Our microbiome needs this food

The bacteria in our intestines perform numerous important tasks. For example, they are involved in the metabolism of food, are of great importance for the immune system and produce messenger substances that influence brain processes. Problems in the microbiome are associated with intestinal diseases, but also with allergies, obesity or diabetes. However, according to the Federal Center for Nutrition (BZfE), the exact connections within the organism are still the subject of current investigation.

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The fact is that the composition of the bacteria in our intestines changes throughout our lives. And at the same time it is unique: experts speak of a “microbial fingerprint”. Babies receive the first microorganisms directly at birth, others follow through breast milk. Depending on the food, the collection of bacteria in the intestines is supplemented.

“Overall, the microbiota remains a sensitive ecosystem that reacts to many environmental factors, such as diet, exercise, and stress, as well as disease and medication. Therefore, lifestyle is decisive for how the microbiome changes throughout life,” says the BZfE website.

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These foods have negative effects on the microbiome

Many foods that negatively affect the gut microbiome are part of our Western diet. According to studies, highly processed foods such as sweets, French fries and frozen pizza, but also sugar and fat, as well as too much meat, can have a negative impact on bacteria. In addition, there is less and less dietary fiber in our diet.

“Possibly, additives such as emulsifiers and sweeteners can harm the gut microbiome,” says the BZfE. The problem is that fiber is the main “food” for the beneficial microorganisms in our stomachs. And in principle, what we humans eat also serves as food for the bacteria in the intestine.

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For example, some bacteria metabolize special carbohydrates, the so-called MAC (Microbiota Accessible Carbohydrates). The inhabitants of the intestine convert this soluble fiber into short-chain fatty acids. These in turn serve as an important source of energy for the cells of the mucous membrane of the intestine. Fatty acids also strengthen the intestinal barrier, promote an acidic environment in the digestive organ, and have a positive effect on blood sugar and lipid metabolism.

What is dietary fiber?

The German Society for Nutrition (DGE) explains: Dietary fibers are non-digestible food components. They are found almost exclusively in plant foods. The only exception is chitin from the body of insects, which is not important to the Western diet. According to the DGE, higher fiber intake is associated with a reduced risk of death. It also reduces the risk of cardiovascular diseases, diabetes and cancer.

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In this context, the DGE recommends a dietary fiber intake of at least 30 grams per day for adults. “With sufficient fluid intake, dietary fibers not only prevent constipation and ensure a long-lasting feeling of satiety. If whole grain products are dispensed with, the preventive effects with regard to the development of cardiovascular diseases and certain types of cancer are not taken advantage of,” says Johanna Conrad, director of the Department of Sciences at the DGE on the company’s website.

A particularly high amount of dietary fiber can be found in whole-grain products, for example unpeeled rice, but also whole-grain bread or pasta. According to the DGE, 100 grams of cooked wholemeal pasta provide five grams of fiber. For comparison, the same amount of traditional white pasta contains just two grams of fiber. Another advantage is that whole grains cause blood sugar to rise much more slowly and thus can prevent hunger pangs.

Whole grain products like bread contain a lot of fiber.

Whole grain products like bread contain a lot of fiber.

Other very good sources of fiber for our microbiome are legumes such as chickpeas, beans or soybeans. Vegetables like celery, black salsify, broccoli, or mushrooms can also provide a variety of different dietary fibers, as can fruit (pears, apples, berries, and many more). Nuts can also contribute to the absorption of indigestible plant components.

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It’s all in the mix

The important thing is the mixture: “While whole grain products mainly provide insoluble fibers such as cellulose and lignin, vegetables, fruits and legumes are good sources of soluble fiber such as pectin,” according to the German Nutrition Society. According to the DGE, you can get a sufficient amount of dietary fiber with a daily intake of at least three servings of vegetables and two servings of fruit.

Whole grains and potatoes should also be on the menu. “The benchmark can be achieved, for example, with muesli for breakfast with oatmeal, flaxseed and pears, a soup with lentils, carrots and potatoes for lunch, and dessert with rhubarb and almonds,” says Johanna Conrad.

Don’t forget to drink!

It is important to drink enough, as many of the dietary fibers are water soluble and swell in the intestine. The fluid, along with the fiber, prevents constipation and can help stool pass through the intestines better. The choice of drinks is also important here: (mineral) water and unsweetened herbal and fruit teas are best.

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In addition to fiber, there are other dietary components that can have a positive effect on the microbiome. Secondary plant substances and plant proteins, for example, which are ingested through the consumption of fruits and vegetables, are important. Omega-3 fatty acids also play an important role for the bacteria in the intestine: they are found in nuts and seeds, but also in flaxseed oil, rapeseed oil and walnut oil.

Oils such as rapeseed or flaxseed provide the body with omega-3 fatty acids.

Oils such as rapeseed or flaxseed provide the body with omega-3 fatty acids.

Finally, fermented dairy products, such as yogurt or kefir, can improve the health of your gut bacteria. The probiotics contained in the products, including live bacteria, also support the intestinal flora.

Recommendation: Mediterranean diet

But what does that mean in concrete terms for daily nutrition? Experts recommend a Mediterranean diet for a healthy microbiome. This diet consists of consuming plenty of fruits and vegetables, supplemented with a moderate amount of meat and fish. A bit of olive oil and whole grain products should complement the menu.

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On the other hand, you should avoid too much red meat, highly processed foods, sugar, and too much animal fat. The German Nutrition Society also recommends that people who are not used to large amounts of fiber-containing foods slowly increase the amount of whole grain products, fruits and vegetables. Otherwise, too large amounts could lead to flatulence or even pain in the “untrained” intestine. If you are not sure about your diet, you can first contact your doctor.

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