The best foods to feed your gut microbiome

Every time you eat, you are feeding the trillions of bacteria, viruses, and fungi that live inside your gut. But are you feeding them the right foods?

Scientists used to know very little about these communities of microbes that collectively make up your gut microbiome, also known as your gut microbiome. But a growing body of research indicates that these vast communities of microbes are the key to your health and well-being — and that one of the simplest and most powerful ways to shape and nurture them is through your diet.

Studies show Our gut microbes transform the foods we eat into thousands of enzymes, hormones, vitamins and other metabolites that affect everything from your body. Psychological health And the immune system on probability overweight and the development of chronic diseases.

Gut bacteria can affect your mental state by producing mood-altering neurotransmitters like dopamine, which regulates pleasure, learning, and motivation, and serotonin, which plays a role in happiness, appetite, and sexual desire. Some recent studies Suggest The composition of the gut microbiome can play a role in how well you sleep.

But the wrong mix of microbes can produce chemicals that flood the bloodstream and plaque construction in the coronary arteries. The hormones they produce can affect your appetite, blood sugar levels, inflammation, and your risk of obesity and type 2 diabetes.

The foods you eat — along with your environment and lifestyle behaviors — seem to play a much bigger role in shaping your gut microbiome than genetics. In fact, genes have surprisingly little effect. Studies show Even identical twins only share a third of the same gut microbiome.

‘Good’ microbes feed on fiber and variety

In general, scientists have found that the more diverse your diet, the more diverse your diet gut microbiome. Studies show that a high level of microbiome diversity is associated with good health and that low diversity is associated with higher rates of overweight and obesity, diabeticAnd the Rheumatoid arthritis and other chronic diseases.

Eating a variety of high-fiber plants and nutrient-rich foods appears particularly beneficial, said Tim Spector, professor of genetic epidemiology at King’s College London and founder of the British Gut Project. microbiome;

Even if you already eat a lot of fruits and vegetables, Spector recommends increasing the variety of plant foods you eat each week. One quick way to do this is to start using more herbs and spices. You can use a variety of leafy greens instead of one type of lettuce in your salads. Adding a variety of fruit to your breakfast, adding several different vegetables to your stir fry and eating more nuts, seeds, beans and grains is good for your microbiome.

Gut microbiome research shows that the bacteria inside you may influence your weight, energy levels, and even your choices. (Video: The Washington Post)

These plant foods contain soluble fiber that passes through a large part of the digestive system and is largely unaffected until it reaches the large intestine. There, gut microbes feed on it, metabolizing fiber into beneficial compounds like short-chain fatty acids, which can reduce ignition and help to Regulates your appetite And the Blood sugar levels.

In one study, scientists followed more than 1,600 people for nearly a decade. They found that people with the highest levels of microbial diversity They also consume higher levels of fiber. And they gained less weight during the 10-year study, which was published in the International Journal of Obesity.

Groups of ‘bad’ microbes multiply on fast food

Another important measure of gut health is the ratio of beneficial to harmful microbes. In a study of 1,1oo people in the United States and Britain published last year in nature medicineSpector and a team of scientists at Harvard, Stanford and other universities have identified groups of “good” gut microbes that protect people from cardiovascular disease, obesity and diabetes. They also identified groups of “bad” microbes that promoted inflammation, heart disease, and poor metabolic health.

While it’s clear that eating plenty of fiber is good for your microbiome, research shows that eating the wrong foods can tip the balance in your gut in favor of disease-promoting microbes.

The Nature study found that “bad” microbes were more common in people who ate a lot of highly processed foods that were low in fiber and high in additives like sugar, salt and artificial ingredients. This includes soft drinks, white bread, white pasta, processed meats, and packaged snacks such as crackers, candy bars and chips.

The results were based on an ongoing project called Zoe Predict . study, the world’s largest personalized nutrition study. It’s led by a health sciences company created by Spector and colleagues called Zoe, which allows consumers to analyze their microbiomes for a fee.

Add more spices, nuts, plants and fermented foods to your diet

Once you start increasing the variety of plant foods you eat each day, set a goal to try to eat 30 kinds of different plant foods A week, says Spector. This may sound like a lot, but you probably already eat a lot of these foods.

The sample menu shows how you can easily eat 30 different veggies in just three meals over the course of a week.

  • One day, start your morning with a bowl of plain yogurt topped with sliced ​​bananas and strawberries, a pinch of cinnamon, and a handful of mixed nuts (contains almonds, pecans, cashews, hazelnuts and peanuts). Meal result: 8 vegetarian foods
  • Another day, have a leafy salad with at least two mixed greens, tomatoes, carrots, broccoli, and peppers. Add Herbes de Provence, a seasoning that usually contains six herbs, to grilled chicken or fish. Number of servings: 12 types of vegetarian foods
  • Later in the week, have pesto-marinated chicken (it has basil, pine nuts, and garlic) and enjoy a bowl of brown rice with onions and beans and a side of stir-fry vegetables with green and yellow squash, mushrooms, and leeks. Number of servings: 10 vegetarian foods

Another way to feed your gut bacteria is to eat fermented foods like yogurt, kimchi, sauerkraut, kombucha, and kefir. The microbes in fermented foods, known as probiotics, produce vitamins, hormones, and other nutrients. When you consume it, you can increase the diversity of your gut microbiome and boost your immune health, said Maria Marco, a professor of food science and technology who studies microbes and gut health at the University of California, Davis.

In a study published last year in cell magazineResearchers at Stanford University found that when they assigned people to eat fermented foods every day over 10 weeks, it increased microbial diversity in the gut and lowered their levels of inflammation.

“We are increasingly developing a very rich understanding of why microbes are beneficial to us,” Marco said.

Do you have a question for Anahid about healthy eating? E-mail EatingLab@washpost.com We may answer your question in a future column.

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