Felice Jacka, an expert in nutritional psychiatry and gut health, and author of There’s a Zoo in My Poosays that the more diverse your diet in general, but particularly your plant food intake, the more diverse your gut microbiota is.
“It does seem that a more diverse gut microbiota is linked to better health outcomes,” says Jacka, the director of the Food and Mood Center at Deakin University. “If you think about the analogy of a rainforest – a rainforest that has a large diversity of plant and insect life, it seems to be a healthier, more robust one, whereas if you have a monoculture, or an environment where one or two species are dominating, it tends to be less robust and resilient.”
One large study found that people who eat more than 30 plants per week also had gut microbiomes that were more diverse than those who ate 10 or fewer types of plants per week.
That might seem daunting, but Debenham says: “It doesn’t have to be a crazy compilation of different meals. Simple changes can make the big difference.”
Swapping up your cereals, adding different fruits and vegetables to your daily smoothie, using different proteins, herbs and vegetables in your salads all create more range.
Jacka reminds that plant foods aren’t just fruits and vegetables but also include herbs, nuts, seeds, legumes and different types of whole grains. If you have oats for breakfast with some berries, nuts and seeds on top, that provides at least four different types of plant foods in one hit.
But that doesn’t mean that should be your breakfast every day for the rest of your life.
“To encourage a more diverse community in your gut you really need to diversify your plant foods,” says Jacka, suggesting rotating meals, so oats one morning, rye toast with peanut butter the next and eggs with mushrooms and herbs the day after.
“I’m an extremely lazy cook and also extremely busy,” she admits, “so at the supermarket, I’ll go for the muesli that has lots of different types of grains, seeds and nuts, I’ll get pre-cooked rice that has brown and red rice and quinoa altogether – three different plant foods straight away.”
Why is diversity of our gut bacteria so important?
Our gut microbiome and its processes are linked to virtually every aspect of our health and functioning, including our skin, weight, energy, sleep, mood and immune system.
“When you eat, within hours it’s affecting your gut and the molecules your gut is producing as it breaks down plant fiber and polyphenols. Those molecules, or polyphenols, are going out into your body and affecting virtually every single system,” Jacka explains. “So, it’s very concrete and very immediate: what you eat is going to have an impact on your health and the way your body functions literally within hours.”
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