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Eating More of This Can Improve Your Gut Health, Says New Science

Research from the American Gut Project found that eating this food can create a thriving and diverse gut microbiome. And, here's how much of it you need.

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Eat more plants

If you love to dive into a colorful bowl of fruits and vegetables, you’ve got guts—or, should we say, a healthy gut! Research shows that eating more plants in your diet can actually benefit your gut health over time—especially if you’re eating a variety of fruits and veggies each week. According to a study published by the American Gut Project, which is led by researchers at the University of California San Diego School of Medicine, participants who ate more than 30 different types of plants in a week had a more diverse gut microbiome compared to those who ate 10 or fewer.

The researchers collected this data from over 11,000 participants primarily in the United States and the United Kingdom, as well as 42 other countries. Participants sent in over 15,000 stool samples to evaluate bacteria in the gut. From their evaluation, the researchers found that no matter the type of diet one follows, eating more than 30 different kinds of plants in a week creates a diverse gut microbiome. A healthy gut is linked to benefiting the body’s health in a number of ways that are gaining more attention lately.

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Why having a diverse microbiome matters

The gut microbiome isn’t exactly a body part, but a thriving community of bacteria primarily located in your small and large intestine. Harvard Health states the microbiome is considered to be a supporting organ, due to the many ways it contributes to the body’s functioning and health.

The most common types of microbes within the gut are symbiotic (benefiting the body) and pathogenic (which promote disease). While a healthy gut would have a balance of the two, certain factors such as infectious illness, poor diets, or prolonged use of antibiotics can cause dysbiosis—an imbalance of microbiota that makes the body susceptible to diseases. Recent research has even linked gut health and mental well-being and found links between poor gut health and depression.

How a Healthy Gut Microbiome Could Add Years to Your Life

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It can benefit your blood sugar, too

Microbiota in the gut is also important for breaking down complex carbohydrates and dietary fibers, converting them into short-chain fatty acids (SCFA). As a result, these short-chain fatty acids are key for muscle function and even preventing some chronic diseases. A higher number of SCFA also benefit blood sugar levels by reducing insulin resistance. Most plants are considered powerful sources of fiber.

7 Ways to Maintain Healthy Blood Sugar Levels

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How to incorporate more plants into your diet

Eating 30 different kinds of plants in one week may seem daunting, but it isn’t limited to just vegetables and fruits. Plant-based foods also include legumes and whole grains.

Cooking recipes that offer a variety of plants is a great place to start. A few ideas:

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Kiersten Hickman
Kiersten Hickman is a journalist and content strategist with a main focus on nutrition, health, and wellness coverage. She holds an MA in Journalism from DePaul University and a Nutrition Science certificate from Stanford Medicine. Her work has been featured in publications including Taste of Home, Reader's Digest, Bustle, Buzzfeed, INSIDER, MSN, Eat This, Not That!, and more.