Among the more than 100 trillion bacteria swimming around in our bodies (mainly in the digestive tract), there are beneficial microbes called probiotics that play an important role in good digestion and healthy immune function.* And, as these two studies show, what we put on our plates may affect our internal bacterial balance and our health.
Artificial sweeteners are anything but sweet
Scientists in Israel determined that artificial sweeteners such as aspartame, sucralose and saccharin may be changing our gut bacteria and contributing to obesity and related health conditions. When a group of young mice was fed a daily dose of water mixed with artificial sweeteners, the faux sugar solution stimulated the growth of certain microbes linked to fat storage. In addition, it delayed healthy glucose absorption, causing abnormally high blood sugar levels.
Unhealthy fats may be changing your gut microbes
Eating too many unhealthy fats may be altering our gut bacteria in a way that negatively impacts our mood and behavior. Researchers from Louisiana State University completed a study that spotlights the intensity of the gut-brain connection and illustrates how changes in our microbiome can have far-reaching effects. Using mice, they were able to determine that gut bacteria populations associated with a high-fat diet were linked to heightened feelings of anxiety and depression, as well as problems with cognitive function and memory.
Get a head start on a healthy gut
The good news is that our gut bacteria respond quickly to positive changes in diet. Start by adding more fiber (e.g. fruit, non-starchy vegetables, whole grains and legumes), fermented foods, healthy fats and protein to promote a balanced gut. Limit or try to avoid artificial sweeteners and unhealthy fats, as well as foods high in starches and sugar. Many experts also recommend taking a daily probiotic supplement to support digestive and immune health.*