Our gut microbiome is becoming a research focus in many different health outcomes, from gut health to mental health. Our Registered Dietitian takes a look into the evidence around what we should be eating to optimise our gut microbiome.
The Top Line
A diet containing a good variety of plant foods contributes to a diverse and healthy gut microbiome.
What is the gut microbiome?
The gut microbiome is a collection of living organisms that reside in your digestive tract. These microbes include mostly bacteria, but also yeast and fungi. There are trillions of bacteria in our gut and most of them live in our large intestine.
There is growing research showing the importance of these little organisms in all types of health outcomes, from the seemingly obvious gut health, to mental health, blood sugar control and even how much we weigh.
What is a healthy gut microbiome?
Diversity is key, a healthy microbiome contains many different types of bacteria as they product different compounds that are beneficial to our bodies. Low diversity is found in people with many chronic diseases including gut disorders, obesity and diabetes. Depletion of the good bacteria can lead to disease causing organisms taking hold.
What controls our gut microbiome?
We all have different microbiomes. Their composition is effected by many factors, including where we live, our genetics, how we were delivered at birth, how we were fed as babies (breast milk or formula), antibiotic use, even whether we have pets! And, of course our current diet.
How does diet impact the gut microbiome?
Massively! The microbiome relies on our diet for fuel. The bacteria ferment ‘prebiotic’ fibre and resistant starch to feed and thrive, while producing small fat molecules which are essential for a healthy gut. This is one of the reasons a high fibre diet can reduce the risk of bowel cancer. Diet can also impact our microbiome for the worse, for example if we drink too much alcohol.
What is the best type of diet for my gut microbiome?
Clearly we need to have enough fibre to feed our microbiome, 30g/day is recommended, however research is growing in this area. A large study project called the ‘American Gut’ profiled the microbiomes of over 10’000 people, mostly in the USA and UK. A key finding was that those who ate more than 30 different plant foods over a week had the most diverse microbiomes. This variety of plant based eating was more important than being vegan or vegetarian.
The reason that diversity is so important is bacterial strains rely on different types of plant compounds, so by having more variety in the diet you are feeding different bacteria in your gut! Additionally, those who ate more than 30 plant foods per week had less antibiotic resistant bacterial genes.
Variety in the diet = variety in the gut.
What does this mean in real life?
It tells us that as well as just eating enough fruit, vegetables and wholegrains we should also focus on the variety we have. Modern food systems focus on mass production of few varieties of plant foods. Often we can get into the habit of eating the same foods each day, so it is a good idea to mix things up and try different plant foods.
Tips to increase the plant diversity in your diet
- Include a variety of vegetables, fruit, wholegrains, beans, pulses, nuts, seeds, herbs and spices each day.
- Have different types of carbohydrate at each meal, for example oats with breakfast, quinoa at lunch and bean pasta at dinner.
- Snack on mixed seeds and nuts, or sprinkle them on cereal and salads.
- Buy mixed varieties of beans and pulses for cooking.
- Try new grains – buckwheat, teff, millet, quinoa or freekeh.
- Eat seasonal varieties of fruit and vegetables, veg delivery boxes can help with this.
- Mix wholegrains and legumes, for example mix lentils into wholegrain rice.
- Use more plant protein sources such as tofu, edamame, tempeh, chickpeas, beans and lentils.
- If you use frozen vegetables get mixed varieties.
- Try new recipes and experiment with different herbs and spices.
- Add a handful of mixed berries into your favourite Liberto protein shake, they already contain pea protein and a blend of seeds and plant fibres.
- Experiment with different pastas, try bean pasta, lentil pasta & chickpea pasta.
- Buddha bowls are a super way to inspire variety check out our recipes.
Liberto meal plan to get 30 plant based foods per week
In these 4 plant based meals you’ll get over your full 30 different plant foods! Check out our other recipes for more inspiration.
This recipe contains 9 different plant additions to our Vanilla Protein Shake, which is made from pea protein with added plant foods such as flax, chia, maca and baobab!
This bowl of goodness is made up of an impressive 9 plant foods, including our Black Bean Spaghetti.
Try our Vegan Bolognese
Vegan or not, this lentil Bolognese packs in the plant foods, 10 to be exact, including our Edamame Spaghetti.
Try our Baked Protein Oatmeal
This dessert contains 7 plant foods, plus our Vanilla Protein Shake, which is made from pea protein with added flax, chia, maca and baobab!
Remember, you don’t have to eat these all in one day, just having one of these recipes a day spread through the week would get you to your 30 different plant foods!