It’s often said variety is the spice of life – and when it comes to our gut health, research has shown this to be particularly true.
In fact, studies suggest that people with more diverse gut microbiomes enjoy better overall wellbeing, immunity and longevity. So, along with eating lacto-fermented foods, one of the best ways to encourage microbial diversity is to eat seasonally.
Have you ever noticed how tomatoes taste so much better in summer? Or felt the energising effects of switching to salads and spring greens as the weather gets warmer? How about the belly-warming, comforting benefits of enjoying more earthy root vegetables in winter?
Well, it’s not all in your head! According to research, your gut microbes also appreciate seasonal dietary switches.
One study of Tanzanian hunter-gatherers who followed a traditional diet for example, found that the microbes in their gut actually varied with the seasons. While most studies to date have focused on the microbiomes of people who eat a traditionally Western diet, the research that examined the diets of the Hadza people, revealed that their gut bacteria have an annual cycle, disappearing and reappearing in response to the types of foods consumed throughout the year. While the Hadza eat baobab tree fruits all year round, they eat tubers and plenty of meat in the dry season then forage for berries and honey during the wet season.
Researchers also found that many of the gut bacteria that fluctuate in the Hadza people are extremely rare in people living in developed countries. Plus the Hadza people’s gut microbiome is also about 30 per cent more diverse than that of people living in urban societies!
What this fascinating research shows is that we may have lost some species of gut bacteria when we began eating the same foods all year round. Processed foods, sugar, refined carbohydrates and taking antibiotics unnecessarily can also encourage the growth of bad bacteria and negatively affect our health.
While scientists still don’t fully understand the many complex ways in which our gut microbiome supports our health, studies have shown that encouraging the growth of good bacteria in our gut may play a key role in helping us manage conditions including asthma, eczema, obesity and autoimmune diseases. Furthermore, by encouraging gut microbial diversity we may also help to reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression.
The benefits of seasonal eating
Ayurvedic and Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioners also believe we should eat in harmony with the seasons to avoid seasonal imbalances that impact our digestive health and overall wellbeing.
The trouble is many of us have forgotten what is in season because our supermarkets and modern food supply chains give us access to everything, all the time. Sadly, the truth is much of this produce has travelled thousands of miles around the planet, sat in storage for months or been artificially ripened.
To combat this, why not sign up to a weekly organic vegetable delivery service? Or, spend some time in nature by taking a weekend trip to your closest farmers market to buy local and organic produce. Locally grown produce that has ripened naturally contains more vitamins, antioxidants and bioactive compounds. Plus, when you buy direct from the farmer you can get information directly from the source and find out if their produce has been sprayed with pesticides, preservatives, waxes and chemicals.
While we’ve always known that eating the rainbow can be beneficial for our health, this new research shows how different foods can impact and feed different microbes too. By eating a diversity of foods every day – including colourful fruits and veggies, nuts, seeds and lacto-fermented foods like kimchi, kefir, miso and sauerkraut – we can help to support microbial diversity and promote a happy gut and healthy, glowing skin.
Do you eat with the seasons? Let us know in the comments below.