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Diversity - The Key to Gut Health

The formula is simple: Diverse diet = Diverse microbes = Good health. That is all we have to do help improve our gut health. The problem is we do not have a diverse diet.

When I was in Peru I learned that they grow over 3000 different types of potatoes and that there are over 5000 different types on the planet. How many different kinds of potatoes have you eaten? It’s mind blowing how much variety there is but we seem to get into a routine and eat the same few foods over and over.

This is not just about a processed diet vs whole food diet. Yes, a processed food diet is not ideal for our good microbes but a whole food diet that is not diverse can also be problematic for the diversity of our gut. Most of us consume no more than 15 different foods in a week. This is not diversity even if we hit all the food groups.

Then there are those who choose to eliminate food groups such as grains and legumes (in some cases this is needed for a certain time period) – but this is taking out a range of substantial foods that will feed many beneficial bacterial species. And believe it or not there are still people – adult people – who refuse to eat vegetables, and they are proud of it. Again, vegetables represent all kinds of foods that will feed a lot of different species.

This is just basic diversity and it gets more complicated. So not only do we all need to be more adventurous and try to eat different foods, we need to eat different varieties of the same food. And this is one of biggest changes we have had in our diets that make us different from our ancestors.

They ate a greater variety of foods than we eat today and they grew different varieties of the same food. This was good for the soil, help protect them against potential crop loss and increased the nutrients available to them in their diet- just like with investing money, it is important to diversify.

Today, agriculture does not function that way. Farmers grow few crops and seldom do they grow more than one variety of the same crop. There are over 6000 varieties of tomatoes – each one has different properties and a different nutrient composition. We are missing out on a lot. And while we cannot possibly consume 6000 different varieties, we can expand our repertoire, especially in the summer and seek out as many varieties as we can find.

So while researchers continue to unravel the mystery of our gut and figure out what we should feed it, specifically for specific benefits, we can do more to increase the diversity and build a stronger gut by eating new foods.

This week, buy three new foods you do not eat regularly. They can be foods you have never had or foods you like but for some reason never buy.

Here are a few things you can do to diversify: Buy yellow or rainbow beets instead of red beets.

Choose purple or white carrots instead of orange. Look for heritage varieties and buy them when you find them. Go to farmer’s markets and talk to the local farmers. Generally, these are the farmers who still grow a variety of crops. Let them know you are interested in trying different varieties of tomatoes or potatoes etc. Explore the foods and restaurants of different cultures.

Think of the fun and adventure you can have – you and your microbes will be happier

Let me know what new discoveries you make and leave them in the comments.

Reference: Mark L. Heiman, Frank L. Greenway. A healthy gastrointestinal microbiome is dependent on dietary diversity. Molecular Metabolism, 2016; DOI: 10.1016/j.molmet.2016.02.005

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