Plant-Based for Your Microbiome
The microbiome is the genetic material of all the microbes that live on and inside the human body. And your gut is a big part of it.
BY SARAH PROTZMAN HOWLETT
There are trillions of bacteria living within and on you, but don’t panic: These bacteria are collectively referred to as your microbiome—a term the medical community has only recognized since the early 1990s—and you need them to live a healthy life.
Over the past several years, scientists have been working to counter cultural fears of bacteria and germs with messaging that conveys just how important they are to human health in protecting us from harmful pathogens. In fact, research has shown that subpar human microbiomes have been tied to inflammatory bowel syndrome, chronic diarrhea, stomach pains, gas, bloating, food allergies, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, muscular dystrophy, multiple sclerosis and fibromyalgia, to name a few.
Going Plant-Based for Your Microbiome
Many of these bacteria are found in your gut, and when they’re healthy bacteria, they can ease everything from inflammation to digestion and metabolism issues. The key to feeding your gut well, says Molly Hembree, R.D., L.D., retail dietitian coordinator for The Little Clinic of Kroger in the Columbus, Ohio, area, is a plant-centered diet.
Plants are the only place you find naturally occurring fiber in a diet.
- Molly Hembree R.D., L.D.
“For some people, that can be a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle—but even for meat eaters, getting in extra fiber can be as easy as adding a nut-based crust to a chicken breast; adding a whole mandarin orange to your plate; or mixing in pomegranate seeds to a salad dressing.
There are many ways to craft a top-notch microbiome, but make sure you’re eating plant-forward meals with a good mix of fruits. If you are a meat eater, opt for a nut-based crust for chicken using walnuts or pecans in place of the more typical breadcrumbs. Toss pomegranate seeds or mandarin oranges onto a salad. Or seek out a creamy, bean-based sauce recipe to pour over the protein. “That naturally occurring fiber in beans can help with low-grade inflammation and give those healthy bacteria the fuel they need to thrive,” she says.
Try Plant-Based Yogurt
Hembree adds that plant-based yogurt offers a nondairy alternative as a great source of healthy bacteria (probiotics). “You can even take it to the next level by mixing in fiber-filled foods like oats and banana, which act as a ‘prebiotic’ fuel for probiotic activity, thus supporting a healthy gut microbiome.”
Hembree also likes trendy grain bowls because they pack a punch and, while they’re tasty in restaurants, they’re easily adaptable at home. Start with quinoa or couscous for the base, then add a protein, beans and veggies.