn syrup and other types of artificial sweeteners (Splenda, Sweet N Low) feed the “bad” bacteria that are found in our guts. This causes stress in our digestive tracts which is usually shown through gas, bloating and diarrhea.
Fried foods can increase the growth of bad bacteria. They also tend to upset the gut and are harder to digest. Ditch fried foods for their healthier counterparts. Not only will your body have an easier time with digestion, but it will also allow for a decrease in the number of bad bacteria present in your gut.
Fast food is usually fried or over-processed. These foods are often convenient and cheap, but the effects that they have on our body brings a much heavier cost in the long run. Prevent eating at places like these by planning your meals ahead of time. If you find yourself with no other choice for lunch or dinner, consider the lighter options that some of these fast food stores offer.
What else can harm my gut microbiome?
While food choices play a large role in the overall health of our guts, other factors do as well. Our consumption of antibiotics is one.
Whenever a person takes antibiotics, medicine kills both good and bad bacteria. For this reason, some people take probiotics along with their antibiotic medicine in order to prevent any side effects.
But, people also consume antibiotics when they are not sick. Farmers, especially those who have large farms, give their animals antibiotics to keep them healthy. Whenever people then eat these animals, they are then consuming the antibiotics. Constant exposure to these antibiotics can allow for your bad bacteria to become immune to antibiotics, which could lead to health problems in the future.
What are the side effects of an unhealthy microbiome?
An unhealthy gut will present itself to you in more ways than one. With the consumption of unhealthy foods and the increase in levels of bad bacteria, you may begin to feel several types of side effects such as :
- An upset stomach: An unhealthy gut will have problems digesting food. You may experience gas, bloating, constipation and diarrhea as a result.
- Trouble sleeping: Our hormones that affect our sleep and mood are produced in our gut. When a gut is unhealthy, the production of these hormones is interrupted and can lead to insomnia or trouble sleeping.
- Unhealthy cravings: Eating a diet full of processed foods and sugar will increase the number of bad bacteria in your gut and decrease the number of good bacteria. This influx of bad bacteria will cause your body to crave more sugar and processed foods, which will further harm your gut.
Key points about the gut microbiome
When making daily food choices, it is important to consider your options carefully. The food we eat feeds the bacteria in our bodies. Eating healthy foods that are high in fiber and fermented feeds the good bacteria. On the other hand, eating fast foods and white flour that are often processed, fried, and high in sugar, feeds the bad bacteria. You can read more about the effects of white flour on your body in our post here- Why You Should Avoid White Flour.
Like we all have heard. “You are what you eat.” By understanding the microbiome within our guts, we can realize how very true this saying is!