Gut health is a crucial determinant of our overall health where a healthy gut is formed by the presence of a diverse microbiome and a plant-based balanced diet that consists of whole grains, legumes, nuts, leafy vegetables, fruits, fiber-rich foods, fermented probiotics etc helps to support our healthy bacteria and lay a foundation for a healthy gut. Vegetarian meals containing these ingredients are also nutritious and work against preventing inflammation or even treating such gut inflammation since the gut microbiome plays a critical role in our overall health and immunity.
In an interview with HT Lifestyle, Dr Manoj Kutteri, Medical Director and CEO of Atmantan Wellness Centre, suggested, “When you are focusing on a pure vegetarian plant-based diet, you need to know that all those diet preparations are not equal. While a freshly prepared meal is highly beneficial to us, a vegetarian diet which is loaded with sugar and made with processed food ingredients, refined grains, and carbs may not work beneficial to our gut and the body. A balanced meal should also focus on a variety of vegetarian options such as wholesome multi-grains, differently colored fruits and so on.”
Emphasising that one of the major arguments for non-vegetarianism is the protein content of animal foods, he said, “There are abundant vegetarian sources of protein as well that one can plan a meal with. If you are not careful about these proportions of a vegetarian meal, it can adversely affect your gut. Besides the nutritional quotient of the food, it is important to look at the quality and freshness of the ingredients. Organically grown or locally cultivated products ensure the highest quality meal. This also goes lighter on the gut and helps the friendly microbiome to feed on it. A healthy microbiome consisting of a variety of bacterial colonies and their density helps in supporting digestion, immunity, emotional health, mood, and behavior of a person. The antioxidants, polyphenols, and phytonutrients present in the vegetarian diet provide micronutrients that are required for the healing and repairing of our body.”
According to him, some of the food options in the vegetarian meal plan are as below:
1. Whole grains – whole grain options such as brown rice, millet, and oats are high in various minerals and vitamins. When they are consumed with fiber, they also provide the prebiotic needed for our body on which our bacteria can survive. If you are suffering from any auto-immune conditions, it is best to reduce them for a while and then start when you have the digestibility to digest them well.
2. Beans and Legumes – Beans, whole lentils, chickpeas, and rajma are very high in fiber. In fact, Rajma contains more fiber than some vegetables. These soluble fibers are excellent as a prebiotic for our gut. These fibers also help us to improve the peristaltic movement of our intestines.
3. Nuts and Oil seeds – Nuts and seeds are an extremely important aspect of a vegetarian diet as they provide the most required macro nutrition which is protein. Flax seeds and Chia seeds are also high in Omega 3 fats while the rest are good in Omega 9 fats. Nuts and seeds are better taken by soaking them for a few hours so that we can reduce the phytic acid content of the same.
4. Fruits – Fruits such as berries and Papaya are very beneficial for our gut. Berries like blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, etc. are high in various anti-oxidants. They are also very low on the glycaemic index and so are excellent to manage blood sugar and weight. The fibers again help to feed the healthy microbiome in our gut.
5. Cruciferous vegetables – Cruciferous vegetables such as kale, cauliflower, broccoli, and brussels sprouts contain chemicals known as glucosinolates which support the growth of beneficial bacteria in the gut thus promoting gut health.
6. Green leafy vegetables – Spinach, Amaranthus, lettuce, mustard greens, coriander, methi leaves, etc are rich in essential nutrients and high in fiber. These foods can add roughage to the diet and help to promote a healthy bacterial colony and diversity.
7. Probiotics – Naturally fermented foods such as kimchi, sauerkraut, and kefir are excellent probiotics that contain live bacterial strains. Consumption of these foods can help to replace and replenish the gut bacteria.
Adding to the list of best plant-based foods for optimal gut health, Tanisha Bawa, Certified Nutrition Coach and Founder of TAN|365, recommended:
- Avocados are a nutrient-dense food that can provide many health benefits. They are rich in healthy fats and fiber, as well as B vitamins, potassium, vitamin E, and folate. Avocados can help fight inflammation and protect your arteries by improving cholesterol and triglyceride levels. The healthy fats in avocados can also help keep blood sugar levels balanced and reduce the need for snacking before lunch.
- Chia seeds are a nutritional powerhouse, packed with omega-3, iron, calcium, and antioxidants. They can improve bone and heart health, aid in digestion and bowel movements, and help regulate insulin sensitivity and blood sugar levels.
- Sweet potatoes are an excellent source of starchy carbohydrates, fiber, and essential nutrients like vitamins A, B6, K, and potassium. They are also rich in antioxidants and can help maintain blood sugar levels, slowing down the absorption of carbs and preventing glucose spikes. Sweet potatoes are also great for eye and gut health.
- Almond butter is a healthy source of monounsaturated fats, fiber, folate, and vitamin E, which can slow down the aging of brain cells and improve cognitive function. It can also help lower LDL (bad) cholesterol and raise HDL (good) cholesterol.
To sum it up, a plant-based vegan diet that is incorporated into our daily diet carefully can help to support our digestive functions, metabolism and overall health and well-being.