Microbiota refers to a community of microorganisms living together in the same environment. Within the human body, this includes the skin, airways, mouth, the female reproductive tract and the most complex of all, the gastrointestinal tract.
Microbiota and Gut Health
The gastrointestinal tract or “gut” is the most densely populated microbiota, containing billions of different microbes, of which some are ‘good’ and some are ‘bad’. The ‘good’ microbes play a role in:
- Extracting energy and nutrients from our diet
- Regulating metabolism
- Reducing inflammation
- Reducing the risk of chronic diseases such as obesity and type 2 diabetes
- Regulating normal immune system function
- Improving sleep quality
- Optimising brain function and health.
Research has shown that an imbalance of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ gut microbes can lead to impaired nutrient absorption, weight gain, high blood sugar levels, poor sleep and poor immune function. The good news is that although our gut microbiota is relatively stable, dietary modifications can induce rapid changes. Below is a list of the top 5 dietary and lifestyle changes we can make to promote growth of ‘good’ microbes within our gut microbiota.
5 Ways To Optimise Your Gut Microbiota
1. Aim for at least 25–30g of fibre each day.
Fibre refers to carbohydrates that are not digested in the small intestine and partially or completely fermented in the large intestine. Dietary fibre is the primary energy source for good gut bacteria, and is found in whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and legumes. An easy way to estimate your fibre intake is by using My Fitness Pal or Easy Diet Diary.
2. Increase intake of diverse plant-based foods.
Diversity is key! A diet that includes a wide variety of fibre rich foods increases the diversity of the gut microbiota, resulting in better health outcomes. Your challenge is to aim for 30 different types of fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and grains each week.
3. Add prebiotics and probiotics to your diet.
Prebiotics are fuel sources that promote/feed the growth of good gut microbes. Sources include leek, chicory, cabbage, onion, shallots, spring onion, garlic, jerusalem artichoke, almonds, legumes, broccoli, cauliflower, mango, banana, grapefruit, barley, bran, quinoa and flax seeds.
Probiotics refer to live microorganisms that have health benefits when consumed in adequate amounts. Food sources include kimchi, sauerkraut, greek yoghurt, kefir, kombucha, tempeh, sourdough bread and miso.
4. Manage your stress levels.
Mental health and gut health are interconnected. Research has shown that chronic inflammation in the gut has been linked with the development of mental disorders, including anxiety and depression. Exercising, meditation, time management, getting a good night’s sleep or talking to someone are examples of how you can manage your stress levels.
5. Avoid unnecessary medication (particularly antibiotics).
Antibiotics can lead to microbiota depletion if taken often. They tend to upset the balance of your gut microbiota by not only killing the bad bacteria, but also killing off the good bacteria. Only take antibiotics when necessary.
Please note that this is information for the general public. If you would like personalised strategies on how to improve your gut health taking into account your own circumstances, please contact us to book a consultation with our Dietitian.