The human body is home to a vast array of microbes, with around 90-95% of them residing in our gut, especially the colon. While this may sound unsettling, the truth is that these microbes play a crucial role in our overall health and well-being. A healthy gut microbiome has been linked to everything from proper immune function to improved digestion and nutrient absorption. In contrast, abnormal microbiota has been linked to a variety of health conditions, including antibiotic-associated diarrhea, diabetes, metabolic syndrome and obesity, allergies, inflammatory bowel disease, irritable bowel syndrome, auto-immune diseases, colon cancer, depression and anxiety. So, what exactly are gut microbes, and how can we ensure they stay healthy and balanced?
One crucial factor in maintaining a healthy gut is including foods that contain probiotics and prebiotics. Probiotics are live microorganisms that can benefit health when given in adequate amounts and can also help support the bacteria that live in our gut. They have been shown to improve immune function, aid digestion and even reduce the risk of certain infections. Some of the best sources of probiotics include yogurt, kefir, kombucha and other fermented foods.
Prebiotics, on the other hand, are foods that feed the beneficial microbes in our gut and help them thrive. Prebiotics can help improve digestive function, support the immune system and help regulate appetite and glucose metabolism. Foods high in prebiotics include onions, garlic, bananas, chicory root and Jerusalem artichokes.
Another critical factor in maintaining a healthy gut is consuming fermented foods. Fermented foods are made through the growth of certain microbes and enzymatic conversions of food components. These foods can be a source of live, active microbes and can also improve food's taste, texture and digestibility. Some fermented foods include yogurt, kefir, most cheeses, miso, tempeh, kimchi, fermented vegetables and kombucha. It is important to note not all fermented foods are probiotic foods. Only some fermented foods contain microbes that meet the strict criteria to be called a "probiotic." Also, some foods that undergo fermentation are further processed through pasteurization, baking or filtering, which can eliminate the live microbes.
To maintain a healthy gut microbiome, it is essential to consume a variety of probiotic and prebiotic-containing foods and fermented foods. Consuming this variety of foods can improve your overall health and well-being and may even reduce the risk of certain diseases. The next time you reach for a snack, consider choosing something beneficial for your gut health.
Connect with your local Hy-Vee dietitian on our virtual nutrition services platform and schedule a complimentary Discovery Session to learn more. Hy-Vee dietitians offer various services to help you meet your weight loss and nutrition goals, including one-on-one consultation packages, personalized menu plan programs, virtual nutrition store tours and more.
The information is not intended as medical advice. Please consult a medical professional for individual advice.