Foods for a healthy gut microbiome. What are they and why are they so beneficial? Here are some of the best foods for gut health and easy ways to introduce them to your babe.
Building a healthy microbiome starts early – in fact, right from birth! While many factors influence the microbiome, diet is a significant factor.
In this post we’re covering some of the best foods for gut health, as well as the basics of what the microbiome is and what shapes it early on.
What is the gut microbiome?
The microbiome is a fancy term for the microorganisms living in your digestive tract, which are primarily bacteria.
There are nearly 1,000 different species of bacteria in the human gut, each of which play a unique role. Many of them are “good” bacteria, while some of them may actually promote disease.
You may have heard that much of our overall health begins in the gut. This is why there’s so much attention around helping to maintain a healthy gut bacterial balance.
The microbiome begins to form very early on in life, possibly even inside the womb. It diversifies as a baby grows, gets older, and has various exposures.
Early factors that affect the gut microbiome
Gut bacteria are influenced by a number of factors throughout life, starting in early infancy.
One of the first is the route of delivery by which baby is born. A 2019 study published in Nature sampled the DNA microbes in the stool from 596 babies, including 314 born vaginally and 282 by C-section, at 4, 7 and 21 days after birth.
The authors found that babies born in the hospital by C-section lacked strains of healthy commensal bacteria, and instead had high levels of Enterococcus and Klebsiella that are often rampant in hospital settings, compared to babies born vaginally in the same environment.
As the months went on, the microbiomes of the two groups became more similar, but at least 60% of those born via C-section lacked the healthy bacteria Bacteroides which may influence inflammation and immunity.
Infant feeding method
Delayed initiation of breastfeeding may alter an infant’s microbiome and potentially delay the process of “seeding”, or the microbial transfer from mother to newborn.
Furthermore, research has found differences between the gut bacteria of formula fed versus breastfed infants. When breastfed infants transition to formula and/or solid foods, the microbiome quickly changes once again.
And of course, diet continues to alter our gut bacteria throughout the remainder of our lives as well.
*Please note that while breastfeeding is ideal whenever possible, we understand that not every mother chooses or is able to do so – and that’s okay! We just wanted to share some of the interesting research on how different methods of feeding may help shape an infant’s early microbiome.
Antibiotics are designed to kill harmful bacteria that are making you sick, but in the process, they also kill off healthy bacteria.
This is why you may experience stomach issues or changes in bowel habits like diarrhea or constipation following a course of antibiotic medication.
Research has found that antibiotic use during pregnancy and soon after birth can alter the microbiome of women and even potentially their newborn babies.
You get the picture. The gut microbiome is fascinating, complex, and always changing. Even things like living with household pets – and other people – can alter your baby’s bacteria.
So what are some of the best foods to incorporate in your baby’s diet to support a healthy gut microbiome?
Best foods for a healthy gut
We believe that what we eat is one of the best – if not the best – ways to influence lifelong health, which starts in the gut.
Providing a diet rich in microbe-fueling foods is a good idea.
One gut-friendly practice you’ve probably heard of is using probiotics. Probiotics are “good” bacteria, most of which are in your gut.
These can include fermented foods like tempeh, miso, kombucha, kefir, yogurt, sauerkraut, and kimchi, as well as probiotic supplements.
But it’s also important to differentiate between probiotics and prebiotics, which are essentially the food for probiotics. Think of them as the fertilizer needed for healthy probiotic microbes to grow.
Fiber – found in fruits, veggies, nuts, seeds, whole grains and legumes – is considered a prebiotic. Unsurprisingly, there’s plenty of that on a plant-based diet!
Certain foods like onions, garlic, artichokes, and asparagus are exceptionally good fuel for our little GI friends.
Here are some of our favorite ways to work prebiotics into your babe’s diet:
- Beans: Try legume pasta or mashed as a dip/spread
- Leafy Greens: Add to pasta sauces and smoothies
- Seeds: Add to oatmeal or use for “pudding”
- Whole Grains: Include with most meals
- Onions + Garlic: Finely dice, sauté, and add to sauces or casseroles
- Asparagus + Artichoke: Roast or saute, puree into soups or use for dipping!
These foods should be prepared in age-appropriate ways to make sure they’re safe for your babe. For instance, you could grind seeds into a smooth butter and thin with water, or boil and puree leafy greens.
Recipes for gut health
Fortunately, it’s easy to find a wide variety of high-fiber, prebiotic-rich foods on a predominantly plant-based diet.
Here are some of our favorite recipes using some of the gut-friendly foods listed above.
- Spring Asparagus Tart
- Vegan Pesto Pasta Primavera
- Vegan Spinach Artichoke Dip
- Instant Pot Vegan Baked Beans
- Whole Grain Peach n’ Chia Muffins
- Instant Pot Oatmeal
- Healthy Creamed Spinach
- Easy Cheesy Vegan Kale Chips
One of the best ways to support your babe’s health is to regularly provide foods for a healthy gut microbiome. Give some of these best foods for gut health a try and see which ones your babe likes most!
Chime In: What gut-friendly foods does your family like to eat?
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