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Why Plant-based Eating is Good For Your Gut Health

Average read time: 3 minutes

Do you know that there are hundreds of different species of bacteria living in and on our bodies – an estimated 40 trillion microbes, in fact – and that most of these dwell in our gut?

Why Plant-based Eating is Good

Collectively these bacteria are known as the gut microbiome. They have a significant impact on our digestion, immune system, and general health of the body, including our brains, muscles, and bones. The gut biome can even influence our moods.

Many factors affect gut health, but one we can control is diet.

Working to diversify diets

‘We all have a gut microbiome that is unique to us, so selecting a single marker of health is difficult,’ says Dr Robert Dixon, Unilever’s Science and Technology Manager for the Gut Microbiome.

‘But what we can say, regardless of this variation between individuals, is that a diverse microbiome is the best marker of a healthy microbiome. And a healthy microbiome will keep your body functioning at its optimum.’

Findings from the American Gut Project, the world’s largest citizen-science microbiome project, show that people who eat more than 30 different plant-based foods a week have a more diverse, and therefore healthy, microbiome than those who eat 10 or fewer.

‘One of the best ways we can ensure we maintain the diversity of our gut microbiome is to eat a wide range of fruit and vegetables,’ says Dr Dixon.

And yet many people struggle to eat the five-a-day portion of fruit and vegetables that the World Health Organization recommends. For example, a 2021 Veg Facts survey of eating habits in the United Kingdom found only 33% of adults, and just 12% of youngsters between the ages of 11 and 18, currently manage to hit that daily target.

This is just one of the reasons why Unilever’s R&D and nutrition teams are working to create products that make it easier for people to eat and enjoy a more plant-based diet.

‘They say variety is the spice of life, and that is also true for the microbes that live in your gut,’ says Dr Dixon. ‘Why not give some of our plant-based recipes a try? Your microbiome deserves it.’

Three Ways to Eat More Vegetables and Grow Good Gut Bacteria

Add more fibre with beans, legumes and veggies

While chickpeas, lentils, or broccoli might not be ingredients that often make an appearance at mealtimes, adding them to soups, stews, salads, and casseroles is a great way to diversify your vegetable intake and add fibre to your diet.

‘Diets that are high in fibre and polyphenols maintain the diversity of our gut microbiomes,’ says Dr Dixon. ‘While the human part of our guts can’t digest them, they are a rich source of food for our gut bacteria, who all prefer to eat different things.’

Try these plant-based recipes:

Ramp up Your Prebiotic Intake with a Boost of Berries

Prebiotics are good for the gut microbiome because they act like a microbial fertiliser, stimulating the growth of beneficial bacteria. The good news is prebiotics are found in many fruits and vegetables. Blueberries, for example are an excellent source of fibre and polyphenols, making them healthy for both you and your gut microbiome.

Try these berry recipes:

Add Sweet and Sour Flavours with Fermented Veggies

Research shows that different types of fermented food such as sauerkraut, kefir, and kimchi contain different types of microbes, so eating a diversity of fermented foods can also be beneficial.

They’re also a rich source of microbes which may improve our microbiome function and help restore the microbiome to good health if it’s been compromised.

And while the strong pickled flavour of kimchi might not be appealing on its own, it’s a great ingredient in noodle dishes and stir-fries. Look out for fermented foods in your local health shop!

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