“Bacteria” is one of those words that leaves us feeling squeamish. We fight against bacteria CONSTANTLY!! We buy high powered cleaners to clean it up, hand sanitizers to kill it, wipes to get it off our surfaces, counters, floors and door knobs, anything and everything we can do to keep it from infiltrating our homes and our bodies. That’s why it can be quite alarming to find out that there can be over 40 trillion bacteria taking up residence in our bodies, mostly “hanging out” in our intestines. Crazy to think about, isn’t it? The one thing we fight so hard against actually lives inside of us at all times. And it’s a good thing that it does. The bacteria living in our intestines is called our gut microbiota, and they are very important to our health. Of course, not all bacteria are good, some bacteria that can take up residence in our bodies can cause certain diseases. Separating the good from the bad, and how to get more of the “good” by eating the right foods is exactly what we explore here.
Best Foods To Eat
We know that there are bacteria living in our intestines, and we know that we want the “good” kind to outweigh the “bad” kind. So, what kinds of foods can we eat to make sure the “good guys” win? Fruits and vegetables high in fiber are good for you. Fiber is digested by certain good bacteria that you have in your gut and this encourages its growth. Good sources of fiber are:
- Green peas
- Beans – like pinto, kidney and white
- Whole grains
Bifidobacteria is one that is very good for your body and the following foods are known to increase this in your system:
Fermented Foods Are Very Beneficial
The term “fermented foods” isn’t one we hear too often, but we SHOULD be hearing about it. Fermented foods are foods (and beverages) that have been through a controlled process where microorganisms like bacteria and yeast break down components in the food to the point where they turn into other compounds (like how grapes crushed and juiced are fermented and turn into wine). Some common examples of fermented foods are:
- Fermented sausage
Probiotics And Prebiotics
No doubt you’ve seen countless commercials and advertisements for probiotics. What exactly are they anyway? Probiotics are the type of good bacteria that you want in your gut, the kind that helps your body. They are living bacteria that give health benefits to our bodies. The two most common ones are:
They both create a healthier environment in your gut and improve the function of your immune system. They are naturally occurring in some foods, added to others. There are also numerous probiotic supplements on the market today. Which is the best? There seems to be a debate on that, but I would ask your doctor about taking them and go for the one they recommend.
Prebiotics are ingredients in food that the bacteria in your body uses to live off of, grow with, and make the functioning of your digestive system work better. The two most commonly know prebiotics are non-digestible:
- Oligosaccharides fructans
Foods that include these are:
- Jerusalem artichokes
Lots of different kinds of vegetables, fruits and legumes also contain prebiotics.
- We know that many artificial sweeteners are not good for us, but research has shown that some artificial sweeteners can actually increase the levels of your blood sugar, increase the chances of developing certain diseases and negatively affect the bacteria in your gut, damaging your gut health
- Whole grains are a good food choice when trying to improve your gut health. They increase the growth of Bacteroidetes and lactobacilli. Whole grains also help you to feel full more quickly and help prevent against heart disease
- Eating foods that are high in polyphenols provides many health benefits. Polyphenols help to reduce cholesterol, blood pressure, oxidative stress and inflammation. They are found in plant compounds and are part of many foods you may already eat and not know it. Foods containing polyphenols are:
- Red wine
- Grape skins
- Dark chocolate and cocoa
- Green tea
Diversity In Diet Is The Key
Remember to eat a good variation of a lot of the foods mentioned here. A pretty diverse diet means a diverse range of gut bacteria, which equips your body to fight off a diverse realm of all kinds of bad bacteria that might try and take up residence in your body. Maybe they were onto something when the phrase was coined, “you are what you eat.” Make healthy choices, eat well, and live well!
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