(Natural News) A balanced gut microbiome is essential to good health. Achieving the perfect balance between the viruses, fungi and bacteria within the body – some of which are harmful – prevents disease. At the same time, this balance boosts immunity, strengthens the heart, assists in weight control, and in many other ways contributes to good health.
There has been some debate among experts about whether eating vegetables high in inulin-type fructans (ITFs) can help to achieve this balance. Now, a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition has found that the benefits of eating such vegetables are temporary and do not result in lasting changes to the microbiome.
The importance of a healthy gut microbiome
As explained by Healthline, trillions of fungi, bacteria, viruses and other microscopic living things make their home inside our intestines and on our skin. While some of these cause disease, most are actually extremely important in maintaining our health. Together, these microbes function as an additional organ in the body.
Healthline explains the effect of this additional “organ” in the body:
As your microbiome grows, it affects your body in a number of ways, including:
- Digesting breast milk: Some of the bacteria that first begin to grow inside babies’ intestines are called Bifidobacteria. They digest the healthy sugars in breast milk that are important for growth.
- Digesting fiber: Certain bacteria digest fiber, producing short-chain fatty acids, which are important for gut health. Fiber may help prevent weight gain, diabetes, heart disease and the risk of cancer.
- Helping control your immune system: The gut microbiome also controls how your immune system works. By communicating with immune cells, the gut microbiome can control how your body responds to infection.
- Helping control brain health: New research suggests that the gut microbiome may also affect the central nervous system, which controls brain function.
Effects of inulin-rich vegetables only temporary
In the study referenced above, the researchers set out to evaluate the impact of eating high-inulin veggies on “gut microbiota, gastro-intestinal symptoms, and food-related behavior in healthy individuals.”
For their research, the team conducted a trial with 26 healthy participants. For two weeks, the participants were asked to stick to a controlled diet based on inulin-rich vegetables. Tests were conducted before and after the trial, and then again three weeks later. Assessments were conducted on food-related behavior, nutrient intake, microbial fermentation, fecal microbiota composition and various gastrointestinal symptoms.
The researchers found that while eating the inulin-rich vegetables temporarily caused changes in the microbiome, these changes were not sustained, and had reversed at the three-week follow-up.
Participants enjoyed positive results during the trial, however, with many stating that they felt fuller for longer, and that their cravings for salty, sweet and fatty foods were reduced.
Nonetheless, as the results of the study indicated, to maintain these effects the participants would have had to continue eating the inulin-rich vegetable diet on an ongoing basis.
Lifestyle choices produce more sustainable changes in the gut microbiome
While eating inulin-rich vegetables can provide temporary benefits to the microbiome, there are lifestyle choices that can profoundly impact the microbiome — either positively or negatively — in the long-term.
For example, taking antibiotics destroys healthy bacteria in the gut. Taking probiotics, on the other hand, can restore the balance of the microbiome after such damage has been inflicted.
Over time, a diet high in fat, sugar and refined carbohydrates can adversely affect the type and diversity of microbes in the gut. This can result in a vicious cycle of weight gain, and carrying extra weight has been associated with multiple diseases, including heart disease and diabetes.
A diet rich in fermented foods like sauerkraut and kefir, along with unprocessed grains and organic fruits and vegetables have the most positive impact on gut health.
Exercising enough is another vital lifestyle choice that can positively impact the gut microbiome. Studies have found that exercise increases the number of microbes that produce short-chain fatty acids, which are key to reducing disease-causing inflammation. (Related: A powerful food that improves gut health is yogurt. Learn more at Yogurt.news.)