Plant based diet and your gut health. Is there a link?

Plant-based diet and your gut health. Is there a link?

Plant based diet and your gut health. Is there a link?

Authors: Tiffany Tassinari, RDN, Acute Rehab Dietitian, and Amy Esposito, RDN, Outpatient Nutrition Dietitian at Providence Little Company of Mary Medical Center San Pedro

Have you been hearing more about plant-based eating? This is a diet trend that continues to provide promise due to the many health promoting properties of plants. Studies show increasing intake from high-fiber plant foods can decrease body weight, improve insulin sensitivity, decrease inflammatory markers, and improve a number of gastrointestinal disorders.  More recently, plant-based eating has been of interest because of its important role in supporting the immune system. 

Our gastrointestinal tracts (also called the gut) are hosts to trillions of bacteria. Beneficial bacteria (gut flora) thrive when you eat more plant foods from minimally processed and whole plant foods (such as those listed below). How does this work? The fiber in plant foods called prebiotics provides ‘food’ for good bacteria which can then create a more healthful gut flora.

Alternately, ultra-processed and many processed foods that contain white flour, added sugars and other additives, may not be digested well and thus lead to the overgrowth of bad bacteria. Overtime, this can damage the gut integrity and lead to chronic inflammation which can lead to a host of diseases. 

The current recommendations for dietary fiber intake for adults are 30-35 grams per day for men and 25-32 grams per day for women.  If you do not eat much high-fiber foods, then slowly introduce one or two of the plant foods listed below. Remember, as your dietary fiber intake increases, you may need to increase your fluid intake as well. 

Fiber is not the only reason to include plant-based foods. They are also high in protein, needed vitamins and minerals. Including more plant-based proteins, such as those in the legume family, can help us decrease animal-based proteins, as plants are naturally low in fat. 

Variety with Veggies  

  • Eat a least five servings of non-starchy vegetables daily.
  • Include raw vegetables like salad greens, carrots, broccoli, radish, red and orange peppers. 
  • Include a variety of cooked vegetables in the red, orange, yellow, purple, white-beige family (they are the most nutritious when lightly steamed).
  • Include a serving of starchy vegetables like potatoes (all varieties) and corn twice per day.

Loving Legumes 

  • Eat at least three ½-cup servings a day. Start small if you do not typically eat legumes.
  • The richest source of dietary fiber are beans (all types), peas (split or fresh), and lentils.
  • Include tofu, tempeh and unsweetened soymilk for calcium.
  • Substitute a meat with a legume to decrease calories from fat and increase dietary fiber.

Going Easy on Grains

  • Aim for whole grains like quinoa, wild rice, oats, barley, etc. (look for 100% whole grain symbol).
  • Avoid or limit refined grains/flours (i.e., white and some brown breads, processed cereals, premade bakery items, cookies, crackers and other flour-based products).

Fantastic Fruit 

  • Include 1-2 servings of fruit daily (the skin and seeds are rich sources of dietary fiber and antioxidants).
  • Freezer fruits can go in a smoothie but watch the amount; ½ cup is one serving.
  • Limit dried fruits to ¼ cup a day or less.
  • Satisfy sweet tooth with an apple, raw or baked with cinnamon and plain yogurt. 

Nuts, Seeds and Avocados

  • Include 1-2 oz. daily of any unsalted nut (walnuts, almonds, peanuts, cashews, pistachio, etc.).
  • Add the avocado.  Although associated with high fat, they contain healthy fats, minerals, and phytochemicals, which studies show may help with weight loss.
  • Try chia, hemp, sunflower, pumpkin, or flax seeds over soups, salads, casseroles or in baked dishes 
  • Ground flax can be used instead of egg in baked goods, which increases dietary fiber and reduces cholesterol intake.

The clinical dietitians at Providence Little Company of Mary are dedicated to teaching patients how to make nutritionally-sound food choices no matter their disease or condition. Whether to speed up your recovery process, help you prevent disease, or just maintain a healthy lifestyle, our registered dietitians can put you on the path to optimal health. 

For more information about our Outpatient Nutrition Counseling Services, and/or how to make an appointment, please call our Centralized Scheduling at:

San Pedro: 855-353-3940

Torrance: 310-303-6500

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