A happy gut: prebiotic food for health

A happy gut: prebiotic food for health

Have you ever heard about MICROBIOTA ?

Let's take a closer look at this rather bizarre word, whose meaning is actually self-explanatory - well almost!

'Micro' clearly means 'small'. But 'biome', a term hardly used at all in everyday speech, means a complex of living organisms that occupy a certain space inside an ecosystem.

The "small-organisms", more scientifically called microorganisms, of which we are speaking of today, are called bacteria and live in a very special ecosystem ... our gut!

We have been taught since childhood that bacteria are bad – and that they keep bad company with things called viruses. Fortunately, it turns out that things are not really like that! As Eastern philosophy teaches, there's a little bit of the good in the bad and a little bit of the bad in the good. And it's this dual balance which is needed to keep life harmonious and dynamic. It's a rule that applies to everything, whether it's a simple dispute between people or between bacteria!

Our intestinal microbiota, also known as bacterial flora, is one of the most numerous colonies of microorganisms. It's estimated that it weighs between 1.5 and 3 kg, and lives in our body to support the symbiosis that we need to stay healthy. So we need to look after it by making sure that the friendly bacteria it's made up of are always greater in number than the unfriendly bacteria.

Our intestinal microbiota is the true protective barrier that strengthens the gut's mucous membrane so that it can avoid any one of the very harmful attacks by pathogens and  keep our digestion working properly. But not just that, it also has a whole load of other tasks, including:

  • synthesizing and reprocessing meals eaten during the day; facilitating the absorption of nutrients, something which we wouldn't otherwise be able to process;
  • contributing to burning excess fat and reducing the risk of type II diabetes and diverticula in the colon;
  • protecting the immune system from external attacks; helping it react promptly to incursions by pathogens; preventing the spread of inflammation in the body;
  • synthesis of vitamin K , essential for the achievement of the well-being of each of us and essential for clotting the blood.

There's a an enormous - and ever growing and deepening - body of scientific-medical research on the relationship between gut microbiota's balance and neurodegenerative diseases. Several neurodegenerative diseases, it appears, are linked in particular to our gut's state of health. The existence of a connection between the gut and the brain for the exchange of information and interaction is being progressively confirmed by ever greater evidence. It has been observed, for example, that the action of gut bacteria can rebalance emotional state by regulating the levels of substances like serotonin and dopamine, thus influencing the genesis of depressive states.

The right balance (eubiosis) between the bacteria in the gut turns out then to be the basis of a proper intestinal function, any deviation from which is, by contrast, known as dysbiosis. There are many causes that can provoke dysbiosis including poor eating habits, disease, infection, immunological deficits, altered intestinal motility, taking drugs, surgery, environmental and food pollution (e.g. heavy metals), unhealthy lifestyle, stressful life/working environment, minimal or zero physical activity.

So giving ourselves a little bit of TLC, putting ourselves at the centre of our existence, nourishing our soul, and expressing our talents are all things we can do that will certainly be good for our health, both mental and spiritual. However, as we have seen, the other no less important aspect in all of this is how we eat.


For infants, breast milk is very important in the first months of life as it promotes the proliferation of bifidobacteria, a strain that is particularly helpful in ensuring bacterial flora flourish.

After weaning and throughout our lives, to help ourselves we need to eat large amounts of raw and cooked vegetables; have any fruit solely as a snack between meals to avoid fermentation in the gut; drink frequently; and consume a diet rich in prebiotic foods, which are substances that arrive undigested in the colon where they are fermented by - and feed - the bacterial flora.

Foods rich in prebiotics are, for example, oats, asparagus, leeks, garlic, onion, chicory, Jerusalem artichoke artichokes, dandelions, fermented foods such as kefir and sauerkraut, cocoa , flax seeds and algae.

But there's even more to it than this!

New research, conducted by Professor Lauri Byerley at the LSU Health School of Medicine in New Orleans, has found that walnuts, when introduced into the diet, can even change the makeup of the intestinal bacterial flora. These research findings were published in The Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry and are available online.

Introducing walnuts in the diet has been found to increase the biodiversity of bacteria in the gut, and in particular it was found that there was a significant increase in beneficial bacteria such as Lactobacillus.

The researchers claim that modulating the gut microbiota by adding walnuts turns out to be a new physiological mechanism for improving health. The study showed that walnuts actually change the gut; which could help explain why there are other positive health benefits from eating walnuts, such as – amongst other things – a healthy heart and a healthy brain!

All we have to do is to put a bit of effort into something that will repay us in health and well-being by starting to boost our diet with these precious foods, which have the added advantage of being wholesome, tasty, and colourful!


Elena Ronchi @cucinasalutarenaturale for www.nuturally.com

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