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15 min read

How Your Diet Supports Your Microbiome


As the saying goes, you are what you eat. While an adage, it happens to be accurate, right down to your gut's microbes. Whether you've been considering the buzzy Microbiome Diet by Dr. Raphael Kellman or you're here because you've never heard of microbes, we're glad you're here. Because the truth is, the importance of gut bacteria cannot be overstated. Here's what you should know.


What is the Microbiome?


A dictionary defines a microbiome as “the microorganisms in a particular environment (including the body or a part of the body).” The microbiome in the human body is the combination of all the microbiota that we contain.1 While the word “microbiome” previously only referred to the genes that microbiota contain, today it now colloquially refers to the microbiota themselves.2


Trillions of microorganisms, or microbiota, reside in our bodies, allowing every part of the human body to home a distinct microbiome. However, the main colonizations are found on our skin, in our airways, the urogenital tract, the eyes, and the digestive system. While all of our microbiomes are important and necessary, the largest and most powerful community of microorganisms are found in our gut, namely, our large intestine. Our guts are home to a varied community of microorganisms, including yeasts, archaea, parasites such as helminths, viruses, and protozoa.3


The benefits of balance in the microbiome


While you may know your gut plays a major role in digestion, what you might not know is that your gut is constantly communicating with your brain and performs a role in many essential functions like immune, metabolic, and cognitive health. This connection between the brain and the gut is known as "The Gut-Brain Axis" and is the network of connections involving multiple biological systems that allow bidirectional communication between gut bacteria and the brain. The axis is crucial in maintaining homeostasis of the gastrointestinal, central nervous, and microbial systems.4


Recent research has allowed scientists to discover the importance of our microbiome as a critical regulator of gut-brain function.5 The microbiota and the brain communicate via numerous ways, including the immune system, tryptophan metabolism, the vagus nerve, and the enteric nervous system, involving microbial metabolites such as short-chain fatty acids, branched-chain amino acids, and peptidoglycan. 5


Research in the field continues to expand, however, we still do not fully understand the functional importance of the symbiotic relationship between host and microbe, particularly in regards to brain health. However, scientific research is continually narrowing the gaps in our understanding of the gut-brain axis as many tools and animal models have been invaluable to expanding our knowledge.5


There are a few things that we know for sure. For instance, we acknowledge our microbiomes are greatly affected by numerous factors such as genetics, lifestyle, medical interventions (i.e., antibiotics, vaccinations, etc.), and health status. Additionally, diet has regularly proven to be one of the most critical factors affecting the microbiome. In fact, data shows that 50% of the modification of gut microbiota has been linked to dietary modifications. Significant changes in diet during adulthood can alter the microbiota in a very short period.5 The underlying message: for our microbiome to function, it needs to be fed.


What is the Microbiome Diet


To maintain a balanced microbiome and set yourself up for optimal health, it’s vital to eat a varied diet, including lots of fruits, vegetables and protein, and minimal amounts of sugar, fat and salt. We know this by looking at a fully functional biome. Today, the average American adult has around 1,200 different bacteria in their guts while the modern-day average hunter-gatherer has a full third more of bacteria in their guts with 1,600 species. Similar to those living hunter and gatherer lifestyles, our ancestors had more varied bacteria in their guts than the average American does today.5


To understand what a fully functional microbiome would look like, researchers study the last remaining hunter-gatherers residing in Africa. The hunter-gatherers living in Tanzania, namely the Hadza people. Have a diet similar to our ancestors who lived before the arrival of agriculture. This tribe eats meat from hunted animals as well as berries, seeds, honey and tubers. Researchers believe that they consume a whopping 100 to 150 grams of fiber per day. Sadly, the average American gets only 10-15 grams of dietary fiber per day, which is less than one-third of the World Health Organization Recommended Daily Allowance.5


There is, perhaps unsurprisingly, a specific diet to ensure a healthy, balanced microbiome, and it’s called (you guessed it) the Microbiome Diet. It was introduced in 2014 by Dr. Raphael Kellman in his book, “The Microbiome Diet: The Scientifically Proven Way to Restore Your Gut Health and Achieve Permanent Weight Loss,” and follows a three-phase program.


First, is the 21-day elimination phase, during which you cut out anything that could cause inflammation, including pesticides, hormones, antibiotics, certain medications, grains, eggs, most legumes and dairy, and starchy fruits and vegetables, packaged food, sugar and some fish and meat. Meanwhile, you’re eating a fiber-rich, plant-based diet with an emphasis on fermented foods that are high in probiotics. (Think: sauerkraut, kimchi and yogurt.)


Phase two lasts 28 days and is less extreme, but still pretty limited. You’re allowed to reintroduce dairy, free-range eggs, gluten-free grains, legumes and most fruits and vegetables. You’re also allowed to eat other off-limits food from phase one, but only 10 percent of the time.


