13 May Love Your Gut
By Anna Richardson, BA, BASc, MPH candidate in Nutrition & Dietetics
(edited by Zannat Reza, MHSc RD)
Stroll through the grocery store and you’ll see yogurt, juice, and even cereals promoting gut health benefits. Probiotics, prebiotics and gut health are all the rage right now – but what does any of this actually mean?
Your body is host to trillions of microbes (bacteria, viruses and fungi). In fact, you can have 2-6 pounds of bacteria, fungi, viruses and other microbes in your body (1). And gut microbes eat what you eat.
Your gut environment is like your fingerprint. We all have a unique mix of microbes based on our genetics, diet, environment and health (2). This may explain why some people have different blood sugar responses to eating the same food.
Gut environment and health
Your gut develops rapidly from birth to three years of age.
There is a growing body of research about the gut environment and the role it plays in your health and risk for disease. Having a rich and diverse microbiome is linked with greater health.
Studies have uncovered a link between an altered gut microbiome and many diseases, including diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease, colorectal cancer and heart disease.
Gut health is also strongly linked to mental health through the gut-brain axis, and studies show possible links between altered gut environment and depression.
Gut microbes are also closely connected to your immune system (3).
Probiotics, fermented foods, prebiotics
Probiotics, an often-misunderstood term, are strains of bacteria that have shown to provide health benefits when taken at a specific dose. Probiotics can come in capsule form.
Fermented foods provide your gut with a constant source of good bacteria. Examples: yogurt, kimchi, sauerkraut, pickles, and miso.
Prebiotics are carbohydrates that can’t be digested by your body, and are food for your gut bacteria. Prebiotics are found naturally in many fruits and vegetables such as bananas, onions, leeks, garlic, and tomatoes, and in whole grains (4).
Artificial sweeteners – a potential issue
Surprisingly, one type of food additive may impact the gut environment negatively: artificial sweeteners.
Artificial sweeteners are not digested by the body. This means they come in direct contact with gut microbes, and may change how we manage blood sugar levels.
Bottom line: Cut down on artificial sweeteners, and use a small amount of sugar to sweeten your foods.
- National Institutes of Health (NIH). (2012). NIH Human Microbiome Project defines normal bacterial makeup of the body. National Institutes of Health (NIH). Retrieved 28 April 2017, from https://www.nih.gov/news-events/news-releases/nih-human-microbiome-project-defines-normal-bacterial-makeup-body
- Dwyer, M. (2015). Personal microbiomes shown to contain unique ‘fingerprints’. Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Retrieved 28 April 2017, from https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/news/press-releases/personal-microbiomes-contain-unique-fingerprints/
- Purchiaroni, F., Tortora, A., Gabrielli, M., Bertucci, F., Ianiro, G., & Ojetti, V. et al. (2013). The role of intestinal microbiota and the immune system. Eur Rev Med Pharmacol Sci, 17(3), 323-333.
- Eat Right Ontario. (2016). Prebiotics. Eat Right Ontario. Retrieved 28 April 2017, from https://www.eatrightontario.ca/en/Articles/Digestion/Prebiotics.aspx