Foods that Benefit your Gut Microbiome
Guest Post Written by Dietitian Student, Kassandra Lestrat (She/Her).
Edited by Brooke Bulloch, RD/CEO
Some say that variety is the spice of life. Funny enough, when it comes to your gut the same may be true. Although many types of foods can benefit the gut microbiome, studies show that variety of foods consumed may benefit us the most.
What is The Gut Microbiome?
The gut microbiome is the collection of bacteria and other microorganisms (like, trillions of them!) that live throughout the gastrointestinal tract. This includes both beneficial and pathogenic microbes.
What Role Does Food Play?
Although there is a lot to learn yet, research shows that having lots of different microorganisms in the gut is beneficial (Leeming, Johnson, Spector, & Roy, 2019). According to a study conducted by the American Gut Project, people who consumed 30 or more plant foods each week had a more diverse gut microbiome than people who consumed 10 or less (McDonald et al., 2018). Plant foods are unique in that they provide a wide range of nutrients for the health-promoting microorganisms present in the gut. And diverse microbiota seem to be related to better health.
Plant based foods, generally, are rich in fibre. A diet higher in fibre can positively change either the microbial population within the gut, or the metabolites they produce. For example, some bacteria thrive on fibre and will grow in number. In contrast, other bacteria thrive on by-products of fibre breakdown (Dennett, 2018). Both demonstrate benefit to human health.
Which Foods Benefit the Gut Most?
I’ve put together my top list of fibre-rich, plant-based foods you can include to help support your gut microbiome:
1) Onions and Garlic
These vegetables are a great addition to meals because of their flavour profiles. They also make great food for the bacteria living in our gut, thanks to their inulin content. That said, ALL vegetables are beneficial (yes, this includes potatoes) So, choose your favourites and switch it up.
2) Whole grains
Whole grains are linked to decreased risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and some cancer. Whole grains contribute to food for gut microbes and have been shown to alter the gut microbiota positively. Look for the Whole Grains Counsel Whole Grain Stamp on food labels while shopping, or read the ingredient lists for whole grain items like:
- Brown rice
- Hulled barley
- Whole grain whole wheat flour found in pasta, bread, bagels, or soft tortilla.
3) Whole Fruit
Higher consumption of fruit has been associated with changes to the gut microbiota that contribute to metabolic alterations lowering the risk of type 2 diabetes (Jiang et al., 2020). Choose whole fruit forms over juice, including fresh seasonal fruit, frozen fruit, or canned fruit. Bananas and apples, in particular, contain specific fibres that gut microbes love. So, it doesn’t have to get fancy, look to what’s accessible.
Pulses include dried beans (e.g., black beans, kidney beans, and navy beans), peas (split peas or chickpeas), and lentils and are an excellent source of fibre and other nutrients. Aside from supporting a healthy gut microbiome, they have been shown to lower LDL cholesterol and blood pressure. If you’re new to beans and unsure how to prepare or eat them, check out some of these great recipes from our blog:
- Moroccan Spiced Vegetarian Stew
- Zesty Quinoa and Bean Casserole
- Lentil Kale Soup with Italian Sausage
- Red Lentil and Spinach Dal
5) Nuts & Seeds
Nuts & seeds (including their butters) provide a great source of fibre, protein, and heart-health promoting fats. Here are a few of my favourites:
- Nuts: walnuts, pecans, cashews, pistachios, and almonds
- Seeds: chia, hemp hearts, ground flaxseed, pumpkin seeds, and sunflower seeds
Try adding nuts and seeds to smoothies, cold cereal, oatmeal, muffins, energy balls, or salads.
So, the more variety in your diet, the more diversity in your gut! I hope this list helps with ideas on how to ADD gut-health promoting plants to your diet. Try not to stress about reaching 30 different plant foods in a week. Instead, simply focus on introducing one new food or recipe at a time. Your gut microbiome isn't going anywhere, so you have time and can progress at your own rate. If you are struggling with digestive issues or with knowing where to start, meet with a Food to Fit dietitian today.
Dennett, C. (2018, July). Plant-Based Diets and the Gut Microbiota. Retrieved April 16, 2021, from https://www.todaysdietitian.com/newarchives/0718p36.shtml
Jiang, Z., Sun, T. yu, He, Y., Gou, W., Zuo, L. shi yuan, Fu, Y., … Zheng, J. S. (2020). Dietary fruit and vegetable intake, gut microbiota, and type 2 diabetes: results from two large human cohort studies. BMC Medicine, 18(1), 1–11. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12916-020-01842-0
Leeming, E. R., Johnson, A. J., Spector, T. D., & Roy, C. I. L. (2019). Effect of Diet on the Gut Microbiota: Rethinking Intervention Duration. Nutrients, 11(12), 1–28. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu11122862
McDonald, D., Hyde, E., Debelius, J. W., Morton, J. T., Gonzalez, A., Ackermann, G., … Knight, R. (2018). American Gut: an open platform for citizen-science microbiome research. American Society for Microbiology, 3(3), 1–28. https://doi.org/10.1101/277970