The gut microbiome is intricately involved in many of our body’s functions such as digestion, immunity and cognition. The last decade has seen a large increase in research about the gut microbiome which is the community of microorganisms that live in our gut.
A healthy gut is made up of trillions of different micro-organisms and bacteria that help you digest food and ward off bad bacteria as well as supporting your immune system.
Our gastrointestinal tract runs right through the core of the body and does a lot more than just digest our food. Microbes break down the fibre in our diet, and produce critical nutrients that feed the cells lining your gut. The metabolites travel throughout the body to the heart. lungs, liver, kidneys and brains influencing our physical and mental health.
We know that the way to a diverse microbiome is through plant food diversity. The American Gut project is investigating more than 10,000 people to see how diet and lifestyle affects the human microbiome. The researchers found that found that people regularly eating 30+ different types of plant foods per week had a more diverse microbiome than those eating 10 or fewer different plant foods a week. Recent research has shown the richer and more diverse the community of gut microbes are the lower your risk of disease and allergies. Diseases linked to the gut microbiome include obesity, liver disease, heart disease, depression and Parkinson’s disease.
What’s interesting in the results from the American Gut project was that it was the number of different plant foods in the participant’s diets that had the greatest influence on the diversity of their gut bacteria rather than whether they were a vegetarian or a meat eater.
So eating plants is good, but eating a big VARIETY of plant foods is better, as it seems to encourage the growth of different species of helpful bacteria.
So - is eating 30+ types of plants a week a challenge? I usually start off the day with a bowl of my muesli topped with berries - that’s 8 there. A rocket and spinach salad for lunch with some chickpeas and sweet potatoes adds 4 more, followed by ratatouille with sausages for dinner with some rye bread would take me to 20 for the day.
The point though isn’t to get fixated on 30 types – the point is to keep your diet diverse, mix up what you eat and try to eat a range of different fruits, veggies, wholegrains, seeds, nuts and pulses rather than eating the same ones each day. If you’re currently on 10 types and you jump to 15, then that’s going to be a big win for your microbiome.
There’s still a lot of research required before we understand the gut microbiome and the best way to support it to positively impact our physical and mental health. Start by providing an environment that allows the gut microbiota to flourish by seeing if you can add in a few more plant foods each week. You could start with my banana and date porridge for double the prebiotics - plant fibres which nourish the good bacteria already living in the large bowel or colon. Or try a handful of nuts and seeds with a piece of fruit for a snack.
Rachel is a university qualified Clinical Nutritionist based in Balmain. She is also the busy working mum of two teenagers, so is practical and realistic with her advice . Rachel offers private consultations to improve your family's health and well-being. You can find her on Facebook and Instagram for more healthy tips and tricks.