Tips for Maintaining a Healthy Microbiome

Posted on Wednesday, August 26th, 2015

Written by Megan Scarth, AHN Student

Last month's blog post highlighted a number of reasons why the human microbiome is absolutely essential to our health. And, as discussed last month, consuming fermented foods is one of the best ways to maintain healthy gut flora. But there are numerous other, less-known methods to keep your gut healthy.

Maintaining a healthy microbiome can be as simple as enjoying the sunshine

That’s yet another reason to get outside this month and enjoy the summer weather before going back to classes. Studies performed on mice have shown that vitamin D helps to regulate the biome and can protect against colitis. It does so by boosting levels of good bacteria to make mice less susceptible to gut-based disease. So go out and soak up some summer sunshine!

There are many non-fermentable foods that can also affect your microbiome

For example, foods containing resistant starch can be a great addition to your diet. Resistant starch is a type of starch that isn’t easily digested by the body. Instead, it travels mostly undigested to the colon where it can act as food for the bacteria that live there. In one study, consuming a diet higher in resistant starches compared to regular, digestible starches increased levels of healthy bacteria in the colon and decreased the amount of pathogenic (bad) bacteria.

Fortunately, resistant starch is found in many common foods that you likely already consume, such as beans, slightly green bananas, potatoes and yams, barley, brown rice, and corn. Many of these foods can be added into other dishes, such as adding some corn or beans into chilis and soups. Or try sprinkling some barley on top of a salad.

Another major class of foods that affect your microbiome are those that contain polyphenols. Red wine, tea, and chocolate are some popular examples of polyphenol-containing foods. These antioxidants have gotten a lot of buzz lately for their anti-aging and anti-inflammation properties, but their effect on gut flora hasn’t been as well-publicized. Yet a study performed on ten healthy men showed that regular consumption of red wine over a four week period increased the levels of multiple strains of beneficial bacteria. In addition, their total cholesterol, including their “bad”cholesterol, decreased, as well as their blood pressure. The study’s authors theorized that red wine may therefore have prebiotic benefits. Of course, with all alcoholic beverages, it’s important to moderate your consumption, but studies like these imply that if you’re going to drink, red wine is likely one of the better choices to keep your gut bacteria happy.

Since different foods can affect different strains of bacteria, it’s a good idea to eat a varied and balanced diet. But a common link between many of these gut-healthy foods is that they’re natural and nutrient-dense. It’s just one more reason to include more fresh and wholesome foods in your diet — your microbial helpers will thank you for it.

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