How a Plant-Based Diet Can Improve Gut Health
- Written By:Nadja Pinnavaia, Ph.D and founder of Plantable
There’s a lot of talk around gut health these days, and for good reason. A balanced microbiome goes hand in hand with a thriving digestive system, a well-functioning immune system, easy weight loss, and a better overall sense of well-being. The numbers speak for themselves: 70-80% of the immune system is located in the gut, and 95% of serotonin (the brain’s feel-good chemical) is produced in the gut. Healthy digestion makes a huge difference in how we feel. After all, who enjoys bloating, gas, or constipation? A strong and steady digestive system is also able to absorb nutrients from food much more efficiently. So how do we make friends with our gut and keep it in tip-top shape?
A gut-friendly diet is low in sugar and processed foods and high in fiber, prebiotic foods and fermented foods. Processed foods and highly refined grains like white bread, pasta, pizza, and baked goods should be kept to a minimum, because they are quickly digested, spiking blood sugar levels and fostering bad bacteria.
Meat and dairy often contain antibiotic residue that can offset your microbiome’s balance and feed resistant bad bacteria. If you do choose to eat meat or dairy, opt for high-quality over quantity and aim for organic, free-range, grass fed. This also helps keep the omega-3 to omega-6 ratio higher, which keeps inflammation in check.
A high-fiber diet is incredibly important for your gut’s bacterial community, because it feeds the good bacteria. Focus on vegetables, fruits, legumes and whole grains for your fiber intake. Prebiotic foods are helpful as well, as they make sure that friendly bacteria are well-fed and give them the power to take over any bad bacteria that may be present. Examples of high-fiber, prebiotic foods are onions, leeks, radishes, carrots, coconut, flax and chia seeds, tomatoes, bananas, garlic, chicory root, dandelion greens, Jerusalem artichokes, jicama, and asparagus.
Fermented foods are like a cocktail of good bacteria for the gut. Fermentation is basically getting bacteria to pre-digest our food for us. They lighten the workload of our digestive system and produce additional vitamins while they’re at it! Some great plant-based fermented snacks include pickles, sauerkraut, tempeh, kimchi, and almost any pickled vegetables. You’ll likely notice that once you make eating fermented foods a habit, you’ll start to crave them more often.
We can improve gut health dramatically by cutting back on sugar and processed foods, eating more vegetables (many of which happen to be prebiotics), fruits, and fermented foods. In short, it’s all about keeping a healthy balance between bad and good bacteria. It’s almost impossible to be completely void of all bad bacteria, which is okay — they’re good for giving your immune system a “training session” every now and then. As long as the good bacteria have the upper hand and out-number the bad guys, we’ll start to reap the benefits of a healthy gut.