You’ve probably heard of the term “gut microbiome”, or the trillions of bacteria, viruses, and fungi that live within the digestive tract. However, I’m sure you haven’t given a second thought to it and for good reason - only within the last several years have we truly begun to understand the vital role these beneficial microbes have to our health and wellbeing.
Fostering a healthy microbiome: The solution to a healthy microbiome is simple - our food choices determine the quality, quantity, and diversity of the microbes within our gut. According to a recent study published in Nature Medicine, a diet rich in plant-based whole foods with plenty of whole grains, vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, legumes and beans is the best for promoting a more diverse and stable microbiome. Animal foods found to be favorable included fish and eggs. The benefits of a plant-based diet, according to the study, include a decreased risk of developing heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and lowered inflammatory markers. Whole plant foods are naturally high in fiber, which can encourage the growth of probiotic bacteria that can help to digest our food, make necessary vitamins, and even communicate with our brains!
Foods to omit: Before heading down to your local grocery store and buying plant-based packaged foods, keep in mind that food quality matters. Foods that are processed or ultra-processed - think chips, crackers, snack bars, cereals, sauces, baked beans, desserts, sugary drinks, juices - even if they are labeled “vegan” or “plant-based” - are not associated with fostering the growth of healthy probiotic species. Other foods that don't foster microbiome health include red meat, cured meats, bacon, and non-fermented dairy. Consuming a diverse range of whole plant foods with minimal processing will ensure you get the most “bang for your buck” when it comes to keeping a happy belly.
Best choices for gut health: To give your microbiome an extra boost, consider adding fermented foods and/or drinks to a plant-based diet to help replenish your gut with living probiotic strains. Keep in mind that not all fermented foods or drinks are “live”, meaning that processing and/or heating has destroyed the live and active cultures. For instance, beer, wine, certain cheeses, breads, fish sauce, soy sauce etc. are produced through fermentation but do not have the ability to increase microbes within the gut, nor encourage their growth. Fermented plant foods include sauerkraut, fermented vegetables, kimchi, and tempeh. Drinks and dairy-based fermented foods include but are not limited to yogurt, kefir, and kombucha.
Fermented Food Buying tips:
- “Live” brands are found in the refrigerated sections at the grocery store
- Fermented foods with live and active cultures will generally be labeled as such
- Select added sugar-free or low sugar brands
It's so easy it is to incorporate microbiome-approved foods into your diet! Browse our plant-based Foodsmart recipes here.