Over the past two decades, many studies have demonstrated that maintaining good gut health can have very positive effects on other systems in our body. The term ‘gut microbiome’ or ‘gut flora’ refers to the approximately 300 to 500 different kinds of bacteria living in your intestines. The majority of these bacteria are harmless, some are very helpful and a smaller number can be harmful. While more research is needed, studies suggest that having a wide variety of ‘good’ bacteria in your gut can enhance your immune system function, help skin conditions, improve your mental health, combat obesity and possibly much more.
To support the growth of good bacteria in our digestive tracts and to keep the harmful bacteria at bay, we need to have a balance of prebiotics and probiotics in our diet. Good gut health depends on having food that can provide both of these important living microorganisms. And while their names sound similar, their functions and the food they are found in are very different.
Probiotics are living microorganisms inside the gastrointestinal tract. They are considered ‘friendly or good’ bacteria since they produce beneficial intestinal bacteria needed to support digestion and improve gastrointestinal health. Probiotics also boost immunity, protect the gut from harmful or infectious bacteria, and contribute to our overall health. Probiotics are found in many fermented foods:
- Plain yogurt with live cultures
- Some aged cheeses, including gouda, cheddar and mozzarella
- Pickled vegetables
If fermented foods are not part of your diet you might benefit from a probiotic supplement. Supplementing is highly recommended for those who regularly take prescription drugs; antibiotics are particularly harmful as they kill both good and bad gut bacteria.
Probiotics feed on prebiotics, which are natural, non-digestible fibers found in certain foods. Prebiotics increase friendly bacteria in the gut and help probiotics thrive. In addition to nourishing the gut bacteria, prebiotics are thought to aid digestion and support immune function. Prebiotics are present in fiber-rich foods such as vegetables, fruits, some grains and legumes:
- Chicory Root
- Dandelion Greens
- Jerusalem Artichoke
- Sugar beets
- Garlic, onions and leeks
- Bananas and apples
- Wheat, barley and flaxseed
- Beans and peas
By incorporating some of these food items into your diet daily, you are creating a rich, diverse environment for these important microorganisms to thrive and work together to promote good digestive health.