How What You Eat Impacts Your Gut And Overall Health

posted by Marilyn Hyder -

A plant based diet gives your body more diversity, which is beneficial. Introduce more vegetables, beans, nuts and fruits to your diet, and try going one day without meat.

Gut health could be the biggest trend in the health field right now. Everywhere I turn people are discussing the importance of their gut health and how it is linked to their overall health, as well as the benefits of probiotics. And, for good reason: a growing body of research shows that what happens in our gut expands well beyond the gut.

Now new research shows that the health of your gut is significantly influenced by what you eat. A new study assessed 15096 fecal samples provided by 11336 people, published in the journal of the American Society for Microbiology, found some exciting facts about gut health and the microbiome, which is the total of all the microbes in a living being.

We each have a microbiome and no two microbiomes are alike, although there can be some similarities between them. The microbiome is a sort of microbial fingerprint. And, thanks to the new research, we have greater insight into the effect of diet on our microbiome. Here are some of the findings from this exciting study:

1) Plant-based diets produce the most diverse microbiomes. Diverse microbiomes seem to confer health benefits. Consider people who struggle to lose weight: earlier research in the journal Beneficial Microbes shows that they tend to have less diverse strains of beneficial bacteria and a lower ratio of beneficial microbes to harmful ones.

2) Eating more than 30 types of plant foods weekly yields the most diverse microbiome. In other words, it’s important to eat a plant-based diet but also one that has tremendous diversity. So, expand your horizons when it comes to trying new vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds and grains. Your microbiome will thank you. And, who knows? You might even discover a new favorite food.

3) There is a lower incidence of bacterial resistance in those who eat the greatest variety of plant foods weekly. This is great news since more and more varieties of harmful bacteria like E. coli and MRSA are, not only becoming more prevalent, they are also becoming resistant to the typical drug treatment: antibiotics. This is an astounding discovery on its own. We tend to assume that all of a certain variety of bacteria have the same level of potency against humans, but the research shows that people who eat a large variety of plant-based foods are less likely to be host to these disease-causing, resistant bacteria. People who ate more than 30 types of plant foods weekly had less resistance to antibiotics.

4) The gut bacteria of people suffering from mental health issues, including: post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), schizophrenia, depression or bipolar disorder were more similar to others suffering from mental disorders than to those who do not suffer from mental disorders. While the scientists conducting the study did not draw any conclusions, there may be a possible connection between gut health and mental health. Certainly other research suggests that is indeed the case. Research in the Journal of Physiological Anthropology found a link between gut bacteria and increased activity in brain pathways that improve brain health and reduce depression risk.

There are endless ways to boost the variety of plant-based foods you consume, but the following ones should help you get started:

1) Start by replacing meat in your diet with plant-based options. Start with Meatless Mondays but don’t hesitate to go meatless the rest of the week as well.

2) The next time you pass by that odd-looking fruit or vegetable in the produce section of your grocery store, add it to your cart. It’s easy enough to find recipes for lesser-known foods using a quick Internet search. And, most importantly, add the food to your diet.

3) Instead of just snacking on almonds or another nut, branch out to try Brazil nuts, cashews, hazelnuts, pecans, pistachios, etc. Choose raw, unsalted varieties.

4) Rather than just add a can of kidney beans to your soup, stew, or chili, opt for bean varieties you are less familiar with. That could include: chickpeas, lentils, pinto beans, Romano beans, black beans, navy beans, etc.

5) The next time a snack attack strikes, choose a piece of fruit or a bowl of mixed berries.

6) When you have a craving for salty foods, choose traditionally-fermented pickles, pickled green beans, pickled beets or other foods with live cultures. Not only will you be getting a wider variety and a greater quantity of plant-based foods, you’ll also help expand the beneficial microbes you consume. Be sure to choose pickled foods that state “live cultures” or “unpasteurized” on the label.

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We all know we need to eat our vegetables. Parents around the world have been asserting the “eat your vegetables” mantra in unison for decades. But, research is showing us that there is more reason than ever to eat your vegetables, and that eating a plant-based diet could even save your life.

A new study published in the journal Progress in Cardiovascular Diseases found that a plant-based diet slashes mortality risk from heart disease by a whopping 40 percent. Frankly, I’m not sure any drug can come close to competing with that. And, if a drug could reduce mortality risk by 40 percent, corporate executives would probably be boosting their profits to the tune of billions of dollars. But, humble legumes, vegetables, nuts, seeds, grains and fruits don’t come with such claims and few doctors write prescriptions for these potent plant foods.

Perhaps that should change considering that over 85 million Americans are estimated to be suffering from some form of heart disease. According to the new research, eating a vegetarian diet could save the lives of over 34 million people, in the United States alone. Eating a plant-based diet is likely the single greatest thing you can do to boost your heart health and prevent a heart attack.

Before you assume you’d be eating nothing but iceberg lettuce salads with a few cucumber slices and some starchy tomatoes, you might want to leave that antiquated thinking behind. Today’s plant-based diets are packed with incredibly delicious foods. Just ask my husband, Curtis. When we met, he ate the Standard American Diet, with lots of pizza, burgers, fries and only the occasional iceberg lettuce salad, some cucumbers or carrots, and to really boost things up, some broccoli. But now he eats plentiful amounts of delicious plant-based food and I often overhear him telling people about how good the food is and how he prefers it over his previous fare.

It’s easier than you think to increase the number of plant-based foods in your diet. Here are some simple tips to help you get started:

1) Make vegetables the star of every meal. Rather than leave them relegated to side dishes, make them the main dish.

2) Get your hands on a good plant-based cookbook. The options here are endless, but keep in mind, not all plant-based cookbooks are primarily healthy food. Look for those that only include whole foods like fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, whole grains and beans. Leave behind the ones that include packaged foods or contain unwanted ingredients like dairy or fake ingredients like artificial sweeteners or xanthan gum.

3) It’s easier to make the transition to plant-based if you start slowly and build your repertoire of delicious plant-based meals.

4) Have at least one large green salad every day. Start with a base of leafy greens like mesclun lettuce or baby spinach, then top it with cooked grains (like quinoa) or beans (like chickpeas), add a handful of raw, unsalted nuts like hazelnuts or chopped almonds, toss in a handful of sprouts like mung bean sprouts, and finish with a homemade dressing.

5) Master salad dressings, which can be used on raw green salads, be tossed over roasted vegetables, or used as a marinade for grain or bean dishes. The key is to use two parts oil (extra virgin olive oil is an excellent choice) to one part acid—either vinegar, such as apple cider vinegar or lemon or lime juice. Then add flavorings that can include either fruit, like raspberries or blueberries for a fruity vinaigrette. Or, choose a handful of fresh herbs and garlic, as well as a pinch of sea salt and pepper. Blend together with a hand blender or traditional blender and store in a covered jar.

6) If you still can’t imagine leaving meat behind, start with Meatless Mondays and then gradually add another meatless day to your week.

Dr. Michelle Schoffro Cook, PhD, DNM is the publisher of the free e-newsletter World’s Healthiest News, the Cultured Cook, co-founder of BestPlaceinCanada, and an international best-selling and 20-time published book author whose works include: The Cultured Cook: Delicious Fermented Foods with Probiotics to Knock Out Inflammation, Boost Gut Health, Lose Weight & Extend Your Life.


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