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Three ways eating plant-based food can boost your gut health


Many factors affect gut health, but one we can control is diet. To kick start Veganuary, Unilever’s gut microbiome expert Dr Robert Dixon explains the positive impact eating a diverse range of plant-based foods can have on the gut microbiome and our health.

Young child with male guardians eating a plant-based meal

There are hundreds of different species of bacteria living in and on our bodies – an estimated 40 trillion microbes in fact – and most of these live in our gut.

Collectively, they are known as the gut microbiome. They have a significant impact on our digestion, our immune system and the health of our entire body, including the brain, our muscles and our bones. They can even influence our mood.

“We all have a gut microbiome which is unique to us, so selecting a single marker of health is difficult,” says Robert Dixon, Unilever’s Science and Technology Manager for the gut microbiome.

“But what we can say, regardless of this variation between individuals, is that a diverse microbiome is the best marker of a healthy microbiome. And a healthy microbiome will keep your body functioning at its optimum.”

Working to diversify diets

Findings from the American Gut Project, the world’s largest citizen science microbiome project, show that people who eat more than 30 different plant-based foods a week have a more diverse, and therefore healthier, microbiome than those who eat ten or fewer.

“One of the best ways we can ensure we maintain the diversity of our gut microbiome is to eat a wide range of fruit and vegetables,” says Dr. Dixon. And yet many people struggle to eat the five-a-day portion of fruit and vegetables that WHO recommends.

For example, a 2021 Veg Facts survey of eating habits in the UK found only 33% of adults and just 12% of 11–18-year-olds currently manage to hit that daily target.

This is just one of the reasons why Unilever R&D, Nutrition and Ice Cream are working to create products that make it easier for people to eat and enjoy a more plant-based diet.

“They say variety is the spice of life and that is also true for the microbes that live in your gut,” says Dr. Dixon. “Why not give some of our plant-based recipes a try? Your microbiome deserves it.”

Three ways to eat more veg and grow good gut bacteria

Easy and delicious plant-based recipes to kickstart Veganuary

  1. Add more fibre with beans and legumes

    Image of child eating a piece of broccoli off her fork

    While chickpeas or broccoli might not be ingredients that often make an appearance at mealtimes, adding them to a soup, chilli or casserole is a great way to diversify your vegetable intake and add fibre to your diet.

    “Diets that are high in fibre and polyphenols maintain the diversity of our gut microbiomes,” says Dr. Dixon. “While the human part of our guts can’t digest them, they are a rich source of food for our gut bacteria, who all prefer to eat different things.”

    Why not try Knorr’s Moroccan style-lentil and vegetable stew or Hellmann’s creamy broccoli pasta?

  2. Ramp up your prebiotic intake with a boost of berries

    Magnum vegan ice cream in a berry smoothie bowl

    Prebiotics are good for the gut microbiome because they act like a microbial fertiliser, stimulating the growth of beneficial bacteria.

    The good news is prebiotics are found in many fruits and vegetables. Blueberries, for example, are an excellent source of fibre and polyphenols, making them healthy for both you and your gut microbiome.

    Why not try Hellmann’s blueberry crisp using Hellmann’s vegan mayonnaise or enjoy a decadent weekend treat with a Magnum Vegan morning smoothie bowl?

  3. Add some sweet and sour flavours with fermented veg

    Three jars of fermented vegetables including sauerkraut and kimchi

    Research shows that different types of fermented food such as sauerkraut, kefir and kimchi contain different types of microbes, so eating a diversity of fermented foods can also be beneficial.

    They’re also a rich source of beneficial microbes which may improve our microbiome function and help restore the microbiome to good health if it’s been compromised.

    And while the strong pickled flavour of kimchi might not be appealing on its own, it’s a great ingredient in noodle dishes and stir-fries.

    Why not try Korean Peckers from The Vegetarian Butcher?

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