What is gut diversity?
Gut diversity refers to the number of different microbes in our gut. Greater diversity in the gut means a greater diversity of ‘skills’ amongst our gut microbes, including gut bacteria. Our community of gut microbes is as unique as our figure print and the diversity of microbes in the ecosystem of our gut is related to helping our gut and the rest of the systems in our body to work at their best1.
What do gut microbes do:
- Support nutrient digestion and absorption
- Promote healthy bowel movements
- Break down fibre
- Produce vitamins
- Support the immune system
- Communicate with the brain via the gut-brain axis
- Produce compounds that nourish our gut lining
We also talk about diversity in the diet.
Why a diverse diet?
Diet diversity = Gut diversity
Research shows that those who consume 30 different plants per week or more have greater gut diversity than those who consume fewer than 10. Different microbes ferment different fibres, polyphenols (the colourful compounds in plants) and other nutrients found in plant foods2. By providing foods to feed a diverse microbiota, we help to increase the skillset of unique gut community, and in turn support our own health and wellbeing. Win-win!
So what do we mean when we talk about plant foods? Plant foods include fruit, vegetables, grains (such as rice, quinoa, oats, barley, rye, wheat), legumes (such as beans, lentils, chickpeas), nuts and seeds, herbs and spices3. Tea, coffee, and extra virgin olive oil, all of which are high in polyphenols, count towards your plant points too!
A diverse plant diet consists of mostly plant foods, but not necessarily exclusively plant foods. Lean meat, fish, eggs, and dairy can all be included as part of a healthy, balanced, microbe-maximising diet. Of course, you can hit your plant points as a vegan, vegetarian or pescatarian, but you can just as easily do so on an omnivorous diet, such as the Mediterranean diet, .
How do I diversify my diet?
Diversifying your diet does not have to be a challenge. Try eating foods from all plant groups, as many plants from each group and as many different colours as possible.
One distinct plant = one plant point
One herb/spice = ¼ plant point
Extra virgin olive oil, coffee and tea are ¼ plant point each.
Some useful tips for increasing plant diversity in your diet:
- Try a new fruit or vegetable each week – when you visit the supermarket, look for something new so that you are not always reaching for the same 6 fruits and vegetables.
- Add seeds or nuts as porridge or salad toppers
- Include a variety of whole grains in your meals. Think porridge oats one day, wheat biscuits the next, mixed grain quinoa and rice with your curry or rye bread instead of your usual toast.
- Mix up protein sources and opt for beans and pulses to bulk out a Bolognese, chilli or curry.
- Swap your iceberg lettuce for a mixture of salad leaves
- Sprinkle some herbs and spices to your dishes – this is a great way to add more plants to your diet and make food taste great too!
- Canned, frozen and dried plant foods count too! Keep plants stored in your freezer and pantry so you don’t need to rely on fresh produce only.
Love Your Gut
Take a look at some of our recipes here
- Tomova et al., (2019) , 6(47) https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fnut.2019.00047/full
- McDonald et al., (2018) mSystems, 3(3) https://journals.asm.org/doi/10.1128/mSystems.00031-18
- Singh et al., (2017) Journal of Translational Medicine, 15(73) https://translational-medicine.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12967-017-1175-y