DID YOU KNOW?...the human gut harbours over 100 trillion microbes - outnumbering our human cells by 10 to one
We've all heard the phrase "go with your gut instinct" - we instinctively know that our intestines have a mind of their own that can influence how the rest of our body feels and works. Medical research backs this up - we now know that our intestines make hormones and chemicals which directly influence our brain's activity and help to regulate our emotions, our hunger and contribute to our general sense of well being. Much of this gut activity is due to the balance of microbes that live in our gut - known as the gut microbiome.
These microbes- bacteria, viruses and fungi - live in healthy balance in many parts of our bodies, but it is in the gut that they are thought to have powerful effects on our immune system, our brains and our metabolism.
Scientists are only just beginning to map the huge number of different microbiota in the gut - much like the human genes have been mapped. Interestingly, every individual has their own specific make-up of different bacteria, similar to a fingerprint- even identical twins develop their own unique microbiome!
This is good news in that what you eat can directly influence how healthy your gut microbiome is - and it just loves plants! Research shows that a microbiome fed primarily on plants will contain a healthier balance of "good" bacteria than a microbiome fed on a diet rich in meat and processed food. The "good" bacteria produce short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) which act in our bodies to reduce inflammation and protect against cancers. So, the more plants you eat, in number and in variety, the happier your gut will be and the healthier your body will become.
A meat-based diet will result in a different balance of bacteria taking charge, with different results in the body.
A growing body of scientific evidence reveals that diets rich in meat and highly processed foods are linked with obesity, heart disease, inflammatory bowel disease and some cancers. The reasons are complex, but the meat-eating gut bacteria are thought to play a major part in this, producing harmful waste products that encourage inflammation, disrupt the body's immune system, and trigger cancer cells to develop and multiply.
Another reminder why "eating the rainbow" of vegetables and fruit every day keeps us - and our friendly microbiome - healthy!
What about Prebiotics and Probiotics?
PREBIOTICS is the term used for foods that good gut bacteria thrive and grow on. Otherwise known as...PLANTS! These are the fibre-rich beans, legumes, whole-grains, vegetables and fruits.
PROBIOTICS are live bacteria which, when eaten, may help the gut microbiome reach a healthy balance between the "good" and "bad" bacteria. They are found in fermented foods such as kimchi, some yogurts, miso and tempeh.
There is not enough evidence to say that taking a probiotic supplement will achieve the same health benefits as eating a whole-food, plant-based diet.