The more we understand about the microbiome, or the collection of bacteria and other microorganisms living in an individual’s gut, the more we realize we don’t know.
Researchers have estimated that there are trillions of microorganisms in the human body – so many, in fact, that they outnumber human cells by a 10:1 ratio. The microbiome in the human gut could contain as many as about 400 trillion microbes, making up the majority of the body’s microbiome.
Each person’s unique microbiome plays an important role in digestion, immunity, and overall gut health. Perhaps most importantly, the microbiome creates an environment that protects native microbes and repels invaders like harmful pathogens, helping keep our bodies healthy and functional.
When the microbiome is out of balance, it could not only result in short-term illness but trigger predispositions for certain ailments, like autoimmune disorders.
It’s no surprise, then, that more consumers are looking for ways to protect their gut health and preserve their natural microbiome. What trends are consumers turning toward when it comes to gut health?
Related: Let Food Be Thy Medicine: Top Functional Health Trends Show That Consumers Connect Food to Wellbeing
While there are many ways to maintain a healthy gut, preserving the microbiome can be broken down into two main categories – prebiotics and probiotics. Microorganisms need to be fed, and prebiotics support the healthy growth of existing microbes.
A diet that includes whole grains, root vegetables, nuts and seeds, lentils and beans, apples and bananas, and even cocoa, red wine extracts, and green tea extracts is a good start when it comes to getting the carbohydrates and fiber that the microbiome feeds on.
However, there is also a range of prebiotic supplements designed to support gut health, and companies that offer comprehensive formulas can get in on a growing market.
Probiotics are different from prebiotics. Rather than feeding existing microbes, probiotics add healthy microorganisms to the microbiome, often in the form of fermented foods. Yogurt, which contains active and live cultures, has become a popular addition to many American diets over the past several years precisely for this reason.
Many brands and varieties tout effective probiotic strains designed to offer benefits like better gut health. Other fermented foods that contain probiotics include kefir, kombucha, kimchi, pickles, sauerkraut, and some cheeses. Probiotics, also available as supplements, are a great way to bolster or maintain gut health.
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A Sweet Alternative
While there are foods that promote a healthy microbiome, there are also those that can damage it. Processed sugars, or monosaccharides, can be particularly detrimental. With that being said, consumers don’t necessarily have to give up on sweets; they can simply adjust the sugars in their diet.
Companies offering products with complex sugars can tout the gut-friendly nature of their goods. Such products include a range of fruits, from apples and bananas to mangos and berries. However, dark chocolate, coconut flour, and honey also fit the bill.
When catering to a health-conscious crowd, explaining a product’s benefits to the microbiome can help to drive understanding, desirability, and sales.
What About Antibiotics?
When it comes to fighting bacterial infections, antibiotics can be a literal lifesaver. However, most people are now aware of the dangers of taking too many antibiotics – from the growth of superviruses to creating harmful imbalances in the microbiome.
Antibiotics are designed to kill bacteria in a relatively indiscriminate manner, wiping out the good with the bad. As a result, some consumers are leaning toward meats and other products that are free of additives like antibiotics and growth hormones.
As a food supplier or restaurateur, staying on top of health trends in the food market is a great way to better serve the consumer. A focus on ingredients, recipes, and products that help improve and maintain a healthy microbiome can set a company apart from competitors.
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