It’s pretty common knowledge that vegetables are good for you…but do you know why? What actually is it in vegetables that are good for our bodies? What in particular is good for the gut? Can you have too much of a good thing?
The first thing we need to understand when talking about vegetables and the gut is the gut microbiome.
What is the Gut Microbiome?
The gut microbiome is a collection of trillions of microorganisms of thousands of different species across your digestive tract, most of them being found in the small and large intestines. These microorganisms consist of bacteria, fungi, parasites, and viruses.1
We all have good and bad bacteria, and these microorganisms co-exist peacefully without incident in a healthy person. They can, however, be harmful if the levels of good and bad bacteria are not correct.1
So what is the use of all these bacteria? Well, they help the digestive tract break down the food that enters your body and turn the nutrients within the food into something your body can use.
The bacteria multiply when strong, so it’s important to feed the good bacteria rather than the bad ones, or the gut microbiome can become unbalanced.
When the gut microbiome is imbalanced, this is referred to as dysbiosis.2 When the gut is in this state, the body is more susceptible to illness, disease, gastrointestinal, and general health issues.
By feeding the good bacteria and allowing them to multiply, you leave less space for the bad bacteria to multiply and cause issues.
How Do I Feed My Good Bacteria?
Prebiotics are great for good bacteria, as our bodies can’t break them down, so they arrive at the good bacteria intact and ready to be consumed.3 If our good bacteria isn’t fed, it can eat your intestinal lining, leading to inflammation, so it’s really important to give them the nutrients they need.
Good bacteria thrive on nutrients. Dietary fibre, a prebiotic, is a fantastic source of nutrients for the good bacteria, as it arrives in our gut relatively intact and is not digestible by our bodies. (3) This allows the good bacteria to feast on it, growing stronger and multiplying to leave less room for the pesky bad stuff.
Can I Eat Too Many Vegetables?
You may be surprised to hear that eating too many vegetables can harm the gut. Anything we consume, if we consume it in excess, can have a negative impact, so it’s important to eat everything in moderation.
Although fibre is essential to digestion, consuming too much can lead to excess gas in the body, causing bloating and discomfort. The recommended daily intake of vegetables is 2.5-3 cups.10
If you want to eat more vegetables but don’t want the added discomfort, you can limit your raw intake of vegetables. Consuming raw vegetables allows us to receive more nutrients, but with this comes more fibre.
Cooking your vegetables can still help you to receive some of the goodness without the discomfort if you want to eat a lot of them.10
Which Vegetables are Good for My Gut?
Garlic has fantastic health benefits, particularly for the gut. Garlic is a prebiotic food which stimulates the growth of good bacteria in the gut - and as we now know, this is essential to maintaining a healthy gut microbiome.4
Garlic is known to boost the immune system by reducing inflammation in the gut through its prebiotic qualities. It also contains Vitamin B6, Vitamin C, Selenium, Fibre, Calcium, Copper, Potassium, Phosphorus, Iron and Vitamin B1, making it an incredibly beneficial health food at only 4.5 calories per clove.4
Fermented vegetables have a hugely positive effect on the body. Sauerkraut is a probiotic food which is fantastic for the gut microbiome.5 It adds to the good bacteria in your gut which helps to balance it out whilst overpowering the bad bacteria lurking around.
It’s best not to heat sauerkraut, as it can kill the good bacteria that your gut is waiting for.6 It’s fantastic added to salads, wraps, soups, or as a condiment to add to any meal. You don’t need to eat much of it to feel the health benefits, so a jar of sauerkraut will last you well.
Potatoes and other starchy root vegetables are high in carbs, so they are great for slow-release energy. Potatoes are also a probiotic food due to their resistant starch content, making them an excellent food for the gut.7
Potatoes have the highest fatty acid conversion percentage, as the resistant starch feeds the good bacteria once it reaches the large intestines. These bacteria turn the resistant starch into short-chain fatty acids essential for our overall health.7
Spinach is another excellent source of fibre you can add to your diet. It is full of nutrients in the form of Vitamin C, Vitamin K and Vitamin A, providing many health benefits.
One of the best health benefits of spinach is that it contains sulfosugar (sulfoquinovose), a type of sugar that encourages the growth of healthy gut bacteria.8 Healthy gut bacteria are essential for maintaining a balanced gut microbiome which will, in turn, aid your overall health.
Spinach can be included in many dishes like soup, curry, stir fry, pasta dishes, and pizza - the list is endless. When cooked to be small in size, Spinach wilts can go unnoticed whilst adding substantial health benefits to your meals.
Cabbage is high in fibre, which is excellent for your gut health. Fibre adds bulk to your stool, which reduces the risk of constipation and diarrhoea. Cabbage is low in calories but high in nutritional value, as well as being low cost.
Cabbage is high in B vitamins (B1, B2 and B6) which have energy-boosting properties.9 You can add shredded cabbage to a stir fry, curry, roast dinner or many Chinese dishes, making it a versatile vegetable that goes well with most foods.
The Bottom Line
It’s so important for our overall health to maintain a healthy gut microbiome, and vegetables can go a long way to helping us get there.
Although vegetables can be a fantastic tool to boost the good bacteria in your gut, it’s important to consume them in moderation to avoid the adverse effects of overindulging.