The latest science, digested for you here!
Scientists have known for some time that what you eat is strongly connected to the presence or absence of disease in your system. Now, studying the human gut microbiome is helping us to understand why that is true.
The most recent microbiome science highlights the complex web of interactions that exist between food and gut microbes. Viewed from this perspective, it is easy to see that we need to eat healthily not just for our own sakes, but for the health of our gut bugs.
Understanding this relationship helps us to create powerful change in our physical and mental wellbeing.
On June 8, 2022 the journal Cell Host & Microbe published an article called “Rethinking healthy eating in light of the gut microbiome,” 1https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1931312822002220 which compares dietary recommendations from countries around the world, along with their resulting health effects.
What’s new here is that the study examines the health benefits of different diets by comparing how they impact your gut microbes. As an example, the authors explain that vegetables, fruits, whole grains, pulses/legumes, and nuts are indeed “good for us”. We all know that, right? But the researchers explain that these foods are so beneficial because they are natural sources of “microbiota-accessible carbohydrates” (MACs). In other words, your gut bugs love ’em!
How does it work?
Your gut bugs ferment these MACs, and produce helpful short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) like butyrate, acetate, and propionate, which have a wide range of effects on your entire microbial ecosystem. These helpful SFCAs have powerful benefits for your entire system including antimicrobial properties, balancing of gut barrier function and the enhanced production of hormones that control hunger and improve insulin sensitivity. 2https://www.wageningenacademic.com/doi/10.3920/BM2020.0057
Apart from being an essential building block for SCFAs, fibrous MACs also help by preventing the breakdown of mucus inside your gut. Hang on, you might say, mucus is bad, don’t we want to break it down? But inside your gut, mucus is a good thing. It helps prevent your gut lining from being damaged by powerful stomach acid. Beneficial microbes like Akkermansia (the “lean bug” ) also live in the mucus layer, feeding off it and helping to regulate your immunity and metabolism. 3https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/35613313/
So what’s the problem?
One of the major problems with typical Western diets is that they tend to be low in these healthy MACs, compared to traditional eating patterns like the Mediterranean diet. To make things worse, many “trendy” diets today are purposely low in MACs, which is a disaster for your gut bugs! Low-carb, paleo and ketogenic diets can all result in poor production of those all-important SCFAs, which are known to reduce inflammation in the gut and throughout the body. 4https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1550413114003118
Another reason that whole-plant diets are so good for you, in terms of gut health, is something called polyphenols. Polyphenols are “bioactive” – meaning that they have a biological effect – compounds that are typically bound to dietary fibres. Polyphenols give plants their colour, flavour, smell, and astringency. 5https://pubs.rsc.org/en/content/articlelanding/2015/fo/c5fo00322a Up to 95% of all polyphenols you consume end up in your colon, where they are transformed by your gut microbes. This transformation process increases bioavailability and absorption of the polyphenols. It also enhances their ability to work as helpful antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and immune-regulating molecules.
What’s the solution?
As science allows us to penetrate the mysteries of the human microbiome, we are beginning to redefine healthy eating as a practice that supports the wellbeing of your entire gut ecosystem. Eating to enhance the health of your gut bugs will increase your own chances of staying healthy and happy!
Dr Miguel & The Goats