How dietary variety and gut microbiome diversity are associated

You’ve probably heard about the gut microbiome’s connection to overall health. But how exactly does what you eat impact those tiny gut microbes that call it home?

Our research team conducted a study that analyzed information from our data set from participants who had submitted stool samples and answered questions about their dietary habits, like “How many different types of fruits and vegetables do you typically eat in a week?. This helped us uncover a key finding: people who reported consuming 30+ different kinds of plants per week had a more diverse mix of gut microbes compared to those who ate fewer.


Why plant diversity matters

Beyond providing nutrients, a diet incorporating a high diversity of plants contributes to the pool of fiber types that act as food for gut microbes, with the potential to support a wide range of species. In our study, people who ate 30+ different plants per week not only had higher microbial diversity than people who reported eating fewer than 10, but they also had a higher diversity of compounds (which could originate from foods, microbes, or our bodies). 

They also tended to have more of certain compounds and microbes that are thought to play beneficial roles, such as a compound called conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), and microbes putatively identified as Faecalibacterium prausnitzii and Oscillospira. Bacteria like these are important because they can produce short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs), compounds that are beneficial for human health.

Interestingly, the findings also indicated that the diversity of plants eaten seems to have a greater impact on the gut microbiome than the more general classifications of diet, such as “vegan” or “vegetarian”.


What this means for you

This research sheds light on the connection between dietary choices and gut health. While we are still exploring the specifics, our findings suggest a connection between dietary plant diversity and a thriving gut microbial community. However, it’s important to remember that 30 is a guideline, not a rigid threshold. The focus lies on the overall plant diversity.

How to add more plants to your diet

Our resident dietitian and researcher, Alejandra Rios Hernandez, has shared some tips on how to add more diversity to your diet.


Planning is key

Choose a day of the week to plan your weekly menu and to write your shopping list: 

  • Include a mix of leafy greens.
  • Search for new recipes using seasonal fruits and vegetables.
  • Try fermented vegetables such as pickles, kimchi, and sauerkraut.
  • Add frozen fruits and vegetables to create new smoothie flavors.
  • Snack on a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables like baby carrots, celery sticks with hummus, or guacamole.
  • Challenge yourself to add fruits and vegetables not often on your shopping list.


Create a rainbow on your plate 

Have you heard about polyphenols? Polyphenols are natural compounds in fruits, vegetables, grains, and plant-based beverages like tea and wine. They give plants their vibrant colors and have antioxidant effects that keep you healthy and protect your heart. You can find them in: 

  • Red: Rich in lycopene – tomatoes, red peppers, red apples, strawberries, watermelon.
  • Blue and purple: Rich in anthocyanins – eggplant, beetroot, purple cabbage, blackberries, blueberries, grapes.
  • Orange and yellow: Rich in beta-carotene – carrots, sweet potato, orange, pineapple.
  • Green: Rich in isothiocyanates – spinach, broccoli, kiwi, avocado.
  • Brown/White: Rich in sulfides, thiols – garlic, onion, leeks, scallions.

Try to include fruit and vegetables from each color category in every meal.For example, add different fruits to top your oatmeal (berries, banana, apple), extra vegetables (spinach, broccoli, carrots, onions) to your dishes, or include them as a side salad. Cook recipes where you can add as many vegetables as you want, like a delicious stir-fry!


Make simple swaps

You can start with small changes:

  • For snacks: Choose a piece of fruit with yogurt, veggies with hummus, or a handful of mixed nuts and seeds instead of chips, cookies, or refined grain foods.
  • For spread: Choose hummus, avocado, or peanut butter, instead of mayonnaise, commercial sauces, and jams.
  • For dressing: Choose lemon juice, extra virgin olive oil, apple cider and balsamic vinegar instead of a commercial creamy dressing.
  • For flavor: Choose garlic, ginger, onion, and fresh and dried herbs such as coriander, parsley, oregano, and rosemary instead of commercial sauces and high-sodium condiments.
  • For texture and volume: Add a variety of vegetables to your meals, such as roasted peppers, leafy greens, tomatoes, onions, and carrots.


Meal prep for the day or week ahead

Planning and preparing your meals and snacks ahead of time will help you to include more plants in your diet. Find a routine that works with your schedule: 

  • Chop a variety of fruits and vegetables and keep them in the fridge for easy access.
  • Double your recipes and freeze a portion. One-pot recipes like curries, soups, and casseroles are usually packed with vegetables, herbs, and spices.
  • Keep fermented foods like sauerkraut, kimchi, or fermented vegetables in your fridge to add to sandwiches, salads, or as a side dish.
  • Have frozen vegetables and fruits in your freezer to use in your meals and beverages. 
  • Make batches of homemade sauces and divide them into freezer-safe containers – such as  tomato, pesto, hot pepper, and vegetable sauce for future meals.
  • Keep pantry staples on hand – garlic, onions, ginger, a variety of herbs and spices, olive oil, vinegar, honey, miso, variety of nuts and seeds, oats, brown rice and pasta, canned tomatoes, beans, lentils, and chickpeas. 


Gradually include more legumes in your favorite recipes

Legumes are an excellent plant-based source of protein and are high in fiber, iron, zinc, and magnesium. Start by adding a cup of legumes to some of your classic recipes. For example, add kidney beans to your spaghetti bolognese and minestrone soup, lentils to your salads, soups, and stews, chickpeas to your casseroles, or use them as a spread.

The 60-plant smoothie

Recently, there has been a surge of interest in a recipe featuring 60 different plants, popularized by the Netflix documentary “Hack your Health,” featuring our co-founders Jack Gilbert and Rob Knight. The smoothie recipe used in the documentary was created and shared with us by one of Microsetta’s participants, Larry Smarr, who was inspired by the findings of our study and has been experimenting with making and drinking the smoothie as a supplement for many years. It should be noted that while he saw microbiome changes that coincided with him starting to drink this smoothie as shown in the documentary, he had also made other changes to his diet at the same time, like starting a time-restricted eating program. For those curious to learn more about the ingredients for the 60-plant smoothie, we’ve included a link to the original list. 

While it embodies the principle of dietary diversity, it’s important to remember that consuming extreme numbers of plants in a single serving might not be necessary or suitable for everyone. It’s crucial to consult with a healthcare provider before making significant changes to your diet.

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60 plant smoothie recipe with various fruits, vegetables, and herbs