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Recent studies suggest that Americans are working out more than ever but aren't losing weight. Brits, on the other hand, spend billions each year to get into shape. Every two in three adults in the UK are now overweight or obese and one in five children aged 10-11 is clinically obese. It is common knowledge that daily nutrition plays an important part. What we eat is much more important than our total calorie count. However, choosing what to eat to be healthy is far from easy. We all know it! It takes time, dedication and some knowledge as well.
Did you know that your body, or more precisely your colon, contains 100 trillion microbes known as the microbiome? The microbiome has an integral role to play in our overall health and well-being. Recent studies and genetic technology have revealed for the first time that these microbes help in keeping us slim, whilst guarding us against conditions like asthma, heart attacks, allergies and obesity.
"Microbes generally get bad publicity, only less than a tiny fraction of them are harmful for us. In fact, most of these are crucial to our health. Not only are they essential to how we digest food, they also control the calories we absorb and provide vital enzymes and vitamins. Microbes aid in keeping our immune system healthy as well. Over millions of years, we have evolved into a close inter-dependence with microbes. Compared to our recent ancestors who lived outside cities with rich and varied diets sans any antibiotics, we only have a fraction of this diverse species of microbes left in our guts. Scientists are only now starting to understand the long-lasting impact of this on our overall health," says Professor Tim Spector, author of The Diet Myth.
As explained by Professor Tim Spector, gut microbes are actually extremely beneficial for our health. Though some may take the form of disease triggering pathogens, majority of them exist to facilitate digestion, produce energy, regulate appetite and strengthen immunity. These little guys build a complex and intricate mechanism inside the gut to promote good health. It is therefore imperative to understand that the microbiome needs proper nourishment. Unfortunately, the contemporary shift in diet pattern loaded with processed food items and fast food does nothing but destroy the internal harmony achieved by the microbiome. Lack of a balanced diet and exposure to excessive antibiotics have pushed the 'good gut bacteria' to the verge of extinction, as a result we are susceptible to ailments like never before. Since these tiny bacteria help regulate appetite and digest food, they also play a significant role in keeping obesity at bay.
We all react to food and process it differently. Our bodies are different, the genetic makeup differs and so does our gut microbiome. This lies at the crux of why two different people eating the same amount of calories do not gain or lose weight similarly. There has been enough medical evidence linking unhealthy gut to the triggering of a host of ailments.
According to a latest study conducted at Stockholm's KTH Royal Institute of Technology, gut bacteria regulate the levels of the body's main antioxidant, glutathione. They can therefore help in warding off diseases. Another study conducted by the team at University Medical Center Groningen, Netherlands "identified 34 different types of gut bacteria that contributed to differences in body fat (BMI), blood lipids such as triglycerides and the good cholesterol known as high-density lipoprotein or HDL. Gut bacteria contributed to 4.6 percent of the difference in body fat, six percent in triglycerides and four percent in HDL."
"Healthy individuals possess a diverse gut microbiota but a reduced microbiotic richness gives rise to Type 2 diabetes, obesity and inflammatory bowel disease," share experts from Pennington Biomedical Research Centre, United States. A team of researchers from Weill Cornell Medicine and Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Centre, United States has established a relation between stroke and intestinal health. "Our experiment shows a new relationship between the brain and the intestine. It was found that the microbial environment in the gut directed the immune cells to protect the brain, shielding it from the stroke's full force."
How to Keep Your Gut Happy?
In her article published in The Washington Post, Seattle-based registered dietician and nutritionist Carrie Dennett explains, "As scientists look for explanations for the roots of chronic disease as well as the connections between nutrition and health, the answer may be in your gut - and what you feed it. Your microbiota adapts to its environment, and if that environment doesn't provide the fiber it needs, your microbes will instead dine on the thin layer of mucus that protects your intestinal lining, potentially leading to a 'leaky gut' and all number of health problems."
What to Feed Your Gut?
Essentially, a mix of all food groups in moderation would usually make the perfect fit. Probiotics and prebiotics are also essential to maintain the health of gut bacteria. Include the following items in your diet on a regular basis to ensure a healthy gut and flourishing 'gut flora':
Olive oil and nuts are ultimate health foods that nourish our microbes. Use high-quality olive oil when possible.
Unpasteurised cheese is one of the richest sources of living healthy microbes and fungi. A surprising number of English and French cheeses are unpasteurized.
A recent study shows that when microbes are starved of fiber, they can start to feed on the protective mucus lining of the gut, possibly triggering inflammation and disease. " A plant-based diet with lots of fiber and regular consumption of fermented foods nourishes and stimulates beneficial bacteria," notes Carrie Dennett.
Polyphenols are a group of plant-based chemicals that have at least one phenol group that have been said to improve your immune system, and your arterial flexibility, whilst reducing cholesterol level, blood pressure. So, eat colourful vegetables and fruits.
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