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Diet Diversity for Good Gut Health

Diet Diversity for Good Gut Health, Gut Naturopath Kirily Thomas

Diet diversity for good gut health is so important and probably something most of us need to improve upon! A healthy gut microbiota is supported by an unprocessed, wholefood diet that is high in plant-based foods, rich in fibre, moderate fat, moderate protein and has a lot of variety – wholegrains, legumes, vegetables, fruits and nuts.

As well as nourishing us, what we eat also nourishes our gut flora, promoting their growth into healthy populations of beneficial flora.  And let’s not forget, if we support our beneficial gut microbes through our diet and improve our gut health, this can then translate into our improved general health as well because of the valuable metabolites our beneficial gut flora produce (like butyrate). Having a healthy gut microbiome can also influence the health of other microbiomes within our body, improving overall bacterial balance. 

Supporting our Gut Microbiome Through Dietary Diversity

Did you know that your bacterial diversity can be increased, not only by eating a diverse array of plant foods, but by also simply eating different types of varieties and also their different colours within the same plant family? 

Huh? What do you mean?

Well, say you made my Quinoa Salad recipe and used tricoloured quinoa, instead of just the common white variety – that will then count as three different plant foods as you had red, black and white quinoa, instead of just plain white. This would be the same if you had tricoloured rice, or ate three different colours of carrot during the week, or ate different coloured lettuces (green and purple), and even different varieties of apple instead of buying one bag of the same type of apple (tempting when it comes to pink ladies, I know).

This is all because of subtle differences in the phytonutrients in different coloured plant foods, which provides our microbes with different things to eat. Akkermansia spp., which is one of our beneficial microbes (when it is in the right population) that lives in the mucosal barrier of our large intestine, loves eating polyphenols, but prefers to munch away on the red polyphenols (think raspberries, strawberries, tomatoes, red quinoa, red rice) rather than say the purple or blue ones. And it has been shown in some studies that Akkermansia populations increase more when they have red polyphenols to eat, rather than other colours. Isn’t that fascinating? 

So, how many different types of plant foods should you include in your diet each week to nourish your gut microbiota? 

I initially get my patients to aim for more than they have already been eating, so they can make a start. Then I try to encourage them to work towards eating 30 different plant foods per week, and once they’re really in the swing of things, start aiming for 40! This can really help support diversity within your gut microbiota, and it adds up much more quickly than you may think, as daunting as eating 40 different plant foods can sometimes sound.

For example, if you made my quinoa salad for dinner, it has 9 different types of plant foods in it if you use tricoloured quinoa – red quinoa, white quinoa, black quinoa, orange sweet potato, spinach leaves, rocket leaves, peptitas, currants and parsley.

If you had had a smoothie for breakfast that included acai powder, blackcurrant powder, blueberries, raspberries and blackberries, that’s another 5.

Then perhaps you had a wholegrain sandwich at lunchtime that included  avocado and two different colours of lettuce followed by an apple for an after-lunch snack, that’s already another 5.

See, before you know it, you’ve actually managed to eat 19 different types of plant foods! So, you can see how quickly it can add up. But please note, you can’t count these 19 foods again for the rest of the week – you must eat different plant foods over the subsequent days to further add to your tally. Also, tiny amounts of spices added to meals don’t count, but anything over a teaspoon that you eat does (e.g. 1 teaspoon of raw cacao in a smoothie). 

Please don’t forget that it is also important to ensure you are eating adequate protein and good quality fats, they are important for our health too! And remember, this can be a work in progress, and you don’t have to make all the additions overnight, you can start increasing your diversity of plant foods slowly – it’s definitely not a race!

Does it sound like a fun challenge? Why don’t you start tracking your intake of different plant foods over a couple of weeks and see how you go? Then come and join in the conversation on my Facebook and Instagram pages and let me know how you go and what different ways you managed to get more types of foods into your daily diet. We could all do with some new ideas!

Are you interested in knowing what the bacterial diversity in your gut is now, so you can get some advice tailored to your specific situation? This can be assessed via gut microbiome analysis, which is testing you can organise though your healthcare practitioner (like myself).

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