Research suggests that the community of microbes that live inside our gut – our microbiota – influences everything from our metabolism, appetite, body weight, immune system and mood, as well as susceptibility to allergies, asthma, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, certain cancers and Alzheimer’s disease.
It’s thought that having a diverse community of microbes in our gut helps protect against disease. When there’s less diversity, inflammation- and illness-causing bacteria can outnumber the beneficial microbes.
Diet is considered the most powerful tool that can alter the composition and, in so doing, the activity of gut microbes.
A diet that’s high in red and processed meat, saturated fat, refined starches and added sugars is linked to a loss of microbiota diversity. Drinking alcohol in excess can also harm beneficial gut bacteria.
What to eat for a robust microbiota
Plant-based diets are associated with having a diverse community of gut microbes. To build and sustain a diverse microbiota, eat a diet that’s high in nutrient- and fibre-rich foods like fruits and vegetables, whole grains, bean and lentils and nuts and seeds.
Focus, too, on the following foods, which studies have shown can cultivate bacterial diversity in your gut.
Unlike the starch in white rice and bread that gets broken down and absorbed in the small intestine, resistant starch escapes digestion and makes its way to the colon where it’s fermented by gut bacteria.
Fermentation of resistant starch creates short chain fatty acids, compounds that fuel colon cells, inhibit the growth of harmful bacteria and help regulate the immune system.
You’ll find resistant starch in lentils, white beans (kidney, Great Northern), green peas, green bananas, plantain, oats (especially raw oats soaked overnight), barley and whole grain rye bread. Cooked and cooled rice and potatoes are also good sources.
Many studies have shown that high-fibre eaters have greater bacterial diversity and higher short chain fatty acid levels in their large intestine that people who eat a low fibre diet.
While an overall high fibre diet has many health benefits, not all types of fibre are created equal when it comes to your gut microbiota. Fermentable fibres that help your gut microbiota flourish are found in oats, barely, apples, artichokes, asparagus, garlic, onion, banana and Jerusalem artichokes, also known as prebiotic foods.
Found naturally in fruits, vegetables and other plant foods, polyphenols act as fuel for gut bacteria and help fight off disease-causing microbes. They also have immune-enhancing and anti-inflammatory properties.
One of the most commonly consumed type of polyphenols are flavonoids. Good source of flavonoids include berries, red grapes, red cabbage, green tea, cocoa powder, onions, kale, broccoli, citrus fruit, celery, parsley and soybeans.
These nutrient-packed vegetables contain a sulfur-containing sugar, called sulfoquinovose, that’s essential for good gut bacteria to thrive. Gut bacteria use an enzyme to release and absorb the sugar’s growth-promoting sulfur.
Eat at least one serving (equivalent to one-half cup cooked or one cup raw) of leafy green vegetables each day, including spinach, kale, Swiss chard, rapini, collard greens, arugula, dandelion greens, romaine lettuce and leaf lettuce.
Data suggests that fermented foods, as a source of probiotic bacteria, can help shore up the population of beneficial bacteria in the gut, reduce inflammation, fight infection and fend off cell-damaging free radicals.
Fermented foods that contain probiotic cultures include kefir (I use it to soak steel-cut oats overnight), kimchi (add it to a brown rice bowl or sandwiches), kombucha, unpasteurized sauerkraut and natto, fermented soybeans.
All research on this web site is the property of Leslie Beck Nutrition Consulting Inc. and is protected by copyright. Keep in mind that research on these matters continues daily and is subject to change. The information presented is not intended as a substitute for medical treatment. It is intended to provide ongoing support of your healthy lifestyle practices.