By Shauna Schultz, RD
A healthy gut is home to trillions of good bacteria, collectively called microbiota. In fact, there are ten times more microbes in the human body than cells! These bacteria play an integral role in health and disease – they have a strong influence on immunity and inflammation, help regulate body weight and metabolism, help absorb and assimilate nutrients, help prevent chronic disease and digestive disorders and even play a role in auto-immune conditions, mood, and behavior. In fact, it is estimated that 70% of the immunity resides in the gut.
Microbiota have been referred to as the forgotten organ and like any organ, are influenced by nutrition and lifestyle. Nutrition is key in determining the health of your microbiota and the microbiota is responsive to dietary changes (good or bad). Without the proper fuel, bacteria can turn to your digestive tract for fuel which results in poor digestion and health problems. The following four steps will help put you on the path to nourishing your gut.
Feed them with Fiber
Microbes thrive on fiber-rich carbohydrates. We call these foods prebiotics which fuel probiotics residing in your gut. Bacteria ferment fiber in the colon and produce beneficial substances like health-promoting short-chain fatty acids.
Kid-friendly tips: Serve a fruit and vegetable with every meal, try new whole grains, or enjoy beans as a protein source. Try sprouted bread with almond butter and sliced strawberries for a healthy snack.
Get Cultured with Probiotics
Cultured and fermented foods contain live and active cultures of varying species and strains to help populate our gut with good bacteria. Cultured and fermented foods are unique because they provide nutrients for bacteria to thrive, multiply, and colonize.
Kid-friendly tips: Start with foods that are easily accepted like yogurt (choose plain and sweeten yourself), kefir (dairy or nondairy versions), kombucha, and miso. Try a noodle, vegetable, and edamame soup with miso broth for a healthy dinner.
Fight Inflammation with Food
The health of our gut, inflammation, and immunity are all strongly influenced by each other. Unfavorable changes in microbiota caused by diet, stress, and health conditions can create inflammation which can lead to suppressed immunity. Fortunately, many of the foods that quiet inflammation also nourish the gut.
Kid-friendly tips: Let children help meal plan and shop – ask them to choose three different colors of fruits and vegetables. Try a smoothie with blueberries, banana, spinach, and hemp or flax as part of a healthy breakfast.
Avoid Processed Foods
High fat (especially animal fats) and high sugar diets negatively impact gut microbiota by creating an imbalance, as do refined carbohydrates and diets high in omega-6 oils.
Kid-friendly tips: Give children choices of healthy alternatives and slowly start to replace processed foods with whole foods.
Sources – CE International: Immunity, Inflammation and the Gut Microbiota; Erica Sonnenburg, Ph.D and Justin Sonnenburg, Ph.D, Stanford School of Medicine, Authors of the The Good Gut.