talk last month about the health effects of gut bacteria at
the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ food and nutrition
conference in Chicago. The right balance of good bugs in our
lower intestines can stimulate our immune system, help manage
our weight and perhaps even protect us from diseases like type
2 diabetes, according to some research.
to this process is dietary fiber, we were informed by Dr.
Dennis Gordon, Professor Emeritus at North Dakota State
University and former research scientist at Oregon State
"microbiota" are the trillions of bacteria, viruses
and funguses (fungi) that live on or in our bodies, he
explained. Some are healthful "probiotics" and some
are harmful, especially if they outnumber the good guys.
bacteria feeds on dietary fiber — the indigestible part of
plant foods. Similar to a septic tank, when fiber from the
diet is present in the digestive tract, microbes in the large
intestine ferment it into substances that help regulate
important body processes.
fiber in our diets actually feeds the beneficial bacteria in
our guts. Fiber also stimulates the intestines to do their
job, says Dr. Gordon, who believes dietary fiber is vital for
health. Not everyone agrees, however. Dietary fiber is not
considered an essential nutrient by current dietary
individual gut microbes are determined by the food we eat as
well as our genetics and get this … by the amount of stress
in our lives. Stress can change our microbiota and contribute
to health issues, we learned.
are just beginning to understand how the multitude of microbes
in our guts affect our health. And we still don’t know what
probiotic mixtures are the most beneficial. That’s because
every time we change our diets or our environment, our gut
microbes change, too. Taking a daily probiotic supplement only
changes gut microbiota one-tenth of 1 percent, says Gordon.
advice to get the most beneficial mixture of healthful "probiotic"
microbes? Eat a diverse supply of dietary fibers from a
variety of plant-based foods. That includes all types of
vegetables and fruits, beans, whole grains and nuts. "The
science supports diversity," he emphasized.
about fiber supplements? They can help but all fibers
collectively — from a variety of foods — are the most
potent for gut health, says Gordon.
continue to untangle the fascinating world of intestinal
microbes and health. For now, the best way to encourage
beneficial bacteria to populate our bodies is pretty simple,
moderate amounts of a variety of foods, especially plant foods
high in fiber. Exercise. And manage stress. That’s the
formula for health."