Gut Health: Why Context Matters

Your gut is made up of different types of microbes. They have a beneficial or harmful effect on your health that is largely due to the diet you choose. Your diet helps to add to the good types of microbes in your gut in the form of probiotic foods and drinks. Various types of fats, proteins and carbohydrates feed different strains of microbes, which have different effects on your health.

Picture of Uncooked Legumes Lentils and Beans

To promote more healthy strains of microbes in your gut, have a diet rich in plant-based foods like whole grains, nuts, seeds, legumes, vegetables, and fruit. Include two serves of probiotic-rich foods and drinks every day. It’s a good way to keep your gut microbes more in the favour of your health.

The types of bacteria that are healthful and harmful are known to some degree. For example, Firmicutes is considered a harmful category of gut microbes, while Bacteroidetes is considered a health-promoting category.

However, these are only two categories of gut microbes. Your total gut health is dependent on other types of microbe categories and strains.

These include the effects of the community of gut microbes already present in your gut as your underlying gut microbes. These underlying communities each affect the role and response of Firmicutes and Bacteroidetes differently. The types of underlying gut microbes may also cause a different response to a food or beverage you consume. This means there may be multiple varieties of what is considered an optimal gut community that promote optimal health.

Individual response to lifestyle factors such as the levels of stress, how often and how long you exercise, as well as the type of exercise, affects your gut microbiome. Medication can also alter the function and types of gut microbes present in your gut.

You are unique, just as your gut microbiome. While the optimal categories and strains of gut microbes differ from individual to individual, the role of healthy lifestyle choices, including a variety of plant-based foods and probiotic foods and drinks still stands strongly in research to support your gut health.

For some medical conditions, there is growing research that there may be specific strains of probiotics that help reduce certain symptoms. Saying this, following healthy lifestyle choices and a diet that feeds strains of bacteria that are known to promote your health is still key to an overall healthy gut microbiome.

This research provides an insight into the potential need to provide a more individualised analysis of an underlying gut microbiome. This will enable a more specific dietary recommendation to promote the healthiest version of you.

picture of Female person cooking, mixing healthy organic food

Take home message:

Food and beverages provide your body with a matrix of health benefits to support your gut health beyond just a single type of microbe strain found in supplemental form. Food can also expose your gut to more healthful microbe communities which you as an individual may benefit from. This may help to create your optimal gut microbiome and promote your best health.


  1. Manor O, Dai CL, Kornilov SA, et al. Health and disease markers correlate with gut microbiome composition across thousands of people. Nat Commun. 2020;11(1):5206. doi: 10.1038/s41467-020-18871-1.