In keeping with the theme of our Best Diet for You series that food is a set of instructions for our bodies to properly metabolize energy sources, we’re going to take a look at the microbiome. We discussed how genetics plays a role, and how mimicking the diets of our ancestors leads to a greater wealth of energy and optimal health. But genetics are only part of the picture.
Our environment, the foods we’ve eaten all our lives, and other factors influence our optimal health, too.
This is most common in the microbiome.
What is a microbiome?
A microbiome is defined as a community of microorganisms that reside in our digestive system. They are made up of millions of good bacteria, human cells, viral strains, yeasts and fungi which help our DNA express itself. This expression manifests through hereditary factors, body type, weight, predisposition to disease, and more. Normally when we think of bacteria, we immediately think sickness, infection, etc. It’s only been in recent decades that we’ve come to understand there are good bacteria in our digestive tracts, which aid in digestion and nutrient absorption, and keep the bad bacteria in check.
Your gut microbiome is shaped by your genetics, but outside exposures have influence as well. These include:
• Different types of foods
• Your general environment
What does a microbiome do?
Think of your microbiome as its own ecosystem.
There are good bacteria that prey on bad bacteria, yeasts and fungi to provide the fertile ground in which good bacteria thrive, and cells that function as transportation for nutrients, which the body absorbs and converts to energy.
The problem arises when the bad bacteria outnumber the good.
When this occurs, the health of our microbiome deteriorates. Inflammation increases, energy production begins to fluctuate, and our set weight point begins to change. In the long-term, this sets up a potential for greater discomforts, like joint pain, chronic fatigue, weight gain, and arthritis.
Prolonged imbalance of the microbiome can be detrimental to our hearts, brain, and autoimmune responses.
Maintaining a healthy microbiome
If you look at DNA, very few genes within a human DNA strand differ from person to person. We are all, genetically speaking, very similar. The microbiome, however, is the opposite. Our gut microbiomes, bearing millions, or even trillions of microorganisms, are almost as unique as our fingerprints.
So what’s healthy for one person’s microbiota isn’t as beneficial for another’s.
This is where companies like Viome come in. They get a very accurate analysis of your gut microbiome, which can further refine how you should approach eating. You learn which foods you need to eat more of to benefit your specific ecosystem of microorganisms, and which foods you should avoid altogether.
The health of your gut microbiome has greater impact than even your genetics.
There are some foods that should universally be avoided to prevent inflammation, which is the beginning stage of microbiome imbalance. These are:
- Refined vegetable oils (such as corn and soybean oils, shortening, and canola)
- Refined carbohydrates and processed grain products
- Conventional meat, poultry, and eggs (due to feeding the animals corn and cheap ingredients which negatively impact their microbiomes)
- Added sugars (commonly found in pre-packaged snacks, breads, condiments, cereals, etc)
- Trans/hydrogenated fats (in packaged or processed items and often fried foods, including most fast food)
Your individual microbiome could also be impacted by pasteurized dairy products, which can be a common source of allergens.
Foods that help reduce inflammation are:
- Fresh vegetables: they’re loaded with phytonutrients shown to lower cholesterol, triglycerides, and symptoms of chronic disease states. Some of the best are carrots, beets, leafy greens, onions, peas, salad greens, and squashes.
- Whole fruits (not juice), which contain antioxidants tied to cancer prevention and brain health. Good examples are apples, berries, cherries, nectarines, oranges, pears, strawberries and more.
- Herbs, spices, and teas: turmeric, ginger, basil, oregano, thyme, etc. Green tea and organic coffee in moderation are also good.
- Probiotics, which contain good bacteria, like yogurt, kombucha, kefir, or cultured veggies.
- Wild caught fish, cage free eggs, and pasture raised meats. They have higher omega-3 fatty acids, and are great sources of protein, healthy fats, and essential nutrients.
- Healthy fats, such as grass fed butter, coconut or extra virgin olive oil, and nuts/seeds.
- Grains and legumes, best when 100% unrefined. Good choices are black beans, black-eyed peas, chickpeas, lentils, buckwheat, quinoa.
Be mindful of your microbiome
Your microbiome can impact how your body handles nutrients and stores fat, playing important roles in your overall health, even more so than your genetics. Changes in microbiota have led to significant changes in health and body weight, and it doesn’t take long to impact your overall health. Factors like poor diet, environmental toxin exposure, and stress negatively affect your microbiome, upsetting that all important balance between good and bad microorganisms.
We still have a lot to learn about the individual microorganisms that make up our gut microbiomes, but understanding the concept of your digestive ecosystem can help you tailor your diet specifically to your needs, and through this, you’re one step closer to reaching your most optimal health.