In the United States, it is estimated that up to 70 million people are affected by digestive disorders. That translates to almost 20% of our population with unhealthy gut related issues. The healthcare costs are in the billions. As a result, food scientists have begun to focus more intently on how gut microbiota (the microorganisms you have inside your body) influence—and even improve— a wide range of health conditions from heart disease, to cancer. Food manufacturers and food product developers are now placing more emphasis on the relationship between what ingredients are added to foods and how those ingredients directly affect a person’s gut health.
Understanding Your Microbiome
The human microbiome is an essential part of our biological development. It is a key factor in a properly regulated immune system and it largely defines our body’s resilience against viruses and chronic diseases. Our “gut microbiome” is made up of trillions of microbes ranging from bacteria to fungi which primarily live in our intestinal tract. The overall makeup of our microbiome is dynamic and it changes based on both diet and environmental factors. While our microbiome is primarily developed during childhood, it is continually redefined by the foods we eat, where we live and the ingestion of antibiotics. All these factors can influence and shape how this essential function affects our body’s ability to cope with natural and environmental stressors.
You Are What You Eat
One of the most important factors for shaping our microbiome is our dietary choices. By eating a diet low in saturated fat and processed sugar but high in fiber we can provide our gut’s microbiome with the nutrients it needs to sustain beneficial bacteria. What you eat directly affects your microbiome.
A well functioning gut microbiome is derived from eating both prebiotic foods like onions and garlic as well as probiotic foods, such as fermented foods like Kimchi. Fruits such as apples, berries, cherries and oranges should be consumed on a regular basis. Healthy fats from fish, nuts and seeds as well as healthy oils from sunflower and olive oil also contribute your overall gut health. Including Prebiotics in daily intake supports beneficial bacteria and increases the production of short chain fatty acids (SCFA). The body uses prebiotics to feed the beneficial bacteria in our large intestine who in turn metabolize the indigestible fibers into SCFA (and other products) which are used as a nutrient source but they also play an important role in possibly preventing chronic diseases, including certain cancers and bowel disorders.
A Healthy Gut Creates A Healthy Immune System
A healthy and properly functioning microbiome stimulates the immune system. Beneficial bacteria, especially Peptostreptococcus, Bifidobacterium, Lactobacillus, and Clostridium are believed to prevent the overgrowth of harmful bacteria and attach to mucous membranes of the gut which is a major site of immune activity. The promotion of healthy bacteria not only boosts your immunity, it also decreases inflammation. Experts believe that inflammation causes many chronic diseases including type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and obesity. If you are able to increase healthy bacteria while decreasing inflammation, this will positively affect your immune response. This alliance of the immune system–microbiota allows the induction of protective responses to pathogens. In short, when your gut is operating optimally, so will your immune system.
Product Development And The Gut Microbiome
Food Business Consulting can help food businesses and product developers create products incorporating prebiotics. These options include incorporation of indigestible carbohydrates and fibers such as inulin, resistant starches, gums, pectins, and fructooligosaccharides to provide a functional benefit to food products. We are also excited about a relatively new innovation in the food industry, infusing products with active/living probiotics to provide a functional benefit. There have been notable increases in beneficial gut Bifidobacteria and/or Lactobacilli that have consistently been observed with several different types of probiotics.
Continual advancements in our understanding of the relationship between what we eat and how it affects our gut microbiota is extremely exciting. As food scientists and food product developers, it is critical that we are consistently looking for new ways to harness the power of nutrient rich foods which will positively affect consumer’s diets and health.
If you are interested in more information as to how the gut microbiome is directly affected by the foods we eat, we have compiled a short list of references and as always, if you have any questions, don’t hesitate to reach out to our to at FBC.
For an in depth overview of your gut microbiome, please see:
For more information on how nutrition directly affects the gut microbiome:
For more on the gut microbiome and immunity: