Routt County CSU Extension: Eating for gut health
May 15, 2016
I just had my poop analyzed, and now, I'm wondering what to do with the information. It all started after hearing Dr. Rob Knight speak at the Lillian Fountain Smith nutrition conference at Colorado State University. Knight is at the forefront of research into the microbes of the digestive track. What he described was a whole new world of experimentation with, well, excrement. Analysis of feces from people from all over the world is being collected and shared with the Human Microbiome Project and other projects worldwide to better understand the trillions of microbes in our digestive tract, or gut, and how they impact our health.
Knight is involved with the American Gut project to provide a way for regular people, like me, to participate and compare my gut microbes with people around the world. At a cost of $99 for a test kit, I am now a contributor to this groundbreaking research. To participate in this poop project, I had to submit swabs of fecal matter and complete an extensive questionnaire about my lifestyle and dietary pattern. The American Gut Project will include my results in its research as it tries to understand the characteristics of a healthy gut — and conversely, a sick gut — and how we might improve our gut health. It's a huge project to undertake as a contribution-supported academic endeavor.
We have always known that the digestive tract is home to a world of bacteria, fungi and viruses. Only in the past few years did we fully appreciate the role this invisible population, also known as the gut microbiome, plays in our digestion and health.
Starting with your mouth and continuing to the end, with the help of your gut microbiome, your food is changed into energy, nutrients and yes, feces. With the help of these hundred trillion tiny creatures, we metabolize nutrients and defend ourselves against many diseases.
There are also studies investigating the microbiome's role in obesity, response to medications and artificial ingredients and its relationship to a variety of conditions, including depression, Parkinson's disease, irritable bowel diseases and Type 2 diabetes.
While we are just beginning to understand the role these microbes play in our health, we do know that everything a person eats feeds the living creatures in his or her gut. The question is, what type of diet will promote the growth of a healthy microbiome? Following are a few foods that you should eat to feed your gut microbiota:
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• Fresh foods — Fresh fruits, vegetables and legumes provide valuable dietary fiber. When these foods are eaten with limited sugar and minimal processing, they provide beneficial fuel to your gut bacteria.
• Fermented Foods — Naturally fermented foods such as yogurt and kefir, with live and active cultures, sauerkraut, kimchi, miso and kombucha provide beneficial bacteria to your gut. To get the benefits, be sure the foods are "lacto-fermented" or naturally fermented and raw or unpasteurized, as pasteurization kills beneficial bacteria.
• Garlic and onion — Garlic and onion contain natural sources of the prebiotic inulin. Prebiotics are the food that feeds the good bacteria in your gut.
• Probiotic Supplements — Probiotic supplements that contain a variety of strains of beneficial bacteria are helpful during or after using an antibiotic. Consult your health care provider for recommendations.
I received my American Gut fecal test results, and quite honestly, I don't know what it means; my guess is, the researchers don't know, either. They have no way of telling me if my gut microbiome is superior to others or average. However, over time, they will compare me to others and start to build an understanding of how our diets, lifestyles and medications affect our health.
If you would like to know more about research on the gut microbiome, visit TED.com and find the TED Talk, "Rob Knight: How our microbes make us who we are." He has also written a short book on the subject titled "Follow Your Gut: The Enormous Impact of Tiny Microbes."
If you really want to involve yourself in this fascinating research, join the American Gut research project, then stop by the Extension office, and we can compare results.
Karen Massey is a registered dietitian nutritionist and family and consumer science Extension agent with Colorado State University Extension in Routt County. For more information, call 970-879-0825 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.