Nutrition Sciences Major Discusses the Gut Microbiome
Beatrice Glaviano ’26 breaks down the importance of the gut microbiome and offers some delicious and nutritious meal ideas to inspire her fellow Chargers.
February 5, 2024
By Beatrice Glaviano ’26
Well, hello, hello, party people. For those who are not partying (like me): also, hello. For those who are wondering what the heck happened to me, I’m just going to say:
Author: *trying to do normal human insane college student things* Brain: *fan turns on* Author: “Oh, that’s a little-” Brain, without warning: [ERROR 404] Author: “Oh.” Brain: [BLUE SCREEN OF DEATH] Author: “Oh no.”
And here we are now.
Author takes a long sip of cafeteria-level coffee and sighs.
I’m not going to say that everything is fixed, but here are some things that are keeping me enthused about life despite the god-awful weather we’ve been having:
I get to make my friend heart-shaped ravioli for their birthday and give them some presents I really hope they’ll enjoy.
Culinary class. I’m not sure if anyone has met her, but Professor Maggie Lyon is perhaps one of the brightest (in energy and intellect), down-to-earth, and genuinely human human beings I’ve had the privilege to meet. She has a background of being a pastry chef- A PASTRY CHEF – and asked for my oatmeal cookie recipe. Like what???? Even if you don’t have her as a professor, I’d highly recommend saying hello. She’s great, ‘nuff said.
My plants and my fish, Odysseus. Someone needs to take care of them.
The blanket-sweater-thing my friend got me for Christmas. I’m telling you: floor + blanket-sweater-thing + Coldplay = bliss.
Learning. Bagels. Coffee.
The fact that this weekend should have sun and all I want to do is sit on my carpeted floor and soak it up.
I guess I’ve been reflecting a lot lately as well, which leads us to today’s conversation:
Man, I hated education.
When I was a kid, nothing about school was cool, except maybe for the fact that you could have pancakes for lunch and that you could play checkers when it rained because we couldn’t go on the playground. That was pretty dope, along with how Beyblades got banned in third grade because some kid got beaned in the eye, womp womp.
Ah, teenage slang alert. To translate, “womp womp” basically means the equivalent of something being unfortunate. For example:
Author, sad: “Bro, I just ran out of granola.” Friend: “Womp womp.”
You get the gist. Anyhow, school stood for a lot of things I didn’t like: fruit juice, sticky and/or sweaty hands, teachers (especially Mrs. B., who had highlighter blond hair and was the definition of a Karen before the term hit the World Wide Web), standardized tests, and the infamous Pacer Test.
“The FitnessGram Pacer Test is a multistage aerobic-capacity test that progressively gets more difficult as it continues. The 20-meter pacer test will begin in 30 seconds. Line up at the start. The running speed starts slowly but gets faster each minute after you hear this signal bodeboop.”
I’m sorry, but what ON EARTH is a BODEBOOP. Like ??????
Author turns to the camera like it’s The Office, cry-laughing.
It’s only week three folks, and we’ve already hit stage-one delirium. Dear god.
Anyhow, what I’m trying to get at here is that when I was a little kid, I always promised myself I’d take a year off of school – like it was some sort of job – before going to college. A part of me regrets that I didn’t, but if I did, I wouldn’t have had the chance to live the life I am living now. I am impossibly grateful for the people, opportunities, memories, and lessons I’ve been able to experience and that have led me to this moment, right now. Consequently, I have a deep love and admiration for learning, and I believe that passion has been really coming out as of lately. Not only do I enjoy reading research articles, but I like writing them, too.
While this blog post is serving as a sort of general life update, I also plan on it being somewhat educational. In my first research discussion this semester, I really delved into the Gut Microbiome and why it’s so important to take into consideration when talking about nutrition, or even health as a whole.
So, naturally, I wanted to know more about it. And this is what I found.
As I mentioned previously, the gut microbiome comprises multiple bacterial species that have many varying purposes, though all of them share the natural desire to survive and reproduce. However, while I touched upon how our gut microbiome impacts our health, I never quite covered how to take care of it in turn.
Similar to how plants need sunlight to produce energy, “what we eat shapes the structure, composition, and function of the gut microbiome, which interacts with the gut epithelium and mucosal immune system and maintains intestinal homeostasis in a healthy state” (Zhang). Think about how cars work. Some cars take diesel, and others take the $4.59 premium that absolutely kills your wallet. Bacteria work in the same way: while some species will metabolize glucose, others prefer lactose or even fructose as an energy source. So, when they’re given an energy source that’s similar, but not quite what they’re looking for, they may not function as effectively. There’s also the fact that one’s diet can “disturb gut homeostasis by influencing the diversity, composition, and function of the gut microbiome” (Zhang).
Remember in middle school during your health unit the whole “you are what you eat” thing? Well, that sort of factors in here (though this statement makes a clear bias against heavy-set individuals who may eat quite healthy despite being “overweight”). Eating a diverse abundance of foods – fruits, vegetables, complex and simple carbs, enough protein from a variety of sources to cover the required amino acids, and healthy fats – doesn’t only help us take care of our body, but it helps the bacteria within us thrive and in turn, help us do the same. Keeping the body on its toes by eating diversely ensures that one is ticking all their nutritional boxes, as well as satiating what is called “the omnivore’s paradox.” This paradox, as I learned in a previous course, follows the idea that we like eating the same things but, at the same time, strive for new tastes and textures.
