- According to recent research published in the journal Nature Medicine, your gut microbiome can thrive or sputter based largely on what foods you incorporate into your diet.
- Choices such as vegetables, nuts, eggs, and seafood feed the good bacteria in your gut, while sweetened beverages and highly refined grains feed the bad bacteria in your gut.
- A healthy gut is essential for stronger immunity, improved cardiovascular and cognitive function, deeper sleep, and lower risk of depression.
An unhappy gut often makes for an unhappy set of kilometres, and can be especially problematic on longer training runs and during races. But, recent research suggests, there’s a way to keep your gut tuned up.
The enormous colony of bacteria and microbes in your digestive system—known as your gut microbiome—can thrive or sputter based largely on what foods you choose, according to the study, published in the journal Nature Medicine.
Researchers looked at the microbiomes of just over 1,000 people who had contributed long-term diet information to a major data gathering effort called PREDICT 1, which assessed the genetic and metabolic responses to food.
They found that diets rich in certain plant-based foods are associated with the presence of beneficial gut microbes that, in turn, are linked to lower risk of conditions like obesity, cardiovascular disease, and type 2 diabetes.
One notable aspect of the research was the identification of microbes that positively or negatively correlate with these conditions. In other words, you have both good and bad actors in your gut, according to study coauthor Sarah Berry, Ph.D., senior lecturer in the department of nutrition sciences at King’s College London.
“The good microbes lead to better measures of good health, including lower body fat, lower inflammation, lower blood pressure, lower blood lipids, and much more,” Berry told Runner’s World. “There is great potential to modify our microbiome through diet to positively impact our health.”
The study found that food selections like vegetables, nuts, eggs, and seafood feed the good bacteria. The bad bacteria prefers sweetened beverages, large amounts of juices, white bread, and highly refined grains.
Although your gut plays an essential role in lowering risks for the major conditions noted in the study, it’s also central for everyday physiological function, according to dietitian Mary Purdy, M.S., RDN, author of The Microbiome Reset Diet. That includes stronger immunity, improved cardiovascular and cognitive function, deeper sleep, and lower risk of depression.
For example, Purdy told Runner’s World, about 90 percent of your body’s serotonin—the neurotransmitter linked to feelings of wellbeing—are produced in your gut. When your bacterial balance is off, it’s likely you’ll feel the effects on an emotional level.
“What’s happening in our guts based on what we eat influences nearly everything in the body,” said Purdy. “Think of your microbiome as an ecosystem that you can support or diminish, depending on what you’re eating.”
Although there are plenty of supplements available that promote gut health, such as probiotics, Purdy suggested starting with whole foods first, since they also contain vitamins and minerals as well as fibre, which can all help not only with physical function, but also with athletic performance.
– ELIZABETH MILLARD Elizabeth Millard is a freelance writer focusing on health, wellness, fitness, and food.