Of late there has been much in the media on the value of diversity in the human gut microbiome, known to include between 300 and 500 different species of bacteria along with fungi and viruses. Extensive research reveals that the gut microbiome modulates immune function, impacts metabolism, protects from pathogens, is involved in the fermentation of fiber and more. Changes in gut microbial community can result in an imbalance, called dysbiosis, that is associated with increased disease risk, while decreased diversity is also associated with a less healthy microbiome. Studies investigating the microbiome in overweight and obese people have uncovered a lower diversity of gut microbiota among this population--additionally, an unhealthy microbiome is linked to type II diabetes, neurodegenerative diseases, and inflammation.
We may be able to approach the maintenance and optimization of this complex internal environment from a practical, less complicated perspective, by managing our weekly plant-based nutritional intake to include many different sources. Current research found that people who ingested 30 or more different plant-based items per week had considerably more diversity in the microbiome than those who ingested 10 or less plant-derived foods per week. This may sound daunting, but we do have seven days to enjoy these varieties and the great news is that it does include fruit, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, herbs and spices, nuts, seeds and even coffee and tea.
Focusing on this broad group of plant-based items to choose from can subtly inform our choices without too much pressure or stress. For example, if we choose two different vegetables a day for seven days, we are already almost halfway to thirty. If we add in maybe four different nuts and seeds, five or six types of fruit, coffee, tea, and daily whole grains with legumes once or twice a week—we are there! This information helps us to remember to look at our “feeding practices” through a wider lens, making cumulative selections over a week’s time as a simple, yet profound celebration of the opportunity that we have to care for ourselves and those we feed.