Why biodiverstiy is so important for your gut microbiome, your immune system and your overall health
A rich and diverse gut microbiome is a key driver of human health and happiness. The limitless natural spaces in which humans evolved – forests, fields, beaches, and mountains – are the ultimate sources of that richness and diversity. According to Gastroenterologist Dr Alan Desmond, the changes that come with urbanisation – lack of exposure to nature, the Standard Western Diet, increased antibiotic use, and environmental pollution – have all combined to take a serious toll on our gut microbial health. These 21st century changes in our gut ecology have been linked to many chronic diseases, including inflammatory bowel disease, auto-immune conditions, and asthma.
Globally approximately 60-70% of all antibiotics are used in animal farming, it was found that by giving animals antibiotics their weight could increase by as much as 15% which means more potential for profit. So, even if you are not taking antibiotics, you may be getting them if you are eating animals or animal products.
While antibiotics prescribed by a doctor are incredibly important and often lifesaving, a single course of certain antibiotics can dramatically reduce your gut microbial richness and diversity. Gladly, Dr Alan has some good news on this front: your gut microbes are tougher than you think! In most cases your gut microbial balance begins to restore itself within weeks. By focusing on a varied plant-based diet, spending time in nature, and maybe adding some fermented foods, you can help your gut microbes to flourish once more. No expensive probiotic supplements required!
There are more micro-organisms living within each of our digestive systems than there are trees on planet Earth or stars in the Milky Way. These microscopic bacteria, archaea, viruses, and yeasts make up your gut microbiome, which contains 100 times more genetic material than the rest of your body combined. As you embark on your gut health revolution, the friendly microbes of your gut microbiome will be your crucial allies.
Between 2012 and 2017 a team of US-based researchers set out to discover the factors that influence the health of the human gut microbiome in the industrialised world. They completed a detailed analysis of more than 11,000 volunteers, most of whom lived in the UK, the USA and Australia. The results of what became known as the American Gut Project reveal that when it comes to food, the number one predictor of a healthy gut microbiome is the diversity of plants in your diet! Participants who ate more than 30 different plants per week had unique fibre-loving bacteria that just weren’t found in people on a plant-deprived diet. Among the 11,000 volunteers who took part, fewer than 1 in 250 were hitting that magic number of 30 different plants per week.
I’m not asking you to eat thousands of different fruits, vegetables, legumes, and wholegrains, but I am strongly suggesting that we can all benefit from increasing the diversity of plants in our diets. Further research has shown that vegans really do have better gut microbial health! Whether you opt to “Jump Right In” or “Build It Up” little by little, it is all about embracing the power of plants and striving to achieve a plant diversity of at least 30 different plant based foods per week. All fruits, vegetables, beans, whole grains, seeds, nuts, herbs and spices all count toward 1 of your 30 different plant based foods per week.
All are high in fibre and packed with delicious whole plant foods to give you plenty of plant diversity and gut loving fibre!