The best and healthiest foods for your microbiome
The right diet is a key factor for a sound microbiome. Following only a few diet principles, based on the latest knowledge, will make you less prone to a number of diseases – including obesity and depression. And having a good diet isn’t something that’s just “one extra chore” to do for wellness and health. Diet is, or at least should be, something that is pleasing the senses and creating joy whether you are sharing a meal with someone or eating mindfully alone.
Is there a forever-young-diet?
It sounds almost too good to be true. Just a slight modification here and there in your daily diet and an occasional microbiome-friendly cure and everything will be just fine. Is it really that easy? The article >>> A short diet intervention says no, it’s not that easy. But in the end it is not that complicated, too. As soon as 24 hours after refraining from animal products (in comparison to sticking solely to animal products) in your intake, your microbiome shows a clear difference in its composition. And after having completed the 4-day-intervention, dramatic differences in the concentration of beta-lactamase (a substance breaking down penicillin type antibiotics) and a substance required for the production of vitamin B6, could be noticed – among many other changes.
But how about permanent change? Is it possible to fix an imbalanced microbiome by simply shifting to a more microbiome-friendly diet for, let’s say a few months, and achieve permanent improvement? Or – to put it more radically – can we turn back to our usual diet after having undertaken a microbiome-friendly cure without falling back into our dysbiotic microbiome? There is little experimental data to draw upon, but the preliminary answer is “no, unfortunately not”. In a recently published >>> study, former obese mice were found to be prone to fall back into an obese state when shifting their nutrition back to how it was. Scientists could show that the reason for that was a permanent change in the composition of the microbiome, caused by the initially bad nutrition habits.
So, there is no forever-young-diet? Well, who knows: it has consistently been shown that a Western diet and other unhealthy diets can induce different maladies in animals – via the microbiome (>>> more about). But the same goes vice versa: an intact microbiome can prevent maladies. Data from studies in humans are scarce, however, mainly for ethical reasons. Diet-microbiome-induced disease or therapeutic effects in humans can largely be hypothesized based on animal studies and probable “healthy” or “unhealthy” changes in microbiome composition and function.
There are so many different foods that exist in the world, and there is a large lack of research with regards to the microbiome on many of them. Therefore, the list below is based on a partly arbitrary selection of studies. The foods or food stuffs in these studies have been shown to improve health or health markers through the microbiome (or to have an effect on the microbiome that is generally associated with beneficial effects). Further, different foods will likely be beneficial for some people but not for others.
Nevertheless, we would like to give a little starting aid on the matter with this list:
1. Grapefruit - changes to microbiome for the better
A >>> study with obese mice found that their microbiota hampered the uptake of naringenin. Naringenin is a substance found in grapefruit, known to have anti-obesity effects. Follow-up research has to clarify if two or three grapefruits a day are enough to exert beneficial effects. But grapefruits clearly do prevent a dysbiotic microbiome. Also, the bitter taste limits the crave for sweets and steers nutrition in a generally good direction. Grapefruit tastes great when mixed with kefir, honey and nuts.
The effects mentioned for grapefruit can also be found with the consumption of parsley, except parsley contains apigenin. It can be used sprinkled on potatoes, or to make parsley pesto, for instance.
3. Cellular food
There is indirect evidence (>>> Link) that a diet based largely on flour, sugar, and other so-called acellular (processed) foods can adversely affect the microbiome. Whole foods such as pumpernickel bread, rice, barley kernels and unprocessed fruits or vegetables, meat and seafood contain mainly cell-enclosed nutrients, which are not immediately accessible to microbes when ingested. Pumpernickel bread with pesto spread and red onion rings is a delicious and healthy lunch!
4. Oat - this wonderful cereal contains beta-glucans and other fibers
This wonderful cereal contains beta-glucans and other fibers that - when eaten as a whole food – have positive effects on the microbiome (>>> study). Oat bran intake is associated with less inflammation, in part mediated by changes in the microbiome (and is therefore highly recommended for patients of inflammatory bowel diseases like Crohn Disease). In its non-processed form, oat supports positive changes in the microbiome. Oat porridge with cinnamon, butter and seeds is a quick, tasty breakfast for an active day.
5. Kefir - contains a range of different lactic acid bacteria and fungi
It contains a range of different lactic acid bacteria and fungi - and side products of these microorganisms (>>> Link). Therefore, Kefir has a significantly positive impact on the ability of the immune system to fight against cancer cells (which are constantly developing in our bodies and can only take over if their multiplication is not inhibited). Also, better wound healing, and an increased ACE (angiotensin converting enzyme) level, necessary for a normal blood pressure level and regulation of water-electrolyte-balance is supported by regular intake of Kefir. In mice, kefir was also found to increase the exercise performance (>>> Link). Diet tip? Kefir is a fantastic ingredient in milkshakes. Mix with coconut milk, lime juice and spice with ginger and vanilla! Yummie!
6. Beetroot - the growth promotor of “good” bacteria
Beetroot are a good source of nitrate, serving as a selective growth promotor of “good” bacteria competing against “bad” ones (>>> Link). The positive effects can be traced back to a hemming of imidazole propionates, which is a chemical compound helping to reduce mTOR and thus the growth of “bad” cells, such as cancer cells. Beetroot can serve as an anti-cancer-patrol. A beetroot salad with walnuts and goat cheese is a good alternative for the (generally rather poor in nutrition values) standard green salad.
7. Organic foods - less pesticides and additives for a better microbiome
Various pesticides and additives (>>> Link) turned out to have negative impacts on a sound microbiome (>>> Link). This goes above all for additives like carrageen, which is frequently used as gelling agent, as well as carboxymethyl cellulose that is used frequently and without official quantity restriction in industrially processed foods (above all sweets, cremes, and desserts). The consequence is an increased risk for bowel diseases. So, steer clear of industry food and opt for self-prepared organic food.
8. Grape seeds - improves inflammatory levels and obesity
Grape seed proanthocyanidin extract has been found to ameliorate inflammation and adiposity by modulating gut microbiota in mice. In fact, grapes with seeds are hard to find, right now. Standard are types without seeds. As always, demand determines supply, so let’s give grapes with seeds more room in our menus. How about a fruit salad with whipped cream for dessert?
9. Berries - inhibit negative and foster good microbes
Various berries turned out to have inhibitory effects on "negative" microbes and a positive effect on "good" microbes that can prevent illnesses (>>> Link). One study showed berries to help mitigate bad-microbiome-induced colitis (>>> Link). Frozen berries are perfect for a smoothie.
10. Herbs and spices – a healthy way to give your food some extra taste
Herbs and spices in general. In particular, black pepper, cayenne pepper, cinnamon, ginger, oregano, rosemary, and curcuma, all come with similar characteristics as described above for berries. All support healthy microbes and hinder unhealthy ones (>>> Link). Spices can be added to practically any dish and are a good option to start into a healthier, more conscious life, as they invite to experiment (ever tried basil pineapple smoothie?). Moreover, herbs and spices are an excellent substitute for sugars and other artificial flavor enhancers and therefore in any case the better alternative in healthy cooking.
We continue to search for the best food for our microbiome, so it's worth to stop by here more often!