Your Weekly Challenge To A Better Gut Health
30 different fruits and vegetables a week for microbiota diversity
Digestive health and the microbiome are trendy buzzwords and more and more companies offer microbiota testing and personalized insights into your nutrition to improve gut health, but most of it is still at the early investigational steps. While it is great to participate to such citizen science, insights into your gut microbe species might reveal less than you expect in terms of your health status and levers.
At the moment, there is but one consensus in the scientific community when it comes to what is a healthy gut microbiota: diversity. The more different microbes (in diversity) and the higher the richness (in quantity) of your gut microbiome, the most resilient and effective it appears to be in its many roles.
This can be due to overlapping functions: even if one species dies out, in a diverse ecosystem there is a higher probability that another one will present the same activity. This can also be due to cross-feeding, and a virtuous loop of symbiotic interactions down there.
A higher microbiota diversity is associated with a number of positive health outcomes, from better sleep (1), metabolic and cardiovascular health (2), lower levels of inflammation (3) and even better cognitive performance (4, in mice).
On the contrary, lower bacterial diversity has been reproducibly observed in people with inflammatory bowel disease (5), psoriatic arthritis (6), type 1 diabetes (7), atopic eczema (8), coeliac disease (9), obesity (10), type 2 diabetes (11), and arterial stiffness (12), than in healthy controls (13).
Tim Spector likes to put it this way: the gut microbiota is an ecosystem that resembles a forest: its healthy state is like the Amazon, composed of interwoven species interacting with each other in a dynamic web of life, altogether able to compete with a potential newcomer, such as a pathogen. In its unhealthy or dysbiotic state, it resembles a desert with just a few bushes here and there, so empty that the ecological niche is vulnerable to overgrowth of opportunistic intruders.
Thus, we want a healthy, high-diversity microbiota. How do we know where we are, and how do we optimize our gut microorganisms and keep them thriving?
The first and most direct effector of diversity is the diet. We are what we eat, and what we eat is what our bacteria get. Beneficial bacteria thrive on fiber, and the more the fiber (both in quantity and in diversity) is the best. The American Gut Project, a huge microbiome research project that sampled over 10 000 “citizen scientists” identified that people who eat 30 or more different plants per week have a higher microbiota diversity than those having 10 or less (14).
By plants, they aren’t just talking about fruits and vegetables, but include whole grains, nuts and seeds.
You may ask what counts — when you sprinkle just a bit of that, or when you are having chocolate, fruit juice, apple sauce, coconut oil, a veggie burger or tea, after all they are all plant-based. My personal rule is to encourage what I know to be good: if it’s processed, loaded with sugar or additives, or does not bring any fiber, it should not count. If it’s a full portion of 100% pure fruit juice or fruit puree, I add it on the list.
In my home, we put our list on the board in the kitchen, like that:
It became a weekly game — the winner being the one who’s had the highest score, and in my striatum, each new portion is wired into the reward system to make me feel the dopamine.
Here are some ideas to boost your count:
· a morning smoothie starts the day well, and you can change color and taste everyday
· Include frozen fruits and veggies — I always have spinach, peas and fruits for smoothies in the freezer
· Add lemon juice to your spinach, salads, fish and recipes for an extra win (it also helps absorb the iron better)
· Canned veggies make for an easy add-on: asparagus, olives, corn, pea, green beans etc. are super easy to pour on a salad or stir-fry and gain a few extra points
· Drizzle dried fruits (prunes, dates, raisins, cranberry…) on your cereal, yogurt, cake, smoothie
· Snack on nuts and seeds, serve them for aperitives, and vary the pleasures — almonds, cashew, walnuts, hazelnuts, pistachios…
· Include Salads and Buddha bowls often — mix up your salad leaves, and sprinkle with these little birdy seed mixes or nuts
· A vegetable stir-fry can boost up to 10 points in a single meal
· legumes like lentils and chickpeas a couple of times a week add to the score, bring protein and meet recommended intakes
· have a fruit salad for desert or breakfast
You’ll love making a simple salad or a vegetable stir fry to rise your week score!
With a few habits, it really isn’t difficult, and you can extend to objective 40 or more to keep it challenging! Check your transit time, your feces consistency and see if the increasing amount of fiber improves your digestive and pooping experience. And note how the more you eat fruits and veggies, the more you want them, and wouldn’t even desire that brownie when you could have a bowl of fruits!
Aim also to diversify the colors, as they are often associated to different and complementary benefits — another challenge is to eat a rainbow every day.
Please comment, share your experience, tricks and recipes to eat healthier and poop happier :-)
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(2) Le Chatelier E, Nielsen T, Qin J, Prifti E, Hildebrand F, Falony G et al. Richness of human gut microbiome correlates with metabolic markers. Nature 2013.
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(6) Scher JU, Ubeda C, Artacho A, et al. Decreased bacterial diversity characterizes the altered gut microbiota in patients with psoriatic arthritis, resembling dysbiosis in inflammatory bowel disease. Arthritis Rheumatol 2015.
(7) de Goffau MC, Luopajärvi K, Knip M, et al. Fecal microbiota composition differs between children with β-cell autoimmunity and those without. Diabetes 2013.
(8) Wang M, Karlsson C, Olsson C, et al. Reduced diversity in the early fecal microbiota of infants with atopic eczema. J Allergy Clin Immunol 2008.
(9) Schippa S, Iebba V, Barbato M, et al. A distinctive ‘microbial signature’ in celiac pediatric patients. BMC Microbiol 2010.
(10) Turnbaugh PJ, Hamady M, Yatsunenko T, et al. A core gut microbiome in obese and lean twins. Nature 2009.
(11) Lambeth SM, Carson T, Lowe J, et al. Composition, diversity and abundance of gut microbiome in prediabetes and type 2 diabetes. J Diabetes Obes 2015.
(12) Menni C, Lin C, Cecelja M, et al. Gut microbial diversity is associated with lower arterial stiffness in women. Eur Heart J 2018.
(13) Valdes AM, Walter J, Segal E, Spector TD. Role of the gut microbiota in nutrition and health. BMJ. 2018;361:k2179. Published 2018 Jun 13. doi:10.1136/bmj.k2179
(14) McDonald, D., Hyde, E., Debelius, J. W., Morton, J. T., Gonzalez, A., Ackermann, G., Aksenov, A. A., Behsaz, B., Brennan, C., Chen, Y., DeRight Goldasich, L., Dorrestein, P. C., Dunn, R. R., Fahimipour, A. K., Gaffney, J., Gilbert, J. A., Gogul, G., Green, J. L., Hugenholtz, P., Humphrey, G., … Knight, R. American Gut: an Open Platform for Citizen Science Microbiome Research. mSystems, 2018.