Did you know that there are roughly the same number of bacteria and microbes in our body as there are human cells? What’s even more mind-blowing is that the vast (VAST) majority of those bacteria and microbes are beneficial or necessary for optimal health. Most of those beneficial little critters reside in our gut, specifically the large intestine. The microbiome in the gut is crucial to a number of bodily functions, including digestion, assimilating nutrients, keeping harmful bacteria in check, and regulating our immune, metabolic, and nervous systems. This means the more diverse your gut microbiome is, the more efficient it is at supporting these functions.
So how can you improve your gut health and make it as diverse as possible? By eating a diverse diet, particularly when it comes to including a variety of different types of fiber from plant sources. Fiber is what feeds the little bugs in your gut. Every single edible plant includes a slightly different fiber makeup. And different types of fiber provide the ideal food source for different types of bacteria. This means the more diverse your fiber intake is, the more diverse your microbiome will be.
Unfortunately, the diversity in our diet has greatly diminished over the last 50 years. In fact, of the 250,000+ known edible plants, we only use about 150-200 of them. Thanks to the industrial revolution and the demands of a growing population, farmers began prioritizing high-yield crops over other varieties. That’s why, for example, even though there are 7,500 different varieties of apples, we only see a handful in the grocery stores. Today, around 75% of the world’s food is produced by just 12 facilities.
On top of all that, humans are creatures of habit. With our busy lives, it’s easy to stick to what we’re used to in our diet. But by eating the same types of foods all the time, we’re seriously limiting the diversity of our gut microbiome and even possibly promoting the growth of harmful bacteria that cause gut dysbiosis.
Luckily, our bodies are incredibly resilient and highly skilled at returning to a state of balance and health in the right conditions. Adding more diversity into your diet is an easy and delicious way to promote and support our overall health and wellbeing. Below are 5 ways to get more diversity in your diet and improve your gut health.
With the availability of produce year-round in grocery stores, it’s easy to overlook what’s actually in season where you live. But biting into a mealy tomato in the middle of winter or a bitter-yet-tasteless grapefruit in the middle of summer are quick reminders that not all produce is actually good, let alone in season, all the time. Eating seasonally ensures you’re eating produce at its natural peak when it’s most delicious, helps you get in touch with the seasons and produce in your location, and helps you to naturally diversify your diet.
Cook New Recipes
I love routine and there are several recipes that I go back to over and over again. I love having dishes that I love and know well enough to make without a recipe. But getting into this kind of routine can also mean getting stuck in a bit of a food-variety rut. That’s why committing to regularly trying new recipes (even just twice a month) is a great way to add diversity to your diet. Even if those new recipes call for ingredients you’re already used to cooking with, getting in the habit of trying new recipes will broaden your kitchen horizons and make you more likely to try ingredients you’ve never tried before.
Try New Foods
Whether it’s at your local farmers market or grocery store, start looking for plant products that you’ve never tried before. That might be a unique fruit or vegetable, a new herb or nut, or even a different spice. Notice all the items you might normally glance over and start picking something new to try every time you go shopping.
Sign Up For A CSA
The first time I ever tried swiss chard was when I signed up for a local CSA box. A CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) subscription is probably the best way to get a variety of local, seasonal, fresh produce from small growers in your area. By purchasing a subscription, you’re helping to fund the farmer’s growing season and, in return, you get a weekly or bi-weekly box full of beautiful produce, picked at the peak of its season, by someone in your community who truly cares about the land and the food. Most areas have CSAs. Here’s a good link if you’re not sure where to find one.
Be Careful With Restrictive Diets
As someone who has had to utilize a restrictive diet for health purposes, I know how helpful and healing they can be. However, barring some medical sensitivity, condition, or allergy, removing entire food groups from your diet for long periods of time could start to cause more harm than good. As mentioned above, different foods help feed different types of bacteria in our gut. And the more diverse our food, the more diverse our microbiome, which is key to optimal health. So yes, use restrictive diets when needed to allow the body to heal but always with the goal of getting back to the least-restrictive diet possible.
Ready for some delicious ways to diversify your diet and improve your gut health? Check out these seasonal summer recipes!