Having a diverse microbiome is good for you, but how can we increase diversity in our digestive system through what we eat?
A 2021 study from Stanford University suggests that diets high in fiber and fermented foods might be just the ticket to increasing diversity in your microbiome and could even strengthen your immune system.
You may have heard of the concept of one’s microbiome—the diverse community of bacteria, fungi, viruses, and other microbes that live on our skin and inside of our bodies. The health and balance of our microbiome is critical to our own health. In healthy bodies, our microbiota helps us digest our food, stimulate our immune system, and provide us with other benefits. Each person’s microbiome is unique, with our first exposures to these microorganisms coming from our mothers during birth and through breastmilk and later affected by our environments, diets, and lifestyles .
The study followed two groups of participants, each prescribed to increase either their fiber or fermented foods consumption over a 17-week period. Participants in the fermented foods group saw increased microbial diversity at the end of the study period and decreased inflammatory markers. Inflammation correlates with a host of chronic diseases, so learning that we can decrease it while increasing our microbial diversity makes fermented foods a one-two punch. Participants in the high fiber group were observed to have increased capacity for digesting fiber, suggesting increased numbers of beneficial microorganisms but no significant increase in diversity . Eating foods that are high in fiber AND fermented, such as sauerkraut or kimchi have the possibility of having all three benefits, increasing the diversity and number of beneficial microorganisms as well as decreasing inflammation.
In studies of immigrants to the United States, observed “westernization” of their microbiota has been correlated with loss of microbial diversity and functionality along with deteriorating health indicators such as weight gain and increased inflammation . A healthy body goes hand in hand with a healthy microbiome. Why not try integrating high fiber fermented foods to give your body a boost?