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Why Diversity is Key for Gut Health

Written by Lexie McPhee | Tuesday, 4 February 2020

naturopathy nutrition

Do you eat the same five vegetables on rotation? Apples and bananas the two options in your fruit bowl? Variety is the spice of life and will feed lots of different species of friendly bacteria to keep the population strong and fend off the angry mobs.

In the health sphere, there is often a huge focus on probiotics, fermented foods and pricy gut healing powders.

Is this the only way to achieve a healthy gut? Certainly these products have their place as part of a treatment plan that is personalised to you and your digestive issues. How about when you don’t necessarily have gut issues, but you know that gut health is super important and want to make sure you are looking after yourself? Well this article is for you!

When it comes to diet and microbiome health, there is no one-size-fits-all approach. Science is only beginning to peel back the foil in regards to the importance and function of the gut microbiome. Some of the coolest (indulge me) research on the gut microbiome is that which explores the contrast of microbiome profiles across different population groups. The microbiome profile of an indigenous tribes-person in Africa will look vastly different to that of the woman you share a desk with. Yet both people may be in great health. You can bet that their typical diet, exposure to microbes, genetics, daily environment and exercise levels will be completely different as well.

The thing that microbiome researchers all agree on?

The importance of diversity for gut health. Essentially, you want your gut to be a thriving city and multicultural melting pot of different species of bacteria. Different species of bacteria provide different functions – the majority of which are yet to be discovered and profiled! Imagine you live in a thriving city. You have civilians providing random acts of kindness, police and emergency services keeping everybody safe and a few bad guys that keep things interesting. There’s also a few million people who you have never met and have no idea what they do for work. A healthy microbiome is a diverse one – a thriving city rather than a struggling town that is rife with crime and is pretty much a wasteland. You get the analogy.

What’s the secret to maintaining a thriving city in your bowel?

Diversity! Diversity in fibre is a non-negotiable. Bacteria love to eat different kinds of fibre from plant foods. Plants are often also rich in antioxidants that – you guessed it – bacteria also love to eat. If you had to write a list of every different food you had eaten today, how many foods would be on it? Now how many of them are plants? Wheat can only be counted once, in case you had toast for breakfast and pasta for lunch. Can you increase the diversity of ingredients to twenty? It isn’t as hard as it sounds.

Change up the vegetables in your fridge and the fruit in your bowl

Do you eat the same five vegetables on rotation? Apples and bananas the two options in your fruit bowl? Challenge yourself to choose different fruits and vegetables every week. Variety is the spice of life and will feed lots of different species of friendly bacteria to keep the population strong and fend off the angry mobs.

Extra points if you include some of your gut bacteria’s favourite foods:

  • Pineapple
  • Red kidney beans
  • Organic berries
  • Green tea
  • Red cabbage
  • Mushrooms
  • Artichokes
  • Cashews
  • Kiwi fruit
  • Barley
  • Figs

An oft-forgotten influence on microbial diversity, is the physical environment

We all have a bacterial footprint, and an aura of microbes that follow us around like a cloud. Where do we actually pick up our microbes? Some from birth, some from eating dirt and getting sick as a kid, but we are constantly changing our microbiome just by getting fresh air, exercising and being in contact with other people. Everyone knows that antibiotics and antibacterial hand sanitiser will affect the microbiome, but modern day life sure does include a lot of enclosed spaces and sterile environments! Mix it up and keep your microbiome diverse by opening the windows in your home, getting outside at lunch time, spending time in nature and green space. If you are lucky enough to have fruit trees or a vegie patch nearby, eat from them! Food fresh from the source will provide contact with new and different species as well.

The lesson? Diversity keeps the city thriving, well fed and adds value to the system as a whole.

Keen to learn more about gut health and you? Book yourself in for an appointment at Endeavour Wellness Clinics!

Lexie McPhee

Lexie is an Endeavour College of Natural Health Alumni and online Naturopath. Her 100% online clinic and e-courses have enabled her to relocate to sunny Portugal whilst still serving her clients worldwide. She focuses on supporting women with acne and mentoring new Naturopaths in the treatment of skin conditions. Her current research obsession is metabolic nutrition and bio-energetic health.

Read more by Lexie McPhee