Topics » Nutrition Science » Sonoran Sunshine Retreat Keynote Speaker, Doctor Vanessa Méndez, Talks Gut Health
T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies
Doctor Vanessa Méndez on Gut Health

Have you heard of the gut microbiome? It’s one of the hottest topics in nutrition right now, but what is it? And how can you develop a healthy gut for yourself?

The gut microbiome is critical to your digestive health, but also to the health of the rest of your body. It helps regulate several systems, including the metabolic, endocrine and immune systems. For the immune system, your gut microbiome:

  • helps defend against pathogenic microorganisms;
  • degrades toxic substances;
  • metabolizes and absorbs drugs and medicine;
  • turns genes on and off (epigenetics);
  • breaks down food that’s hard to digest, to facilitate the absorption of minerals; and
  • synthesizes essential vitamins (like B vitamins and vitamin K), folic acid, and amino acids, which are building blocks of protein.

The gut microbiome also produces beneficial products called short chain fatty acids (SCFA) that help regulate inflammation. It is involved in the gut–brain axis, and so much more!

That’s a lot of information and a scientific way of saying, your gut microbiome is so important to developing and maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Today, I’m going to share my number one tip to improve your gut microbiome—eating a variety of plant-based foods!

Eating a variety of whole plant-based foods will not only help you live optimally and give you the best health-related outcomes, it will also make meals more fun. The goal I recommend is that you try to consume 30 different types of plants per week for the best results. These can include vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds, as well as the delicious herbs and spices that make meals that much more delicious. ​​Plant foods have varying amounts of healthy fats, protein, fiber and other nutrients, but no single food can provide everything we need. Remember this as you work on your grocery list and weekly meal planning.

This is also a good opportunity to get the family involved. Let the kids help you double check that there are 30 different types of plants, and offer them the opportunity to pick some plants they would like to try. The more you involve your kids in the process, the more ownership they will feel over the healthy choices you and your family are making to promote gut health. And all while actually cultivating their microbiome diversity—a win-win for everyone!

It’s also important to avoid the foods that will damage your gut microbiome. If you’re starting a plant-based journey for the first time, you might want to purge the processed and inflammatory items from your refrigerator and pantry. These are only taking up space that could be used to help promote microbiome diversity and overall gut health!

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