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Maintaining a Healthy Microbiome Requires Plant Diversity

Research shows that maintaining a well-balanced microbiome in the gastrointestinal tract (GI tract, or gut) is an integral part of short-term and long-term health. A properly functioning GI system is the foundation for the health of your entire body. It has the ability to impact a range of health functions like your cardiovascular system, immune system, chronic disease risk, mood, memory, and cognitive functioning.

The great news is, it doesn’t require a supplement or a complex diet to optimize your digestive system. The key to improving your gut microbiome is diversity! One magical superfood won’t save your GI tract. It takes a wide variety of plant-based foods to improve the health of your microbiome.

Fibre in fruits, vegetables, legumes (beans and lentils), nuts, and seeds are staples for the microbiome. When this fibre enters the intestine, the microbes metabolize the fiber in the colon to create short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs). These SCFA’s help keep the microbiome healthy. They reduce inflammatory microbes, fix an unhealthy GI tract, communicate with the immune system, cross the blood brain barrier for a healthy brain, help lower cholesterol levels, and protect the heart. Not bad for a few fruits and veggies!

We rely on the microbes in our large intestine to break down food. A healthy person with a well-balanced gut microbiome does not generally suffer from digestive pain in their daily life and is able to eat a variety of foods without restriction. The first sign that something is imbalanced is digestive distress. Some common symptoms are feeling increased fatigue or a disruption to your bowel movements. This can manifest as gas or bloating, abdominal discomfort, diarrhea, or constipation.

If you feel like your digestive health isn’t optimized, there is no need to worry! The microbiome is constantly rebuilding, and it’s never too late to add in more plant-based foods to your diet. The healthy bacteria (microbes) help us digest and process the food we eat. They are alive and living inside the GI tract. There is a variety of good bacteria that need to consume multiple different foods (fibre and prebiotics) to keep themselves energized and working to support your digestive system.

Studies have shown (and here) that people who eat more than 30 plant types each week had the healthiest microbiomes. 30 different plant-based foods may seem like a lot, but you might be surprised by how many plant-based foods you enjoy. Make a game out of it and write down all the plant-based foods you like, then check them off throughout the week as you consume them. Or, keep a food log for one week and write down everything you consume, then count the plant-based foods. Each week try to increase your intake, looking for new plants to add in.

Here is a list of easily found plant-based foods to add to your grocery list:

    • Fruit: Berries, citrus fruits, apples, pears, peaches, pineapple, bananas, mango, nectarines, plums, avocado, fig, dates, lemon, lime, kiwi, grapes
    • Vegetables: Kale, spinach, romaine, arugula, tomatoes, broccoli, cauliflower, brussel sprouts, carrots, asparagus, bell peppers, potatoes, sweet potatoes, butternut squash, celery, onions, zucchini, bok choy, sauerkraut (fermented cabbage), olives, mushrooms, garlic, radish
    • Whole Grains: Brown rice, oats, barley, farro, quinoa, barley, millet, amaranth, wheat germ, sprouted grain bread
    • Legumes and soy: Peas, chickpeas, lentils, peanuts, kidney beans, edamame beans, tofu, tempeh, black bean pasta, edamame pasta, hummus
    • Nuts and Seeds: flax, chia, hemp, almonds, cashews, macadamia nuts, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, natural nut or seed butters, tahini, coconut, pine nuts

It’s easy to add in diversity in a single meal. Consider adding one or two more plants into your favourite snack:

    • Smoothie: raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, spinach, kale, cucumber, hemp milk, plant-based protein powder, almond butter
    • Salad: almonds, romaine lettuce, arugula, black beans, tomatoes, and radish
    • Dipping veggies: carrots, celery, and jicama with a chickpea or red pepper hummus

Try including these two related, but different GI system boosting nutrients that support a healthy microbiome:


Prebiotics are non-digestible compounds (i.e. fibre) within our food that feed healthy gut bacteria. All plants contain prebiotics in small amounts, although science suggests a few higher concentrations such as onions, garlic, bananas, chicory root, and Jerusalem artichoke.


Probiotic foods contain beneficial live bacteria (microbes). These include fermented foods like kefir, yogurt, pickled vegetables, tempeh, kombucha tea, kimchi, miso, and sauerkraut.


When you focus on adding new and different plants into your diet to help your digestive system, we are confident your overall health will thrive. If adding in new plants to your diet, or combining them with your current lifestyle sounds challenging, a Registered Dietitian can help you plan your meals. Strategically adding new ingredients into your diet and uncovering the opportunities to make change will create success!


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