As we all grapple with the after-effects of a petering pandemic, in addition to other global health concerns and the stress of daily life, the need to maintain good health has become stronger than ever. One of the main factors that play a pivotal role in managing one's well-being is gut health. Apart from acting as the main portal for absorbing and processing nutrients, the gut also influences the nervous and immune systems and impacts mental health and digestive function. Recent studies show that gut health affects literally everything within the body; thus, it is imperative to maintain good gut health – the trillions of bacteria that live within the microbiota – at all times.
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Both good and bad bacteria exist within the microbiota and have a symbiotic relationship with the body for its healthy functioning, in addition to preventing the possibility of metabolic diseases. Hence, microbiota diversity is important, and one's diet plays a significant role in maintaining this balance.
Recent studies have shown that soy-based foods have a significant positive effect on gut microbiota. One of the handfuls of plant foods to contain all nine essential amino acids, soy-based foods are today gaining popularity - not just for their many health benefits, but also because they positively affect gut health.
It has been observed that the consumption of soy foods can increase the levels of bifidobacteria and lactobacilli – a group of probiotic bacteria that are normally found in the digestive system, thereby altering the ratio between Firmicutes and Bacteroidetes, and maintaining microbial balance. These changes in the microbiota then help reduce pathogenic bacteria populations in the gut and assist in reducing the risk of diseases such as immune deficiencies, allergies, obesity, diabetes, cancer and cardiovascular diseases.
One soy-based food said to be good for gut health is soy milk. Certain gut bacteria have the ability to utilize the nutrients in soy milk and alter the composition of microbiota favourably. For those suffering from high lactose intolerance or inflammatory bowel syndrome (IBS), soy milk is a good alternative to dairy products and can help reduce inflammation and bowel irritation.
Tofu, another protein-rich soy by-product, is also known to provide both, pre- and pro-biotics, for gut bacteria. While the high protein content in soy serves as a source of energy and nitrogen for gut bacteria, the oligosaccharides and fibre content in soy are known to possess prebiotic properties. Moreover, a number of fermented soy foods, such as soy milk, tofu, soy paste and even soy sauce, are known to possess health-promoting effects that are enhanced by the fermentation process. Food fermentation utilizes microorganisms such as bacteria, yeast or both; these not only changes the nutritional value of the food, improving its digestibility, but also make them a good source of pre- and pro-biotics. This in turn adds to the food's anti-obesity and anti-inflammatory properties, and improves gastrointestinal tract health and the immune system.
Apart from its holistic impact on overall gut health and high protein content, soy is an excellent source of Vitamin C, folate, calcium, fibre, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, and potassium – all while being low in saturated fat and carbohydrate. It is also known for its isoflavone content, which can have strong antioxidant properties.
With its multitude of benefits directly impacting gut health in addition to its high nutritional content, it is hardly surprising that soy is today considered a superfood. In line with the ageless saying by Hippocrates – “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food” – be sure to include soy foods in your diet for a happy gut and a healthy body.
About Author: Dr Aalika Banerji Shah is a medical nutritionist, aesthetic physician and supporter of the ‘Right To Protein' initiative.
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