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Feeding Your Microbiome Properly Can Make You Healthier

Feeding Your Microbiome Properly Can Make You Healthier

One simple thing you can do to be healthier is to nurture your microbiome properly, so your microbiome can take care of you.

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Two recently published nutritional studies from the same lab (but by slightly different teams of researchers) found that very small daily changes in your diet can increase the diversity of your gut microbial community, which, in turn, can improve your general condition. health. Studies have specifically found that adding one and a half teaspoons of dried herbs and spices to your daily diet (ref) or snack on an ounce of peanuts at bedtime every night (ref) increases the overall biodiversity of your gut microbes.

“Research has shown that people who have a lot of different microbes have better health and better diets than those who don’t have a lot of bacterial diversity,” said nutritionist Penny Kris-Etherton, professor of nutrition at the Evan Pugh University. science at Pennsylvania State University who oversees the cardiometabolic research laboratory. This laboratory studies the role of specific foods, nutrients, bioactives and diets in the prevention of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.

The gut microbiome is made up of all the different microbes that live in the gut. These microbes include bacteria, archaea, fungi and viruses – and even some of their genes and gene products. It’s estimated that there are around 1,000 different bacterial species in your gut that influence your metabolism and help you digest food, outcompete harmful bacteria to take up valuable gut space to prevent disease, and help your immune system to operate more efficiently.

A person’s daily diet has an impact on the diversity of their gut microbiota. For example, in a previous study, researchers found that eating whole foods daily, such as almonds, walnuts, broccoli, avocados, whole-grain barley, and whole-grain oats, could be predicted with 70-85% accuracy simply by examining the relative abundance of 15-22 species of fecal gut bacteria. These foods are all sources of dietary fiber, and they act to modulate the composition of bacterial species in the gut microbiome.

Plant foods high in dietary fiber also contain a lot of polyphenols. It is a large class of structurally diverse chemicals that are generally poorly absorbed in the upper gastrointestinal tract and therefore pass into the large intestine undigested, much like dietary fiber does. Once there, both dietary fiber and polyphenols become accessible to gut bacteria.

We know that herbs and spices are rich in polyphenolic compounds and therefore can influence the composition of bacterial species in the gut for this reason. But strangely, no formal studies have investigated the effects of constant and repeated exposures to culinary doses of a mixture of herbs and spices on the gut microbiome.

Professor Kris-Etherton and his team decided to remedy this oversight. They designed a study in which they provided a blend of 24 herbs and spices – including cinnamon, ginger, cumin, turmeric, rosemary, oregano, basil and thyme – to a group of participants at risk for cardiovascular disease. Three times a day, each participant ingested a capsule filled with one of three different culinary doses of the spicy herb – about 1/8 teaspoon a day, just over 3/4 teaspoon a day, and about 1 1/2 teaspoon per day.

After just four weeks, researchers saw an increase in the diversity of gut bacteria among study participants, including an increase in Ruminococcaceae. This group of bacteria in the colon of healthy individuals is linked to healthy liver metabolism and immune function.

As expected, the highest doses of spicy herbs had the greatest impact on gut biodiversity.

The second study focused on the effects of peanut consumption on microbiome diversity. Peanuts, which are actually a legume (like peas), are currently recommended by the government under the dietary category of nuts, seeds and soy. Although peanuts are the most widely consumed “nut” in the United States, no one has studied the effects of peanuts on the gut microbiome.

The peanut study compared the effects of snacking on 28 grams (about 1 ounce) of peanuts at bedtime to snacking on crackers and cheese, a high carbohydrate snack, in adults with high fasting blood sugar. (Fasting blood sugar, a sign of diabetes, can be elevated in the morning after eating a high-carb bedtime snack.)

This study found that after 6 weeks, participants in the peanut study had an increased abundance of Ruminococcaceae, as seen in the spicy herb study. Much like the spicy herb study, the peanut study illustrates how a small change in one’s diet can potentially bring big benefits.

“It’s such a simple thing that people can do,” Professor Kris-Etherton said in a statement. “The average American diet is far from ideal, so I think everyone could benefit from adding herbs and spices. It’s also a way to lower the sodium in your diet but to flavor food in a way that makes it appetizing and, in fact, delicious!”

“Taste is really a major criterion for why people choose the foods they make,” Professor Kris-Etherton added.

Research on the link between the gut microbiome and a variety of health factors, including blood pressure relative to weight, indicates that an increase in Ruminococcaceae and overall bacterial diversity is healthy. But of course, more research is needed to better understand all the implications.

“We need a lot more research on the microbiome to see what its place is in terms of overall health.”


Philip A. Sapp, Penny M. Kris-Etherton, Elke A. Arnesen, Jeremy R. Chen See, Regina Lamendella and Kristina S. Petersen (2022). Peanuts as a nighttime snack enrich butyrate-producing bacteria compared with an isocaloric low-fat, low-carbohydrate snack in adults with elevated fasting blood glucose: a randomized crossover trial, Clinical Nutrition 41:2169-2177 | do I:10.1016/j.clnu.2022.08.004

Kristina S Petersen, Samantha Anderson, Jeremy R Chen See, Jillian Leister, Penny M Kris-Etherton and Regina Lamendella (2022). Herbs and spices modulate gut bacterial composition in adults at risk for cardiovascular disease: results of a predefined exploratory analysis from a randomized, crossover, controlled feeding study, The Nutrition Diary 152:2461–2470 | do I:10.1093/jn/nxac201

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