One too many supersized fast food meals may be easy on your wallet but packs a direct hit to your gut, bad for digestive health. This message comes from a recent study conducted in the Netherlands of more than 1400 people who either followed a more plant-based diet compared to those who consumed a diet high in sugar, high fat processed, and animal-derived fatty foods, such as fast food. Those eating more plants and fish had higher levels of healthy bacteria with anti-inflammatory effects while participants who regularly consumed fast food meals had higher levels of destructive bacteria that produce toxins harmful to the gut.
Understanding the gut microbiome
Our gastrointestinal tract, aka our “gut,” is about a 25-30 foot long tubular canal that runs the length beginning in your mouth, down the esophagus, includes the stomach, small and large intestine, and exits out the anus. The primary job of your gut is to digest and absorb the contents of food and beverages you consume. Your gut is a very busy body system and to help and enhance its work, all of us have trillions of bacteria occupying our guts, known as your gut microbiome. Bacteria found in your gut have a purpose – they not only help you digest foods, they also work all over the body and have been found to be beneficial for your physical and mental health.
The amazing thing about your gut microbiome is how vast and diversified it is. Your body’s microbiome is made up of 100 trillion microorganisms, or microbes, that live in and on your body, weighing about 3 to 5 pounds. These include bacteria, fungi, viruses, and other types of tiny organisms. It’s so large that the genes of microbes outnumber your body’s genes by 100 to 1. The large intestine (aka colon) contains the highest concentration and greatest diversity of microbes in the entire body. This organ is lined with a layer of mucus and the microbes that live there form a gut biofilm. The biofilm contains an array of different microbes that carry out different tasks in your body and also work together to keep you healthy.
Making it even more fascinating is that each and every person on earth has their own unique make-up of microbes.
Determining factors of the different types of microbes in a person is a result of each individual’s genetic make-up, gender, diet, hygiene, and even the climate they live in and your occupation. Studies have shown that the gut microbiome affects everything from pain, mood, sleep, and stress, to how your body uses the food you eat and how you fight off infection.
If overall life-long good health matters to you, supporting the health of your gut microbiome is essential. If you have an unhealthy gut microbiome, it increases your risk for inflammatory bowel disease and irritable bowel syndrome, as well as diabetes and even cancer. And a very important way to attain good gut health is making wise food choices.
Other important findings from the study
The overall message is what you feed your body dictates your health. Gut health is very responsive to what you feed it and will flourish when well-fed. People who regularly consume fruits, veggies, legumes, nuts, seeds, whole grains, and fatty fish are rewarded with good gut health brimming with good bacteria supportive and necessary for good health. As the study authors stated, “Eating a healthy dietary pattern is associated with a lower abundance of clusters of opportunistic bacteria, pathways for the synthesis of endotoxins and inflammatory marker in the stool. Higher proportions of these bacteria and pathways have been implicated in intestinal bowel disorder and colorectal cancer.”
But, when eating a diet of one too many orders of burgers and fries, watch out. Here’s what the study authors said about this dietary pattern: “We here observed a positive association of the total fat intake and meat consumption with bacterial species that are dominant in the upper GI tract and oral cavity, while the opposite direction was found for plant-derived foods. Higher colonization of these bacteria in the intestine has been reported in intestinal bowel disease, liver cirrhosis, and colon cancer.”
The name of the game for good gut health is to eat far less frequency of fast foods and other highly processed, overly fat, and sugary foods and beverages, and instead embrace far more foods in their natural state with minimal processing. Your gut will be much happier and healthier and so will you.