You may not be aware, but there are millions of bacteria living inside your gut. This bacteria is also known as your microbiome or your gut flora.
Everyone’s microbiome is unique to them and is shaped by many factors including our genetics and DNA.
Studies on twins have shown that family members share common gut flora which could affect how much body weight we gain and where we store it.1
What are bacteria?
Bacteria are tiny living organisms – usually consisting of just one cell – that can be found just about anywhere, including in our guts!
Most bacteria are ‘good’ and help our body perform certain tasks. However, some are ‘bad’ and can cause infections and illness.
The key is to strike a balance between good and bad bacteria that live in the gut.
Researchers say that when gut bacteria becomes out of balance, it can cause health issues which may lead to an increased risk of conditions like heart disease, cancer and type 2 diabetes.2
On the Huffington Post blog, Raphael Kellman, MD author of The Microbiome Diet explains:
“When your microbiome is balanced, you have a terrific ally that keeps your body healthy, promoting good digestion, clear thinking, balanced mood, and glowing overall health.
"When your microbiome goes out of balance, however, you risk such symptoms as brain fog, depression, anxiety, bad skin and insomnia — and, down the road, obesity, diabetes, and cancer.”3
The friendly bacteria
These bacteria are some of the most beneficial in terms of keeping your digestion and gut healthy:
This bacteria plays a key role in gut health.
A 2016 report published in World Journal of Gastroenterology found that lactobacilli can ease symptoms of IBS, like stomach bloating, potentially preventing or easing IBS symptoms.4,5
Handpicked content: What is Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and how can you treat it?
This is the first bacteria to colonise babies’ guts, and it’s also thought to play an important role in immune system health.
However, scientists are still investigating how bifidobacteria has this effect.6,7
Handpicked content: What is my immune system and why is it so important?
As part of a twin study at New York State’s Cornell University and King’s College London, researchers found that slim people have higher levels of a particular strain of this bacteria – Christensenellaceae minuta – suggesting it may play a role in managing body weight.8
How does your diet affect the microbiome?
What we eat can have a big impact on the health of our gut and our individual microbiome can affect our metabolism, digestion and weight.
A large study in the Netherlands found that everything we drink or eat has an effect on the bacteria living in our digestive systems as well as our overall health.9
Other evidence suggests that a diet high in sugar and fat changes the bacteria in the microbiome and leads to obesity.10
So, to keep our microbiomes healthy, a varied diet is essential.
Researchers believe that a diverse diet leads to a diverse microbiome that is able to deal with any bacteria that is harmful to your health.11
What is a microbiome diet?
The idea is to eat a diet full of foods which helps support levels of good bacteria in your gut.
A healthy gut diet plan is full of whole foods and nutrients – basically foods that help your digestive system work at its best - and less processed and harder-to-digest foods. These foods can include:
Fruit and vegetables
Packed with essential vitamins, minerals and dietary fibre, getting your 5 a day is essential for a healthy, balanced microbiome.
Aim to fill your plate with a variety of fresh fruit and veg like broccoli, spinach, carrots, blueberries, apples and strawberries.
Herbs and spices
Flavour your food with aromatic spices like ginger and turmeric. Both are known for managing immune responses in the body.
Foods that contain friendly bacteria may help restore good bacteria in your gut and keep it healthy.12
In fact, the Netherlands study found that people who regularly ate yoghurt had more diverse gut bacteria.
As well as yoghurt, fermented foods like kefir, miso or kombucha also contain friendly bacteria.
Evidence suggests that Omega-3 fatty acids helps support the body’s natural immune response.13
To get your fill, go for oily fish like salmon or tuna, chia seeds or flaxseeds.
Staple wholegrains of a gut health diet include: porridge oats, brown rice, quinoa, bulgur wheat, barley, popcorn, whole-wheat bread and buckwheat.
These hearty grains may also keep you feeling fuller for longer.
In moderation, red wine could help keep your microbiome diverse.
It contains resveratrol, which one study found may lessen the risk of heart disease by adapting the gut microbiome.15
What foods should you avoid on a microbiome diet?
Research shows that drinking excessively or for long periods may affect the microbiome which could, in turn, lead to liver disease.16
Evidence shows that eating refined carbohydrates on a regular basis could have an inflammatory effect on the body.17
Instead, cut down on white bread and pasta in favour of whole grains, which are much better for a good gut health diet.
Research suggests that processed food that contains hydrogenated (trans) fat may cause inflammation.18
These foods are also often high in calories, which may decrease the diversity of our gut bacteria.19
Making some changes to your diet helps support your microbiome, but remember that there is no “one size fits all” approach.
“But there is a good correlation between diversity and health: greater diversity is better,” researcher Alexandra Zhernakova MD PhD says.
And Dr Kelleman agrees: “The key is to keep supporting your little friends inside — your microbiome.”
Last updated: 26 August 2021