If you know anything about gut health, it's probably this:
Plant foods are the best way to diversify your microbiome and improve your gut health.
So as a plant-based eater, you've already done the hardest part by adding a bunch of plants to your diet each day.
But is it really as simple as eating plants?
To dig deeper into everything involved in optimizing your gut health, I went straight to two of the leading gut health specialists, Dahlia Marin, RDN, LD and James Marin, RD, EN.
They work with thousands of clients every year through their practice at Married to Health, and they know exactly how to ensure your diet is working for your gut (and your health).
This is the first of a two-part interview with Dahlia and James, and in this conversation, we cover:
- What gut health is all about (and why you should care)
- How to know if your gut is unhealthy
- The link between immunity and your gut
- What leads to poor gut health
- How to optimize your diet to improve your gut
Watch it, here:
Highlights from Part 1 of our Gut Health Discussion with Dahlia and James
How do you know if your gut is unhealthy?
You should always be thinking about your gut health because we know that your gut communicates systemically with all of your organs.
If you say...
- I'm bloated
- I don't poop every day
- I have acne
- I have a hormonal imbalance.
- I have blood sugar irregularities.
- I have really high cholesterol.
- I have high blood pressure.
There is likely something going on in your gut.
Is immunity linked to gut health?
Innate immunity is where your microbes are building a mucosal barrier.
They help reinforce the structures of your physiology and anatomy...
- There's microbiome in your nasal mucosa.
- There's oral microbiome when you're eating or breathing.
Anywhere the outside environment comes into contact with your body, you have these little microbial warriors there building up that barrier, and being the doorman to protect your body.
That innate immunity is your first line of defense.
What leads to poor gut health?
If you're eating a healthy plant-based diet, exercising, and resting, you're already doing the hard part. You're doing that daily work to feed into and love your gut microbes.
The prebiotic fiber, soluble fiber, insoluble fiber, phytonutrients, and antioxidants all are food and fuel for the microbes.
In addition to exercise...
- Exercise can increase the output of short-chain fatty acids, which help repair your gut microbiome.
- Sleep is a chance for them to catch up, get restored, and get in better balance.
If you eat lots of plants, exercise regularly, and sleep well but still don't feel right, it's time to understand your foundation.
Were there things that affected your foundation prior to you making these changes?
We ask our patients questions like,
- How was your mom's gut health when she was pregnant with you? We know that microbiomes can communicate.
- Were you born vaginally or via a C-section?
- Were you breastfed?
- How was your diet as a child?
- How many antibiotics and steroids have you taken throughout your life?
- Have you had periods of your life where you were extremely stressed?
- Have you gone through trauma?
- Have you had a period, college for most of us, where you are not eating the best or binge drinking?
With that knowledge, you can have patience and understanding of what was your gut health story leading up to this point.
Now what can you do about it?
We can't build a time machine and go back, but we can hone in on certain habits and work to repair the foundation of your gut.
Imagine you have two different cities trying to grow a garden. They have everything — the raised bed, the seeds, the soil, the water.
However, this is where context matters, you realize, "hey, I'm in a city in Alaska, not a city in Southern California."
Your garden will be very different.
You may have the same foundational items, but the climate matters, the water quality matters, and maybe there are some contaminants in the soil.
This is where you may need better compost or you may need some other fertilizers. You may need a greenhouse to cover. And there are all these other kinds of additives, whether we're complimenting or just adding some of these just minor tweaks you need because you're in a different city, then that's what we need to do.
The foundation for proper gut health could be there, but it requires you to dig deeper and discover what adjustments will have the biggest impact.
How does a plant-based diet improve your gut health?
With any diet, you want to look at what may be causing issues. Foods like:
- Refined sugar
- Refined grains
- Saturated fats from foods like coconut oil or palm oil
Can all be problematic to your gut health.
A plant-based diet, however, is full of fiber, which helps fight or address the foods that may cause an issue. Fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, beans, grains, legumes, herbs, and spices, bring in fiber, antioxidants, and phytonutrients.
It might take time to see benefits, but a diet built around health plant foods will help address many of the core gut health issues.