For example: ice cream.
Chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry are what I consider the basic Pokémon starter pack of the ice cream world. Eventually, though, you get bored. Then Ben & Jerry’s finds you on a lonely Saturday night and you just think to yourself, Wow, I wonder what Netflix & Chill tastes like. Or maybe mint chocolate-chip catches your eye. While these flavors are different, they are still to be considered to be under the umbrella term of ice cream.
And voila, the omnivore’s paradox is born, and bacteria love it.
However, why are the bacteria getting all the attention? How the human body metabolizes these nutrients is a completely different ballgame. We need a variety of nutrients not only for our gut microbiome to remain stable, but to also fill in the gaps in our own biology. For example: amino acids. Amino acids are the monomers that link together in specific sequences to form the polymer of protein. It’s similar to how DNA works:
Original DNA Strand: AGTTAGAGAGACC
RNA Strand: UCAAUCUCUCUCGG
Brand New DNA Strand: AGTTAGAGAGAGCC
And boom, you’ve coded for Spider-Man powers or something. But, there’s a downside: out of the hundreds of amino acids the body produces on its own, it cannot make nine of them (Cleveland Clinic). These nine are what you’d call your essential amino acids (in comparison to the nonessential ones that you can create), and for better or worse, you must get them from your diet. Because amino acids create protein, they are typically found in meats (beef, pork, lamb), poultry, eggs, seafood, and dairy. By eating a diverse abundance of these foods, you’ll be able to check those pesky essentials off your amino acid box easily. However, for my vegans and vegetarians, it can be a bit more challenging. Keep in mind that I am not an RDN but a nutrition student. As a former vegan/vegetarian, here are my recommendations for protein:
Fortified protein powder (TB12 by Tom Brady is VERY good)
Legumes (beans, lentils)
Nut and seed butters/spreads
Nuts/seeds (almonds, chia seeds (also good for Omega-3s), walnuts, pistachios, you get the point)
I’d also say complex carbohydrates, but the protein you’ll find in those will be limited or non-existent depending on what food group you go for. Again, not a dietician, just a nerd in a trench coat.
... and another coat on top of that. It’s cold out, man.
Anyhow, just like how all these amino acids play a different role in creating different proteins, the variety of vitamins and minerals one gets from food is also something to take into consideration. If you weren’t aware, if you eat too many carrots, sweet potatoes, or any naturally orange foods, you will start to turn orange due to the concentration of beta-carotene in your body. Similarly, if you eat too much tuna, you’re at risk for mercury poisoning. Too many Brazil nuts, and you’ll have an alarming amount of selenium running amok in your body.
In short: keep your diet interesting. Take your stomach by surprise and hurl a burger at it instead of the salad you’ve been eating for lunch the past week. Shock your intestine with a new fruit. I know that many of us (me included) can fall into repetitive meal cycles, but try to spice things up every once in a while – and it doesn’t always have to be a huge change either. Maybe use apples in your oatmeal instead of bananas, or change up your protein powder. More importantly, have fun. Food should never be something mundane; make it fun, and, yes, fun and healthy can be synonymous because wellness should be a joyful thing to engage in.
Make your diet, lifestyle, and wellness yours, and your body will pay you in kind. If anyone is looking for some meal ideas, here are a few meals and snacks I’ve taken delight in for the past week or two:
Yogurt, granola and fruit of choice, chia seeds or nuts, honey, and an unholy amount of cinnamon
I put bovine collagen peptides in this for added protein, and to help my skin/nails out
Grilled chicken w/ a slice of cheese, lettuce, pickles, onions, jalapenos, and chipotle sauce; make sure to get the cheese melted and the wrap pressed for optimal awesome
Two large eggs, spinach, onion, baby bella mushrooms, vegan cheese with 1/2 a sweet potato and banana
I typically douse the omelet itself in an unholy amount of ketchup, by the way
Tofu Caesar Salad
Freshly pan-fried tofu, however the heck you like your salad mixture to be composed of, and Trader Joe’s Vegan Caesar Salad dressing
Vegan Oatmeal Cookies (recipe has been included for those who are curious)
Out of all of these, honestly just try the chicken wrap. It’s so good, and for what? Amino acids? Uh, yeah (and it also tastes amazing).
I hope everyone is having a splendid week. I’d surmise everyone’s course loads are getting a bit harder, too, and all I have to say is:
We still have three months left, lol. Buckle up, it’s going to be a roughly 90-ish day-long ride. Yee-haw.
Don’t get me wrong: I still love education, but dear god I need the cold weather to stop as soon as weathermanically possible. Is that a word? Nope. But this is my blog, and I make the dictionary ‘round these parts.
God, I need sleep.
Aight, peeps, I think it’s time I hit the sack. To everyone reading, hopefully this blog gave you some encouragement to switch your diet (or lifestyle) up a little, and maybe try some new foods. Take care everybody, and as always:
Peace, love, and all of the peanut butter.
Author, out. *drops mic*
Baby Works Cited (as I only used two of the four sources I spent two hours trying to find):
Zhang, Ping. “Influence of Foods and Nutrition on the Gut Microbiome and Implications for Intestinal Health.” International Journal of Molecular Sciences, vol. 23, no. 17, 24 Aug. 2022, p. 9588, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9455721/, https://doi.org/10.3390/ijms23179588. Accessed 29 Jan. 2024.
I’m telling you, the internet is an overly complex place, and YouTube is a menace. Agh.