Continuing with our information on the Gut MicroBiome it seems appropriate this month that we talk about Fish! Fish is a great food we can eat for the gut.
Research overwhelmingly shows that eating fish can help us build a healthy, robust community of gut microbes, in turn benefiting our whole-body health.
The omega-3 fatty acid content of fish remains its biggest claim to fame, and when it comes to the gut, this special fat continues to deliver!
Research in humans has shown that omega-3 increases levels of the well-studied probiotic bacteria Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus, and also enhances the abundance of butyrate-producing bacteria (butyrate is an extremely important short-chain fat that improves gut barrier integrity, and researchers believe protects against colorectal cancer. Higher omega-3 levels in the body have been linked to more microbial diversity in the gut, which is one of the hallmarks of a healthy microbiome.
It might come as a surprise that different food sources of protein can have wildly different effects on the gut microbiota, but this is exactly what the science bears out! In fact, scientists have been aware of the effects of dietary protein on the gut microbiome since at least 1977.
Approximately 10% of the protein we eat doesn’t get absorbed and instead is processed by our gut bacteria. This protein is essential for the growth and survival of the bacteria in our digestive tracks.
Fatty fish (like salmon, mackerel, and tuna) is one of the very few sources of dietary vitamin D in our modern food supply, and this nutrient plays a fascinating and complex role in maintaining a healthy gut!
The link between vitamin D and the gut microbiome may actually be a two-way street. While vitamin D can impact the health and composition of the gut microbiota, certain bacteria in the gut may also influence vitamin D levels in the blood by regulating vitamin D metabolism.
Not only is fish delicious and nutrient-dense; it also contains multiple components that directly benefit our gut microbiota and consequently, our disease risk and wellbeing. And as with most things in our diet, the greater the diversity, the better! Fatty fish (rich in omega-3s and vitamin D), lean fish (rich in protein), and small, scales-on fish like anchovies (providing chitin) all provide different nutrients that support our microbial health. Surf’s up!