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How a Plant-Based Diet Can Improve Your Gut Health

If you’ve ever had stomach or intestinal problems, you know how they can completely throw your life off track.


It’s hard to focus on work or enjoy your family when you are suffering from stomach pain or constipation. It’s nearly impossible to concentrate if you are waiting for the bloating, gas, or heartburn to return after eating your next meal.


When the problem is recurring, it’s even more anxiety-producing. You’re desperate to find a solution.


A great first step is improving your gut health.


Gut health has become a buzzword lately — but what exactly is it? And, how can you ensure a healthy gut?


Let me break it down for you and also explain why scientists are saying that eating a mostly plant-based diet is beneficial for your optimal wellness.


What is the gut microbiome?


Imagine a plentiful ocean reef. You see coral, sponges, sea stars, clams, lobsters, sea turtles, and fish of all sizes. Each of these inhabitants has a role to keep their home clean and functioning properly. If something causes a disturbance in this underwater habitat, one of the occupants would grow in numbers and upset the delicate balance.


That’s exactly like your gut microbiome! Your gut is an ecosystem within your gastrointestinal organs that contains microscopic inhabitants that all play a role in maintaining a healthy balance. There are approximately 100 trillion microbes in your intestine(1) — that’s a lot of clams!


Each person’s gut ecosystem begins developing in their mother’s womb and continues changing throughout their life. There are many factors that affect the balance in your gut.



How is your gut health connected to your overall health?


Gut health has a major impact on your overall well-being. Major imbalances in the bacterial system can lead to issues such as:


  • Obesity

  • Atherosclerosis

  • Hypertension

  • Diabetes

  • Metabolic syndrome

  • Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)

  • Allergies

  • Neurological Diseases

  • Psychological Diseases(2)


In fact, the gut microbiota play as big of a role in your health as your genetic markers.


Given its important role in our overall health, we should do what we can to protect this vital internal environment.


What is the connection between a plant-based diet & gut health?


Diet is the #1 factor influencing your gut health over your lifetime. Recent evidence shows that plant-based nutrition has the greatest benefit in maintaining a healthy gastrointestinal system.(3)


Let’s explore exactly how a plant-based diet encourages a healthier gut.


A diet consisting mostly of plants encourages a healthy balance of microbes. Here’s how:


Diversity is the key!

The gut is filled with over 1,000 microbial species.(4)


Having a good range of variety in those microbes is beneficial to promote good health.


Diets that are heavy in processed foods with added sugar and fat had the lowest diversity.


Vegans have much higher levels of microbial diversity in their gut and a better distribution than meat eaters.(5)


Increased variety of gut microbes also increases the resilience of the system. This means less inflammation and better overall health for you.



Fiber is fabulous.


Whole-food plants are naturally high in fiber which is the best fuel for the health-promoting organisms in your gut.


According to researcher, Hana Kaleova, these good bacteria are “responsible for our metabolic health, protective against inflammation, promote insulin sensitivity are cardio protective and help us with weight maintenance.”(6)



Major micronutrients.


Plant-based diets are loaded with the good stuff — vitamins and phytochemicals. These micronutrients promote good bacteria growth. In turn, the ”friendly” microbes help your body absorb vitamins more efficiently.


This beneficial cycle is a win-win for your well-being!



6 Simple Ways to Promote Good Gut Health


Now that you know why it is important to have good gut health, here are some easy ways to achieve that goal:


1. Eat a variety of whole-food plant-based foods.


Think fruits, vegetables, beans, legumes, whole grains, nuts, and seeds. You’ll gain all the benefits of building a healthy gastrointestinal system!


Start by adding 1 whole fruit and 1 raw or cooked vegetable per day and then increase from there.


2. Add some fermented foods to your meals.


Fermented foods contain beneficial live bacteria called probiotics. Probiotics will decrease the amount of harmful bacteria in your system.

Introduce some of these into your week:

Try a few of these until you can find some that you enjoy.


3. Eat foods high in prebiotics.


If probiotics are the gold-standard to promote healthy bacteria balance, prebiotics are the platinum-standard!


Prebiotic fiber is the best fuel for the helpful bacteria in your system. There are lots of options to add prebiotics to your meals:


  • Garlic

  • Onions

  • Flaxseed

  • Asparagus

  • Bananas

  • Barley

  • Apples

  • Oats(8)


Try to get a mix of raw & cooked prebiotics as eating them raw gives you the maximum benefits.

4. Stay hydrated.


Staying hydrated is important for everyone’s health, and it is essential when you are consuming more fiber.


Drink at least 8 glasses of water each day.


5. Use natural cleaning products.


Antibacterial soaps, detergents, and cleaning supplies are everywhere these days. Increased exposure to these types of cleaning products can affect the composition of our gut bacteria.


Consider using natural cleaning products in your home.


6. Be aware of how antibiotics affect your gut.


Antibiotics will upset the balance of your gut microbiota.


When you need to take an antibiotic, always eat some probiotics afterwards to balance your gut flora.



These six tips will go a long way in building a health gut-ecosystem and put you on a course to enjoy better overall wellness.


The Main Takeaway


Gut care is a critical component of living a healthy life. But, it doesn’t have to be complicated. Increasing plant-based foods in your diet is a great place to start.


At Baltimore Lifestyle & Culinary Medicine, we can help you develop strategies to eat more plant-based and put you on a plan to conquer any gastrointestinal problems you may be having.


Call us today to start on your journey towards better health.




Resources:


  1. Gut Microbiota as a Missing Link Between Nutrients and Traits of Human

  2. The Integrative Human Microbiome Project: dynamic analysis of microbiome-host omics profiles during periods of human health and disease

  3. Why the quality of your diet is the best recipe for a healthier gut microbiota and better health

  4. Introduction to the human gut microbiota

  5. The Effects of Vegetarian and Vegan Diets on Gut Microbiota

  6. Rethinking Diet to Aid Human-Microbe Symbiosis

  7. Does a plant-based diet improve gut health? An interview with Hana Kahleova

  8. 13 Probiotic Foods to Add to Your Diet

  9. The 19 Best Prebiotic Foods You Should Eat

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