What Is the Gut Microbiome?
A woman who has gut pain.

What Is the Gut Microbiome?

pathmedical Nutrition

Your gut microbiome is comprised of a vast array of microorganisms living in your gastrointestinal tract, primarily in the intestines. This includes more than 1,000 kinds of bacteria. We sometimes think of bacteria as a bad thing, but there are beneficial kinds of bacteria in your gut. These good types of bacteria help your body digest what you eat, make vitamins, absorb nutrients like calcium, and crowd out harmful microbes that can cause illness. The makeup of your gut microbiome affects your immunity, your risk for disease, your body weight and even your mental health.

The key to a healthy microbiome is maintaining a good balance between helpful and harmful microbes. While your gut microbiome is established at birth, it’s constantly changing and you have a great deal of control at improving its health, benefitting your own health in the process.

Here are some ways to help maximize the health of your microbiome.

Fiber – Your body can’t digest fiber, but the beneficial bacteria in your gut can. These bacteria break down fiber to use for fuel, which helps them thrive. But most Americans get only about half the fiber they need every day. Try to eat high-fiber foods like oatmeal and beans.

Whole foods: Eat plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, which are high in fiber and also polyphenols, natural plant compounds that healthy bacteria use for food. Berries, grapes, artichokes, and olives are all rich in polyphenols. Whole foods also provide minerals and contribute to fiber intake.

Fermented foods: Fermented foods are gut-friendly because they’re naturally preserved by bacteria, which populate your microbiome with even more beneficial bugs. Fermented foods include yogurt, miso, tempeh, and sauerkraut.

Probiotics: Supplements that deliver strains of good bacteria and help boost the healthy populations in your gut are called probiotics. They’re especially valuable to take during a course of antibiotics which can wipe out helpful bacteria in the process of fighting infection, disrupting the makeup of the microbiome.

Limit Ultra-Processed Foods: These are foods like potato chips, canned vegetables, imitation dairy products and even many supplements that tend to be high in fat, sugar, sodium and/or additives. Diets high in ultra-processed foods are associated with unhealthy changes to the microbiome that could increase the risk for disease, weight gain or other adverse health conditions.