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A healthy gut has so many benefits for digestive health, immune health, mood, behaviour and more. One of the easiest ways to support a healthy gut is looking at diet diversity.
But what does a diverse diet look like, and how can we encourage our kids to eat a more diverse diet?
Watch the video or keep reading below to learn more about how diet diversity can support a healthy gut.
Creating a healthy, happy gut with a diverse diet
There are countless factors that affect gut health. Some occur before we’re even born. How we’re birthed and fed as babies, environmental factors, medication and stress all play a role in how our gut develops and functions.
One of the key steps for supporting gut health is by increasing the diversity of the gut microbes, or microbiome. A diverse microbiome supports not only digestive health, but overall wellbeing.
So how do you create diversity in the gut? By ensuring that there is diversity in the foods you eat.
What does diet diversity mean?
Diet diversity can refer to different things. For example, when it comes to a population-level diet diversity, it can relate to the sustainability of the food system. Other time, it can be a measure of diet quality.
But when it comes to gut health, diet diversity is about the variety of plant foods consumed. Plant-based foods are the foods that best promote diversity in the gut.
We’ve known for a long time that fruit and veggies are good for us. But until recently, we didn’t understand why. Now the research is uncovering the components in fruit, veggies and other plant foods that support our health.
There are 2 main components found in plants that benefit the gut – fibre and colours.
Diet diversity and fibre
Different bacteria like different foods. Some will thrive with fibre. Some consume protein and saturated fats. There are some types that feed on the mucous lining of the digestive tract, which can lead to leaky gut. The majority of health-supportive bacteria prefer fibre of some type.
Fibres include prebiotics, resistant starches and general fibres. The benefit of these is that they are not digested, so they pass through the gut. This allows the microbes to use them as fuel to grow.
If you think about a typical Western diet, it doesn’t include a lot of variety. Most people will only consume a good amount of fibre from wheat-based products like toast, pasta, crackers and baked good. But if you’re only consuming one main type of fibre, you’ll only feed the bacteria that like those fibres.
On the other hand, a traditional-style diet has been found to be beneficial for gut health. These diets typically contain plenty of fruit, veggies, nuts, seeds, legumes and wholegrains.
Including a variety of fibres is key for encouraging diversity in the gut. The best way to do that is including a variety of plant foods.
Prebiotics are fibres that have been proven to promote the growth of specific good bacteria in the gut. Foods that contain prebiotic fibres include:
- Dandelion greens
- Nuts such as cashews
Most starches are absorbed long before they reach the gut microbes. But as the name suggests, resistant starch resists being absorbed. Resistant starch has been linked to an increase in short-chain fatty acids that give a variety of health benefits.
As research has uncovered the benefits of resistant starch, there are more supplements and foods with added resistant starch available. However, we suggest getting your resistant starch in whole form from a plant-based wholefood. That way, you’re having the fibre along with antioxidants, vitamins and minerals that support gut health.
Some forms of resistant starch occur naturally, and some occur through preparation or cooking.
You’ll find resistant starch in:
- Raw green banana
- Raw oats
- Cooked and cooled potato, pasta and white rice
There are also some general foods that aren’t proven to support specific beneficial bacteria, but do have a generally helpful effect on the gut. Brown rice, carrots and cocoa are a few examples.
Diet diversity and colour in plant foods
The colours of plant foods reflect different polyphenols. Polyphenols are a group of antioxidants that have been shown to promote growth of good bacteria.
Much like fibre, different colours can promote different types of microbes. Some polyphenol-rich foods include:
- Nuts and seeds with dark skins such as flaxseeds and hazelnuts
- Black tahini
- Black and red rice
- Different coloured quinoa (red, tri-colour)
- Potatoes with purple, red 0r blue skin
- Onions – white, yellow and purple
- Black olives
The more intense the colour of the plant food, the more beneficial antioxidants are likely to be present.
How do we get kids to eat a more diverse diet?
The simple answer is: gradually. If you change it all suddenly, not only are they likely to reject those changes, but they may also experience digestive symptoms.
Start with small switches for what you already eat on a regular basis. A good goal to aim for is including 40 different plant-based foods in a week.
Here are some other tips to try:
- Replace one meat-based dish with a plant-based dish per week. Some easy swaps are lentil bolognese, black bean brownies, stuffed sweet potatoes with black beans, or adding beans to Mexican chilli.
- Look for diversity with the foods you always buy. For example, if you always buy yellow or white onions, try switching it for leek, red onion, or shallots every second week.
- Try some green banana and strawberry ice cream. Blend 2 green bananas, 1 heaped cup of frozen strawberries, 1 tablespoon maple syrup and ¼ teaspoon vanilla.
- Use your rolled oats raw. Make some bircher muesli by soaking the oats overnight rather than cooking them.
- Add some extra fibre to your smoothies. You can add in flax meal or LSA, chia seeds, beetroot and even other veggies.
- Instead of a punnet of blueberries, buy a pomegranate. For bonus points, have the kids open it themselves for lots of messy fun!
- Substitute a small amount of dandelion greens in for regular greens
- Add Jeruselum artichoke into mash potatoes
Microbiome testing and gut diversity
Increasing plant foods is a good way to generally support gut diversity. But if you’re looking for a more tailored approach, you might want to consider microbiome testing.
With microbiome testing, we can personalise dietary advice based on what species of microbes need to be supported. It can also help us to better target advice for managing food allergies or intolerances and overall health goals.
At Natural Super Kids, we’re proud to announce that we now offer microbiome testing. MetaBiome™ is a comprehensive gut microbiome test, which provides a complete picture of the microbes in the gut and their functional potential. It can provide insight not only into the spectrum of microbes living in the gut but also their potential activity.
Our MetaBiome test package is $479 and includes:
- Metabiome Test Kit posted to you
- Metabiome stool test
- Postage (we post the test kit to you and you post your sample to Microba reply paid)
- A consult with one of our Naturopaths to discuss your results and provide recommendations to improve your microbiome and overall health.