In recent years, it has become clear that gut health is an essential factor in overall health & wellbeing. It's not only about digestive health but also about your emotions, heart health, liver functions, and immunity!
The gut microbiome is a complex dynamic living system that comprises trillions of bacteria. Some may argue that this is the largest organ in the body. The average adult brain weighs between 1300-1400 grams; the gut microbiome can weigh up to 2 kg!
The balance of these microorganisms is important. Normally, a selection of some 500 species is present for most people. Every person's microbiome is unique, and no two persons would present the same profile. Hence, scientists have been researching the characteristics of a healthy gut flora. It is complex and the functional characteristics of a healthy microbiome are yet to be defined.
That said, some diseases have shown correlations with microbiome imbalances. For example, obesity and irritable bowel disease (IBD) have been associated with a reduced microbiome diversity.
Almost everything we are exposed to can impact your microbiome: how you were born (natural birth or cesarean), genetics, diet, stress level, medication, activities, geography, ethnicity, your environment, and many more.
Different diets, high vs. low-fat, vegetarian vs. non, etc., have been shown to alter microbiome makeup and activities quite rapidly.
This team of scientists at the University of California, San Francisco, found that the way food is prepared matters, too.
The team tested the microbiomes in subjects after feeding subjects with either raw and cooked foods, participants eating each type of meal for three consecutive days. They found almost no effect in participants' microbiomes when eating cooked and raw meat. However, microbiomes shifted differently when participants ate either raw or cooked vegetables.
The ways and the temperatures in how food is cooked seem to make a difference, too. Scientists that worked on this found that different foods respond differently—intense cooking such as grilling increased healthful bacteria in some foods but decreased in others.
There is so much more to investigate before knowing what it means in practice, but these are certainly paving ways for discovering potential therapeutic interventions.
What we can learn from this is that a diet rich in colorful plant foods prepared in various methods, both raw and cooked, could be the key to building a diverse gut environment.
There is a diet that researchers and doctors believe to be beneficial to gut health: The Mediterranean Diet.
The Mediterranean Diet can be high in fats, but these are healthful fats from olive oil, nuts, seeds, and fish.
It is also a diet with almost no processed meats, fast foods, refined carbohydrates such as pastries, cookies, sweetened beverages, and packaged foods.
To start, build your meals around freshly prepared vegetables and fruit, olive oil, nuts, seeds, fish, and moderate amounts of hormone-free meat and dairy.
If you enjoy a glass of wine, a moderate intake of wine is also part of the diet.
Eating clean, fresh, and a variety in moderation, though cliche, is still a good way towards building a healthy gut and a happy you!