Follow a diet rich in plants to promote a healthy gut, which can help keep disease at bay and benefit your metabolism, digestive tract and immune system.
Right now you are covered in trillions of bacteria, both inside and outside your body. Ready to reach for the hand sanitizer? Hold on. While some of these bacteria lead to disease, others benefit your health. Your diet greatly affects which ones thrive.
Recent research is revealing the many ways certain bacteria and a balance of differing bacteria can impact your health. These bacteria are part of the human microbiome, along with fungi, viruses and archaea. They cover every inch of the body's surface area, including the scalp, the inside of the mouth, the lining of the esophagus and the back of the knee. Your body holds about the same number of bacteria as cells — around 30 to 50 trillion — with the gut microbiota hosting by far the most. (The microbe community in a specific part of the body is called a microbiota.)
The good bacteria in the gut microbiota have numerous roles including:
However, the gut microbiota often harbors less helpful bacteria, too. Researchers have connected an imbalance in good and bad bacteria with disorders such as arthritis, irritable bowel disease, obesity, cancer and depression.
Age, genetics, diet, environment and lifestyle all appear to influence the kinds of bacteria that make up the microbiome. While you can't control all of those, your diet and lifestyle choices (smoking, drinking, exercise, and so on) give an advantage to one side or the other, especially over the long term. Research suggests that eating plants and whole grains help the good bacteria flourish by supplying complex carbohydrates that the human body can't digest — so they become bacteria food. Certain foods with active cultures, such as yogurt, kimchi and kombucha, can also add helpful bacteria to your system.
So remember: Eating fruits and vegetables isn't just good for your health, it's also good for your microscopic companions.
© 1998-2020 Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research (MFMER). All rights reserved.