Understanding the Gut Microbiome, Diet and Chronic Disease

Microbiome of the Gut

The gut microbiome is a complex ecosystem within the gastrointestinal tract. This ecosystem is made up of 500-1000 species of gut bacteria. When these gut bacteria are altered so is the health of the host, meaning our own health. When our gut microbiome is healthy, so are we. These microbes influence our metabolism, inflammation, our mood, and our immune system.

Gut Microbiome Diet

Studies show that alterations in the gut microbiome due to an unhealthy diet and poor lifestyle contribute to the development of a host of chronic diseases such as obesity, diabetes, leaky gut, colon cancer, Parkinson’s, cardiovascular disease and Alzheimer’s disease.

According to recent research, the factors that contribute to a healthy microbiome are a diversified diet, limited processed foods & adequate fiber.

The good news is that the gut microbiome can be shaped by long-term dietary interventions, according to a 2015 study in obese patients.

Microbiome Expert

As a registered dietitian that specializes in the gut microbiome and chronic disease, Karen Graham, RDN can help you restore a healthy, diverse microbiome at any stage of your life. These changes in your diet and lifestyle will balance the gut microbiome and in turn optimize your weight and prevent/reverse chronic disease.

Karen Graham is a Scottsdale, Arizona based functional medicine nutritionist. She is a microbiome expert in how it relates to diet and chronic disease. Karen has been studying the gut microbiome for the past 8 years and she has developed a simple, multi-pronged approach to addressing an unbalanced microbiome and getting your health back on track.

Learn more by attending our New Patient Workshop. These monthly workshops focus on bringing you up-to-date on the latest information regarding your health and how the gut microbiome plays a significant role. We are in the era of the gut microbiome and the information is changing at a rapid rate so the workshops are also updated on a monthly basis.

‘Healthy’ Foods that Really Aren’t

  • Karen Graham
  • December 6, 2012

Reduced-Fat Peanut Butter

Anything with less fat seems like it would be a healthier choice, but in reality, it’s not, says Karen Graham, SmartNutritionbyKG.com a registered dietitian and member of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “Reduced-fat peanut butters are usually junk. Often when they remove the fat from a product they have to manipulate the ingredients to make up for the lost flavor and texture, so manufacturers usually replace the fat with sugar.” Plus many brands use ingredients like corn syrup solids and hydrogenated vegetable oil, Graham says.

The Better Pick: “Avoiding fat is not always the best way to be healthy,” says Graham. “Eating food in its most natural state is.” For the healthiest option, she recommends choosing an all-natural peanut butter that lists ingredients like peanuts and maybe a little salt, but that’s it.

Non-Dairy Ice Cream

Hoping that switching to that non-dairy version of your favorite ice cream flavor will slim you down? Don’t count on it. “Non-dairy ice cream means no dairy,” says Graham. “It does not mean no fat, no sugar or no calories.” If you compare non-dairy ice cream with the regular stuff, most are similar (some are even higher) in terms of their fat, calorie and sugar content. Non-dairy ice creams brands aren’t healthier, they’re just better for those of us with dairy allergies or lactose intolerance, Graham says.

The Better Pick: If you are lactose intolerant, or just truly want a healthier version of ice cream, consider slicing some ripe bananas and freezing them, then use a blender to turn them into your own frozen treat. You can additional mix-ins, like frozen strawberries (no syrup), to flavor your “ice cream.”

Flavored Almond Milk

Almond milk can be a healthy, non-dairy alternative, especially since it’s fortified with calcium and vitamin D, says Graham. But it’s the flavored almond milk you need to watch out for — vanilla almond milk contains as much as 15 grams of sugar per serving, which is more than a serving of chocolate ice cream, says Graham.

The Better Pick: Graham suggests sticking with plain, unsweetened varieties to keep this non-dairy alternative to milk a healthy choice.

Frozen Yogurt

If you thought switching from ice cream to frozen yogurt was better for your health (and waistline), think again. “Frozen yogurt is no healthier than ice cream,” Graham says. While some brands are lower in fat than ice cream, many are higher in sugar. And what about those new fro-yo chains that claim their product contains “live active cultures” that are good for your digestive health? “The truth is, frozen yogurt is not a viable source of active cultures; between the extreme temperatures, the shelf life and the manufacturing process of the frozen yogurt, it is highly doubtful that any of those bacteria exist upon ingestion,” she says.

The Better Pick: if you really want ice cream, satisfy your craving with a serving of the real deal. Dr. Oz recommends buying slow-churned varieties – which have about half the fat of premium ice cream.

Moderation is Key to Benefits of Using Olive Oil

  • Karen Graham
  • December 6, 2012

Next time you reach for the olive oil at the stove, use a lighter touch. It may not be as healthy as you think. For years, olive oil has been hailed as a part of a healthful diet, and nutrition conscious cooks have used it freely. Therein lies the problem: People might be cautious about how much butter they use, but olive oil seems to have been given a pass in the moderation department.

Dr. Joel Fuhrman, author of “Eat to Live” and a specialist in nutrition treatments for obesity agrees that people might consume more olive oil than they otherwise should because they’ve read or been told that it’s healthy. “People don’t realize how fattening it is, and then they eat olive oil instead of whole food fats such as nuts and seeds,” Fuhrman said. Nuts and seeds tend to be much less fattening because they contain unsaturated fats. Fuhrman says that olive oil might have gained its “healthy” tag because substitutes such as butter and margarine were labeled unhealthy making it popular only because it’s “safer” – not actually safe.

Alisha Chasey, a nutritionist in Gilbert, explains why olive oil is better suited for raw consumption, as in a salad dressing than for cooking. “Because of olive oil’s relatively low melting point, the properties of the oil get changed while cooking, removing its health benefits,” Chasey said.

Also, olive oil available in the market might not be pure. Said Scottsdale-based dietitian Karen Graham in an email: “True, pure olive oil has an abundance of very healthy ingredients including antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties. The problem is that most olive oil brands we find in our grocery stores are not pure or the quality of the olive oil is very poor.”

“The best advice I can offer is to cut out the middleman and buy olive oil straight from a mill or close to a mill,” Graham said. “Olive oil deteriorates with age. We are lucky that Arizona has an olive mill that allows you to taste the oil before you buy it. It is called Queen Creek Olive Mill (http://www.queencreekolivemill.com). They now have a location in Kierland Commons, which is a boutique store with a tasting bar. All their bottles list the press date so you know how fresh the product is.”

According to statistics from the International Olive Council, the worldwide consumption of olive oil is 80 to 100 percent from 2006 to 21012. One reason olive oil is considered healthy is that it has long been associated with a traditionally healthy Mediterranean diet. “The Mediterranean people of the past years ate lots of olive oil, but they also worked hard int he fields, walking about 9 miles a day often guiding a heavy plow,” Fuhrman wrote in a paper called “The Mediterranean Diet.”

When reading about the Mediterranean diet, most Americans don’t take home the message to eat loads of vegetables, beans, and fruits and do tons of exercise; they just accept the myth that olive oil is a health food.” Also, terms used for olive oil such as “extra light” are often misleading.

“People may be under the impression that this means fewer calories. All it really means is the product is highly refined, which is not a good thing,” Graham said.

Alexandra Kicenik Devarenne, an olive oil consultant in California said, “Olive oil is safe as long as people remember that it needs to be treated as a substitute and not as an addition to the diet. Olive oil has been associated with health benefits, but that doesn’t mean you go and add olive oil to an already fat-rich diet.”