Did you know that the community of different bacteria living in your gut may have a significant impact on your health? That’s right. In 2007, the National Institutes of Health started the Human Microbiome Project in order to learn more about the different strains of bacteria that live within the human body. A huge undertaking when you realize that there are up to 100 trillion different types of “good” bacteria that live in and on humans. Our GI tract is home to thousands of strains of bacteria, all of which perform dozens of important functions including:
- Synthesis of vitamins – folate, B12, and K
- Decreasing the instance of toxigenic (ie. potentially cancerous) reactions
- Lowering serum cholesterol through bile salt deconjugation
- Improving immune function of the gut by creating a protective barrier
- Synthesis of short chain fatty acids (act as fuel for intestinal cells)
- Improved lactose tolerance
- Potential improvement in antibiotic associated diarrhea and irritable bowel syndrome
- Balanced intestinal microbiota
As a result of the Human Microbiome Project, scientists are realizing that the specific types of gut bacteria may also play a role in one’s risk of developing type 2 diabetes, cancer, or obesity. Eating the right types of foods can promote a healthier community of bacteria in your gut. To start, incorporating more foods that are high in probiotics, ie. live beneficial bacteria such as lactobacillus acidophilus and lactobacillus rhamnosis can be helpful. The following is a list of foods naturally high in probiotics:
- Yogurt: Take a look at the label and choose varieties with added lactobacillus bulgaricus or lactobacillus acidophilus. Kefir, which is similar to yogurt, is also high in probiotics.
- Tempeh and Miso: Both of these products are made from fermented soy beans. Tempeh is a patty of pressed fermented soybeans which has a nutty flavor and chewy texture. I love adding it to stir fries or other recipes in place of ground beef. Miso is sold in the refrigerated section as a thick paste that can be stirred into soup for great flavor.
- Cheese: Soft or fermented cheeses such as Gouda, cheddar, or Swiss are the highest in probiotics.
- Kombucha: Growing in popularity of late, kombucha is a fermented tea beverage that offers a healthy dose of probiotics.
- Sauerkraut: If you can handle the intense flavor of this fermented cabbage, which is a traditional Korean food then you will reap the benefits of the probiotics it contains!
- Dill Pickles and Fermented Vegetables: Choose varieties that have been minimally processed and are preserved using salt and water rather than vinegar.
Find ways to add fermented foods in your daily meal plan. Keeping a healthy gut is one of the most important steps to staying healthy.
Deborah Davis MS, RD is a Registered Dietitian who practices clinical dietetics in Chicago, Illinois. She shares practical nutrition tips and healthy recipes on her personal blog, Dietitian Debbie Dishes. In her free time, you’ll likely find Deborah in the kitchen, camera and spatula in hand, developing recipes for her blog and freelance pieces. You can also connect with Deborah on Twitter and Instagram.