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Fiber, Almost Always the Answer

Researchers have been able to link certain foods to health as well as certain microbes to certain foods, but making the jump from microbes straight to health isn’t fully established, writes Maanvi Singh at NPR’s the Salt blog. Still, she wonders whether there might be some foods that promote microbiome health.

While Rob Knight from the University of Colorado tells Singh that this is an emerging area of research, some foods already look like a good bet.

"It doesn't hurt as a general rule to eat more fiber," adds Jeff Leach from the Human Food Project.

Many gut bacteria munch on fibrous foods and when they are well fed, and Knight notes that they produce nutrients that help the cells that line the human gut. Leach suggests vegetables as a good source of fiber, and notes that whole grains may be as well, but he adds that they have also been associated with a microbe that affects inflammation in HIV patients and is linked to rheumatoid arthritis. Another source of good bacteria, though, may be fermented foods like kimchi and yogurt.

But, Singh notes, this may not affect your microbiome. Leach tells her that short-term or slight diet changes likely won’t have an effect. "The question is how dramatically are you changing your diet," Leach adds. "If you go from eating 10 to 15 grams of fiber a day to eating 40 or 50, you may see some changes."