Can A Vegan Diet Support an Optimal Gut Microbiome?
For many reasons, a vegan approach to eating is not conducive to supporting optimal gut health.
This is not to say one should not be plant-based (important to differentiate that the two labels are not necessarily one in the same); rather, as veganism is the practice of abstaining from the use of all animal products, it goes without saying that one who opts to follow this manner of eating would not partake of some of the most important foods that are known to be conducive to promoting optimal gut health.
Read on to learn a bit more!
The gut microbiome is the community of trillions of bacteria that live in your digestive tract and elsewhere throughout your body. Collectively weighing about three pounds, the same weight as our brain, these bacteria outnumber our human cells by a factor of about 9 to 1 (1).
When your microbiome is balanced, your body stays healthy, promoting good digestion, clear thinking, balanced mood, and glowing overall health.
On the flip side, when your microbiome goes out of balance and symptoms such as brain fog, depression, anxiety, bad skin and insomnia short term and later on, obesity, diabetes, and cancer are just some of the disease states which can ensue.
So how does one determine the fate of their own gut’s microbiome?
Easy! We all chose what we put in our mouths and we are what we eat.
Fresh, whole fruits and vegetables; in particular, asparagus, carrots, garlic, Jerusalem artichokes, jicama, leeks, onions, radishes, and tomatoes are Microbiome Superfoods, with exactly the kind of fiber that feed many beneficial species.
Fermented foods such as kimchi, raw sauerkraut, fermented vegetables, and kefir, such as that which is made from coconut are natural probiotics that replenish your friendly bacteria (2).
Probiotics in the form of capsules, pills, or powders that contain live bacteria can supplement a healthy diet as well; but first having quantitative testing done to determine which probiotics you need for your own gut flora can be helpful, such as the GI Map Test (3)
Bone Broth (4)
The age old panacea also helps in balancing gut flora which is the ratio of good and bad bacteria that is vital to our gut microbiome as well as provides a daily dose of gut repairing collagen and keratin, a crucial part of healing a leaky gut.
And what to steer clear of?
Grain-based carbohydrate foods, sugar, and artificial sweeteners, which may cause dysbiosis, together with increasing the consumption of vegetables and fermented foods which promote beneficial bacteria (5). As if we needed another reason to say goodbye to gluten as well as gluten-free grains. The cons far outweigh the pros in the gut health conversation.
Soy and soy derivatives, which are everywhere, from tofu to edamame to protein bars and powders and even nutritional supplement are to be avoided like the plague. Over 90 percent of the soy mass-produced in the United States is genetically modified (GMO). Much of this soy is “Roundup ready,” meaning it gets doused with more pesticide than you care to find out. Studies show Glyphosate (the active ingredient in Roundup®) leads to dysbiosis and then leaky gut. It also acts as an antibiotic in your gut and blocks the enzymatic pathway found only in bacteria that creates the three essential amino acids—phenylalanine, tyrosine, and tryptophan—needed by the body (7).
Legumes can also be inflammatory; rich in anti nutrient compounds phytate (phytic acid) as well as lectins, beans can do a number on your GI Tract. Phytate is mainly found in seeds, grains and legumes and phytate reduces the absorption of minerals from a meal. These include iron, zinc, magnesium and calcium.
Lectins, found in all food plants, especially in seeds, legumes and grains may be harmful in high amounts, and interfere with the absorption of nutrients (8).
With the exception of the leaves and the berries, all of the items in the picture above are no-gos when it comes to an anti-inflammatory, gut healing diet.
Incidentally, celery juice for gut health?
Studies are underway to determine its validity and certainly while it would appear to be risk-free, to simply add celery juice to your protocol without removing the big, bad inflammation causing agents would be remiss.
All roads lead back to the suggestion to eat real food, once again.
A natural human diet, consisting of in season, local and ideally organic veggies in abundance, mindfully sourced wild proteins in moderation (we’re talking the size of the palm of your hand), and rich, natural fats.
This is what food is.
No need to worry about deciphering labels if you’re eating food which isn’t in a package!
Not for gut health.
To eliminate soy, all grains, nuts, seeds and beans in a vegan approach is to leave one with no protein sources, other than the trace amount one would procure from vegetables.
To reiterate, one needn’t shift to a meat-heavy diet; that’s not what an authentic ancestral approach is, anyway, for the record.
Think of it in the sense that when we eat what we’re meant to be eating as human animals, in the proper ratios, and most importantly, from mindful providers with the best interest of their animals, our planet and subsequently, our bodies at heart, we’re acting in the most symbiotic manner with the most benefits for all.
Don’t make the same mistake I did, years ago when I was trying to heal my own leaky gut. Two years of being a hard core vegan only made me sicker.
While it was tough to get out of that headspace, it was well worth it.
And in all honestly, I knew it early on; I was just too stubborn and entitled at the time to admit it.
The number of people who have written to me to ask for help extracting themselves from a similar situation is astounding; although I wouldn’t dictate a one-size fits all approach to eating, just consider if what you’re eating is really making you thrive.
And if you’re reading this thinking about how you’ve got every GI symptom in the book, or maybe just a few, it may well be time to finally pay attention to what your body, your temple is telling you.
Gut health? Eat real food.
(2) Kellman, Raphael, and Linda Mark. The Microbiome Diet: the Scientifically Proven Way to Restore Your Gut Health and Achieve Permanent Weight Loss. Da Capo Lifelong, 2015.
(6) Hyde J. The Gut Makeover. London: Quercus Editions Ltd; 2015.