The formula is simple: Diverse diet = Diverse microbes = Good health. That is all we have to do help improve our gut health. The problem is we do not have a diverse diet.
In order for me to ensure I get a variety of fruits and vegetables, I try to frequent farmer’s markets, take part in CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) and have a small home garden with heirloom vegetables.
I love having a local organic CSA share! I cannot say enough about purchasing a CSA share. I have been exposed to so many new vegetables and varieties of vegetables I didn’t know existed. I cannot imagine life without blue potatoes, dinosaur kale, dragon’s tongue beans or pear tomatoes!
Having a diverse diet is not just about a processed diet vs whole food diet. Yes, a processed food diet is bad for our good microbes but a whole food diet that is not diverse can also be problematic for the diversity of our gut. Most of us consume no more than 15 different foods in a week. This is not diversity even if we hit all the food groups.
Then there are those who choose to eliminate food groups such as grains and legumes – this is taking out a range of substantial foods that will feed many beneficial bacterial species. And believe it or not there are still people – adult people – who refuse to eat vegetables, and they are proud of it (if you’re one of them, let’s talk!). Vegetables feed a lot of different bacteria species.
This is just basic diversity and it gets more complicated. So not only do we all need to be more adventurous and try to eat different foods, we need to eat different varieties of the same food. And this is one of biggest changes we have had in our diets that make us different from our ancestors.
They ate a greater variety of foods than we eat today and they grew different varieties of the same food. This was good for the soil, help protect them against potential crop lost and increased the nutrients available to them in their diet- just like with money, it is important to diversify.
Today, agriculture does not function that way. Farmers grow few crops and seldom do they grow more than one variety of the same crop. There are over 6000 varieties of tomatoes (do yourself a favor and check out your local farmer’s market for beautiful, flavorful tomatoes) – each one has different properties and a different nutrient composition. We are missing out on a lot. And while we cannot possible consume 6000 different varieties (but I can dream!), we can expand our repertoire, especially in the summer and seek out as many varieties as we can find.
So while researchers continue to unravel the mystery of our gut and figure out what we should feed it, specifically for specific benefits, we can do more to increase the diversity and build a stronger gut by eating new foods.
This week, buy three new foods you do not eat regularly. They can be foods you have never had or foods you like but for some reason never buy.
Here are a few things you can do to diversify:
Buy yellow or rainbow beets instead of red beets. Choose purple or white carrots instead of orange. Look for heritage varieties and buy them when you find them.
Go to farmer’s markets and talk to the local farmers. Generally, these are the farmers who still grow a variety of crops. Let them know you are interested in trying different varieties of vegetables. I have spoken with a few farmer’s and they want to grow different varieties but a lot of people are nervous to try something new!
Shop at ethnic stores and look for new grains and legumes.
Go to ethnic restaurants – this way someone else can prepare the foods for you. I know not knowing how to prepare new foods can be intimidating!
Think of the fun and adventure you can have – you and your microbes with be happier.
Don’t be afraid to ask me what to do with new vegetables! I love getting pictures from friends asking what the heck they accidently bought and what to do with it!
Mark L. Heiman, Frank L. Greenway. A healthy gastrointestinal microbiome is dependent on dietary diversity. Molecular Metabolism, 2016; DOI: 10.1016/j.molmet.2016.02.005