There is no set time frame for phase three. The idea is that by now your gut is healthy, so it’s now a matter of maintaining that gut health. The recommendation is to follow phase one 70 percent of the time, and allow for other foods 30 percent of the time.


Some of the most problematic foods on this diet include processed and fried foods, sugar and high-fructose corn syrup, dried fruit and fruit juices, grains including gluten, Trans and hydrogenated fats, artificial sweeteners, starchy fruits and vegetables, and legumes other than lentils and chickpeas. Some foods that come highly recommended include fermented vegetables, wild salmon, grass fed beef, non-starchy vegetables, chickpeas, lentils, nuts, seeds, and non-starchy fruits.6


Consume probiotics


Consuming probiotics is an important part in maintaining a healthy gut. Probiotics are dubbed the “good bacteria,” and include Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacterium, because they can prevent bad bacteria from building up and may help fight diseases such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), Crohn’s disease, and ulcerative colitis. Some great sources of probiotics include yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, and kimchi.


Emphasizes Organic Foods


It’s also important to choose organic food whenever possible to reduce your exposure to pesticides and hormones as much as possible. However, if organic isn’t available, it is better to eat conventionally-grown produce than no produce at all. Many fruits and vegetables are natural sources of prebiotics, the fiber that essentially “feeds” probiotics, regardless of whether they were grown organically or conventionally.


Get enough prebiotic fiber


You’ve probably heard that probiotics can lead to better gut health, and that eating organic food is preferable if possible, but if you haven’t also learned about the benefits of prebiotics, you’re missing an important piece of the gut health puzzle. Microbes feed on prebiotic fiber, which makes it an essential ingredient in this system.


So while you’re eating gut-healthy probiotic foods like yogurt, sauerkraut, and kimchi, don’t forget to also include foods high in prebiotic fiber, such as asparagus, a slightly underripe banana, Jerusalem artichokes, garlic, onions, and leeks.


Diversify the foods you eat


While you can also take probiotic and prebiotic supplements, more research is needed to determine whether microbiome supplements are as beneficial as microbiome from food. So the best course of action is to ensure you have a varied diet.


OLIPOP and the Microbiome


Now crack open a can of soda. If that doesn’t sound in line with the diet advice up until this point, then you haven’t gotten to know OLIPOP yet! It’s a new kind of soda that combines prebiotics, plant fiber, and botanicals to support gut health all while tasting like regular soda. Essentially, OLIPOP combines ingredients that have prebiotics, so that the probiotics you’re consuming have something to feed off and keep you strong. Ingredients like ginger, chicory root, nopal cactus, and cassava root. (See here for more.) The formula is based on rigorous scientific research and historical evidence, coming at you in flavors that are both nostalgic and modern (think Classic Root Beer, Vintage Cola, and Ginger Lemon). With an army of trillions of microbiome in your body to feed, keeping everyone balanced and happy with a can of OLIPOP is a no brainer.


Sources

  1. Ursell, Luke K, Jessica L Metcalf, Laura Wegener Parfrey, and Rob Knight. “Defining the Human Microbiome.” Nutrition Reviews 70 (August 2012): S38–44. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1753-4887.2012.00493.x.
  2. Cani, Patrice D. “Human Gut Microbiome: Hopes, Threats and Promises.” Gut 67, no. 9 (June 22, 2018): 1716–25. https://doi.org/10.1136/gutjnl-2018-316723.
  3. “The Microbiome.” The Nutrition Source, August 16, 2017. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/microbiome/.
  4. Orhan Akpinar, “The Gut-Brain Axis: Interactions between Microbiota and Nervous Systems,” Journal of Cellular Neuroscience and Oxidative Stress 10, no. 3 (August 18, 2018): 783–783, https://doi.org/10.37212/jcnos.610103.
  5. John F. Cryan et al., “The Microbiota-Gut-Brain Axis,” Physiological Reviews 99, no. 4 (October 1, 2019): 1877–2013, https://doi.org/10.1152/physrev.00018.2018.
  6. Petre, Alina. “The Microbiome Diet: Can It Restore Your Gut Health?” Healthline. Healthline Media, January 22, 2019. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/microbiome-diet#foods-to-eat
Cheat Sheet
  • Everyone’s microbiome makeup differs according to their DNA, as well as their environment and diet. It is important to maintain balance in your microbiome in order to support your overall health.
  • To maintain a balanced microbiome, first and foremost it’s important to eat a varied diet, including lots of fruits, vegetables and protein, and minimal sugar, fat and salt.
  • Prebiotics are just as important for gut health as probiotics. You need both for a balanced microbiome and healthy gut.

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