From diet tracking apps, personalised meal plans and smart labels, to the latest functional foods and supplements, it’s clear that diet and nutrition are higher on the agenda than ever before. After all, awareness of gut health has steadily climbed in recent years as we have become more engaged with our own health. This growing attention puts the ‘gut microbiome’, the community of bacteria in the gut, firmly into focus. We all aim to eat better and give the body the support it needs, but what makes the gut microbiome such an important area to consider?

What do we mean by ‘gut microbiota’?

For a long time, scientists thought that microorganisms, such as bacteria, were inherently bad for us. However, today’s scientific understanding paints a very different picture! The gut microbiome is the community of bacteria in the gut that are collectively termed the ‘gut microbiota’. This community is understood to influence health and wellbeing. As well as aiding digestion, certain types of bacteria, known as ‘good’ gut bacteria, have additional benefits to the body.

The gut microbiome is a finite space; it can only hold a certain number of bacteria. When we speak about ‘gut health’, we are often talking about the balance of bacteria in the gut. Naturally, we want more of the beneficial bacteria, and less of the kinds that are not. More beneficial gut microbiome compositions are known to support areas such as immunity, mental health and sleep health, among others. The composition of the gut microbiome isn’t fixed. It shifts and changes over time, which means there’s always opportunities to create a more favourable balance and let the ‘good’ gut bacteria shine.

Gut

Where does diet fit in?

The ‘good’ gut bacteria that help the body function are fuelled by certain nutrients. The preferred fuel can vary from one type of bacteria to another, which is why a varied diet is always recommended. Since the ‘good’ gut bacteria are known to offer various benefits to the body, we aim to encourage them to flourish and increase in numbers, which gives potentially ‘bad’ gut bacteria less space to occupy; this is known as ‘competitive exclusion’.

Diet has a very important role to play in determining our gut microbiome composition. We can see this from our very early years and beyond. For example, studies have shown that gut microbiome composition in infants varies between babies that were breast-fed and those fed with formula. Infants that were breast-fed tend to have greater amounts of bifidobacteria; one of the types of ‘good’ gut bacteria that are important to physical and mental health. In contrast, formula-fed infants tend to have a more diverse gut microbiome showing the direct effect that diet has on the wellbeing of the gut.

Dietary factors that can affect the gut microbiome include amount and type of food consumed, acidity levels in the digestive system, oxygen levels and bile salts that emulsify fats. A diet that is higher in carbohydrates may have a positive effect on the microbial community in the gut, but not all carbohydrates work in the same way.

Breast Feeding

Can prebiotics and probiotics help to supplement the diet?

Prebiotics and probiotics are two approaches to the same goal - creating a more optimal balance of bacteria in the gut. Probiotics are live microorganisms, ‘good’ gut bacteria, that can be added to the gut. These can be found in functional or fortified food, as well as dedicated food supplements.

Prebiotics, also known as prebiotic fibre or dietary fibre, instead feed and nourish ‘good’ gut bacteria that is already there. These bacteria ferment prebiotic fibre, releasing short-chain fatty acids, chemicals that support many of the body’s key functions. As a collective category, prebiotics are supported by over 5,000 research articles and scientific papers and are one of the fastest-moving fields of study in gut health today. Prebiotic fibre can be found naturally occurring in many different foods and vegetables, including whole grain oats, onions, shallots, bananas and Jerusalem artichokes. Because prebiotic foods are so diverse, for many of us, they may already form at least part of our diet. However, increasing the amount of prebiotic fibre through dietary changes alone can be more difficult for some people. In these instances, a prebiotic in supplement form, such as Bimuno® can help to increase daily intake.

Fibre

In summary, the ‘gut microbiome’ is heavily influenced by diet. By changing the microbial community in the gut, we could use the advantages of ‘good’ gut bacteria to better support physical and mental health. Because of this relationship between diet, gut bacteria and physical health, the gut microbiome is a strong area of focus when looking towards better nutrition. Why not learn more about gut health, the role of ‘good’ gut bacteria and the diverse advantages they can bring to the body?

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