How to ditch fads and 'bad' diets in 2023
Navigating the onslaught of ‘new year, new you’ fads and the ‘bad’ foods diet culture has cancelled for 2023 isn’t easy.
In recent years, the media has become increasingly obsessed with using food restrictions to combat gut health issues - with gluten, starchy carbs and dairy regularly taking a hit. But, science tells us, when it comes to gut health, diversity is key.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at why addition, not restriction, should be the only diet advice we take into the new year.
Why is diversity so important for gut health?
Our gut is home to trillions of bacteria, known as the microbiome. The microbiome weighs up to 2kg, and functions as an organ that has a significant impact on our health. Unlike the unwanted microbes that cause us to feel unwell, these bacteria are very much welcome - they help to digest food and make a vital contribution to energy production and hormone regulation.
When we eat, our microbiome feeds on and breaks down the fibre in our food to produce short-chain fatty acids. These help to reduce gut inflammation and also regulate fat storage and nutrient absorption. But, our gut microbes are picky eaters and need to consume a large variety of foods to thrive. When we consume foods that our gut microbes can breakdown - called microbiota-accessible carbohydrates - our microbiome becomes more diverse, and is an overall healthier gut. Greater microbiome diversity has also been shown to reduce the risk of health conditions such as obesity, type-2 diabetes and age-related diseases like Alzheimer’s.
Unfortunately, for many of us, our diets don’t include enough plant food diversity. In fact, 75% of the world’s food today originates from only twelve plants and five animals. Industrial farming practices and processed foods have reduced the range of the food available to us, and the increased use of antibiotics in meat and fish production has further reduced the diversity of bacteria living in our gut.
30 plants every week - it’s not as tough as you think…
You’ve most likely heard of 5-a-day, but, what about 30-every-week?
Having many different types of gut microbes makes the microbiome more robust and adaptable to challenges. So, if one type of microbe is unable to perform its usual function, another type may be able to take over. There’s no such thing as a ‘perfect gut microbiome’ because factors like genetics, stress, and illness can all affect it. But what we do know is that lifestyle behaviours like diet, exercise, and stress management support a better variety of gut bacteria.
A 2018 study analysed the gut microbiomes of over 10,000 volunteers from the US, UK, and Australia. Those who consumed over 30 types of plants per week had healthier, more diverse gut microbiomes compared to those who consumed fewer than 10 types per week.
Plant-based foods contain numerous important nutrients like vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. Nutrient composition varies between different plant-based foods, so consuming a wide range improves overall nutrient intake.
It's also worth noting that plant diversity is not indicative of following a strict vegan or plant-based diet; its balance and variety here that's key, regardless of dietary preferences.
What are the risks of restriction?
Restricting certain foods or food groups has been shown to negatively affect gut health, causing an imbalance in the gut microbiome. For example, a low-fibre diet can lead to constipation, and a diet low in fermented foods like yoghurt and sauerkraut is linked to fewer beneficial gut bacteria. Restrictive diets that eliminate entire food groups, such as gluten or dairy, can make it difficult to get all the nutrients the body needs to function properly.
Restrictive dieting can also lead to feelings of deprivation, contributing to negative body image and low self-esteem. A healthy diet is not only important for physical health but mental health too. The food we eat should provide a balance of nutrients and allow for flexibility to enjoy a variety in moderation, rather than focusing on restrictions and rules.
Top tips for diversifying your diet
We all have go-to recipes that we love and know. Sometimes it can be tough to switch things up and diversify our diet. Here are some tips to help you sneak in 30 plant-based foods each week:
🌈 Eat the rainbow
Fruits and vegetables are important sources of nutrients, and they come in a wide range of colours, each corresponding to different nutrients. Opt for a bag of ‘mixed leaves’ instead of just iceberg lettuce next time you make a quick salad, to easily sneak in extra variety.
Swap out meat for a vegetarian protein option
Include a variety of plant-based protein sources in your meals, such as beans, lentils, nuts, and seeds. Think hummus, lentil curry, black bean chilli. With simple swaps you can easily change up your go-to protein sources, all while adding bonus fibre and other useful nutrients.
🥬 Try a diverse fibre blend
With a blend of different types of fibre, including soluble and insoluble, fibre blends, like myota, can help you hit your daily fibre goals and support healthy digestion. They are taste-free, and can easily be added to your favourite smoothies and oatmeal, or even curries and soup for a fun and flavorful twist.
Gut health is not as black and white as focusing on a single number, so if this goal seems overwhelming at first, try increasing your plant intake gradually over time. Consistency over perfection is always the best approach. So, as we move into 2023, ditch the ‘trendy’ diet fads that tell you to cut out entire food groups. Instead, try adding more plant-based goodies to your meals and snacks. Your happy, healthy gut will thank you!