The choice between a bag of potato chips and an apple might seem harmless, but how you choose to nourish your body can affect more than your weight.
“All the research that’s coming out in well-being and in how we maintain health is showing that our gut health determines the health of everything in our body,” Chopra says.
What is the gut microbiome?
When you’re born, you have about 25,000 genes, with half coming from your mother and half coming from your father. Those genes begin to change as soon as you leave your mother’s womb. Through life, you acquire 2 million additional genes referred to as the gut microbiome.
“[These genes] are in the skin and all the openings of the body — the mouth, the ear, the vagina, et cetera, but they’re primarily in the gut,” he says.
When you put food in your body, the first thing it comes in contact with is your microbiome, which Chopra refers to as your “second genome.”
When eating food that promotes inflammation, such as chips, French fries, cake, and cookies, the gut microbiome also becomes inflamed. Symptoms of gut inflammation include gas, indigestion, or constipation. In some cases, an inflamed gut can result in irritable bowel syndrome, ulcerative colitis, and Crohn’s disease.
“A simple discomfort is a sign that your microbiome is inflamed,” Chopra explains. “And if your microbiome is inflamed, then it deposits that information in the body.”
Improving gut health through diet
Researchers are beginning to understand how what’s going on in your gut can affect your risk for diseases such as diabetes, colorectal cancer, obesity, and autoimmune disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis. They’re also gaining a better grasp on how the health of your gut affects your mood and risk for mental health disorders including depression and anxiety.
“If somebody is depressed or if somebody has mood swings, it might be due to gut health,” explains Chopra.
The good news is you can adopt a plant-based diet and potentially make your gut happier. Chopra recommends aiming to eat all seven colors of the rainbow and tap into all six tastes when filling your plate.
The idea behind this way of eating is to give your body food with phytochemicals, which come from the sun.
“Phytochemicals are light chemicals that are derived from the energy of the sun — which is the basis of all life on the planet — so it’s access to the most fundamental energy,” says Chopra.
The future of exploring gut health
New technology via artificial intelligence and deep learning can help look at the chemicals and bacteria in your gut and help you and your doctor identify the proper diet for you.
Those new resources may open a whole new world in exploring the gut microbiome and the creation of individualized eating plans.
“It turns out that if you really look deeply at it,” Chopra explains, “there’s no universal diet for everyone.”