Healthy digestion and good guts are essential to your overall well-being. At Project Juice, we work daily to bring you clean and nourishing foods which support healthy digestion and optimum gut health. But, the gut is a complex system that calls for love from all directions, requiring attention to not only the foods you eat, but to your thoughts, the beauty and household cleaning products you use, and the air you breathe.
That’s why, as a part of our Happy Guts challenge, we partnered with uBiome, the leader in microbial genomics, to help you gain insights into your gut microbiome. Since the microbiome plays a vital role in health, it’s important to know how to we make sure it’s as balanced as possible. We asked two members of uBiome’s team, Elena Tovar, RD, uBiome’s Clinical Programs Manager, and Dr. Mike Hoaglin, MD, a member of uBiome’s Medical Affairs Team, to offer their insights on why what you eat plays an important role in your gut health and what you can do to balance your microbiome.
Here’s what they had to say:
Do genetically modified foods (GMO’s) and processed foods affect my gut?
E: The evidence on how GMO foods impact the gut microbiome is limited. There is, however, evidence that shows that eating foods that contain certain additives, preservatives, and artificial sweeteners can lead to higher levels of harmful bacteria than is ideal. These processed ingredients can also impact the lining of the gut directly. Bottom line: focus on eating whole, unrefined foods as much as possible.
How does my gut microbiome become unbalanced?
Dr. M: The gut microbiome behaves almost as a separate organ for us; however, it’s made up of different microbes that are not our own cells. These microbes are our guests, helping us to digest our food, to send signals to our body, and to create and extract nutrients from what we eat- thus, these microbes must remain in balance so we can perform these functions optimally. While each person’s microbiome needs are unique, there are many different species that are associated with better health, and some species may be more beneficial than others.
For example, some bacterial species prevent overgrowth of less helpful microbes and even can help prevent infections. When there is an overgrowth of the wrong species in the gut microbiome, there may be an imbalance called a ‘dysbiosis’.” A dysbiosis is linked to inflammation and conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, fatty liver disease and inflammatory bowel disease. In addition, many beneficial bacteria in our gut thrive on fiber, which is often deficient in the American diet. Refined flour and sugars, on the other hand, increase bile flow and can lead to overgrowth of less beneficial bacteria that can lead to a dysbiosis.
Does my gut affect how quickly I gain or lose weight?
E: Evidence suggests that certain gut microbiome profiles impact our ability to gain or lose weight. The relationship is a complicated one with a number of potential mechanisms at play. However, we do know that the nutrients that typically increase the levels of beneficial bacteria found in higher levels in lean people are those found in plant-based, whole foods.
How does consuming cold-pressed juice or smoothies affect my gut?
Dr. M: Cold-pressed juices and smoothies and made up of colorful fruits and vegetables that contain pigment compounds called phytonutrients. These plant pigments have important antioxidant and even antimicrobial properties that are beneficial to the microbiome.
Plant compounds from fruits and vegetables, for example, may inhibit the growth of several less-helpful bacterial species, including E. coli, Staph, and Salmonella. Smoothies, in particular those that use the whole fruit, have the added benefit of fiber as well, which serves as a prebiotic. Prebiotics are dietary components that selectively feed the beneficial bacteria of the gut microbiome, helping improve microbial balance in the gut.
What happens to my gut when I change diets?
E: Changes in our diet impact our own physiological functions as well as those of the gut microbiota. Diets high in saturated fat, refined sugar, and animal protein (the traditional “Western diet”) promote an environment of inflammation both within our gut and outside of it.
Evidence shows that major dietary changes, such as switching to a vegan diet after following a Western diet, can create noticeable shifts in gut microbiome in as little as 24 hours. However, the gut microbiome will quickly return to its baseline if people return to their original dietary habits.
Is my gut health related to my quality of sleep?
Dr. M: The microbiome is intimately connected to our brain, in part through its production of neurotransmitters such as dopamine, serotonin, and GABA–all of which influence getting quality sleep. The rhythm and timing of the release of these chemicals are crucial to healthy sleep, which is why we have circadian rhythms.
Recent studies suggest that our microbiome has a circadian rhythm as well, so the timing of meals matters to some degree, but further research is needed. We do know that sleep deprivation leads to defects in the gut barrier, altered immunity, and lower levels of beneficial bacteria, so getting enough sleep is certainly a requirement for a healthy gut.
How does my gut affect my immune system?
E: About 70% of our immune tissue is located in the digestive tract. .The gut microbiome interacts with the immune system and provides signals to promote the maturation of immune cells and the normal development of immune functions. It also contributes to maintaining the integrity of the intestinal lining and regulating healthy cell turnover.
An imbalance in the gut microbiome can result in a pro-inflammatory intestinal environment that could contribute to the progression of chronic inflammation and metabolic disorders. A gut microbiome that is fed with a healthy diet with enough fiber helps our immune system fight off infections and keeps the gut in a healthy state.