Chances are you’ve heard that there’s such a thing as “good” bacteria, not just the kind that gets you sick. As it turns out, your digestive system is filled with about 100 trillion bacteria, making up your gut microbiota. Your gut microbiota and the bacteria in it play a large role in your health – but what is healthy gut bacteria – and what exactly does it mean to have a healthy gut? Read on to find out!
What is Healthy Gut Bacteria?
When we discuss a healthy gut microbiota, what we’re really focusing on is the diversity of bacteria in your gut. Long story short: just like in ecosystems around us, diversity in our gut means resilience and adaptability. Everyone’s gut microbiota is different, but there are some gut bacteria compositions that are found more commonly in healthy individuals, and that is largely affected by diet (along with age, environment, genes, and medications).
If some bacteria are healthier than others – shouldn’t we all just be supplementing with those ones to sway our microbiota? If only it was that easy! Research hasn’t pinpointed certain bacteria that are the most beneficial, and the gut microbiota is so complex that it doesn’t really look like a “top 10 bacteria” list is in the works. That’s why diversity is the highlight.
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Obese and Leaner People Have Different Gut Bacteria
Interestingly, there are two classifications of bacteria most commonly found in the human gut – and there is a distinct difference in the types of bacteria found in obese and non-obese individuals.
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The microbiota of obese individuals is usually richer in a class of bacteria called firmicutes, while non-obese microbiota are usually higher in bacteroides. These bacteria seem to be largely dependent on weight – so losing weight promotes the increase of bacteroides, and having more bacteroides in your gut promotes healthy weight – a win-win!
Why is it Important to Have a Healthy Gut?
Bacteroides and firmicutes aren’t the only type of bacteria in your gut – and influencing weight certainly isn’t the only use for healthy bacteria! Having a diverse microbiota does loads of good for your health.
For one, your gut microbiota plays an immense role in your immune system by encouraging production of T cells and cytokines (the immune cells sent out when your body senses an intruder).
A healthy gut microbiota is also beneficial to your metabolism by increasing the uptake of glucose in the intestine and therefore regulating how fat is stored in your body. The bacteria in your gut do this by taking unabsorbed sugars from your diet and converting them to short chain fatty acids, which can be further used as energy for your brain, muscles, and other bacteria, rather than deposited as fat stores.
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Which Foods are Good for Gut Health?
So diversity is key to a healthy gut, and a healthy gut strengthens our immune system and metabolism – but how do you diversify the bacteria in your gut? Food is a great place to start!
Bacteria are living organism that need to eat. That food comes in the form of prebiotics, a type of fiber that your body can’t digest but bacteria can. Eating foods high in prebiotics gives the healthy bacteria in your gut the fuel it needs to thrive.
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Prebiotic Food List
These foods provide fuel for healthy gut bacteria:
- Jerusalem artichokes
Eating probiotics, which are the actual bacteria that feed on prebiotics, essentially supplements your gut with healthy bacteria – giving meaning to the phrase, “you are what you eat!”
Fermented foods are your best bet for probiotic sources.
image: Bob Mical via Flickr
Probiotic Food List
These foods contain good bacteria for gut health.
What Are Synbiotics?
Eating prebiotics and probiotics together does double duty by providing your gut with beneficial bacteria and its fuel. Because you’re getting the synergy of good bacteria and the food it likes, this is called synbiotics. Try it iin my Sumac Tempeh with Braised Cauliflower!
Did you know how your gut microbiota influences your health? What do you do to take care of your gut? Share in the comments below!