Top 5 Takeaways About Fiber, Fruit & Vegetable Consumption & Its Impact On The Gut Microbiome

Over the past few years, the terms “microbiome” and “gut health” have exploded into the public consciousness due to an increase in newly published scientific research, media coverage, health and wellness trends, and food and beverage product innovation. Interestingly, Google Trends data show a steep incline in the amount of people searching for “microbiome,” indicating a steady increase in public awareness and curiosity in what factors impact our gut health.

The gastrointestinal tract is home to trillions of microbes, collectively called the gut microbiome. The amount and types of bacteria found in our gastrointestinal tracks and our entire bodies can vary drastically from person to person, and there has been some debate about what makes up a “healthy” human microbiome. Specifically, there is great interest in the health impact of consuming fiber-rich foods, including fruits and vegetables, on the gut microbiome. Researchers focused on the gut microbiome extensively examine how dietary choices can impact the gut microbial profile, including the influence of prebiotics and probiotics from foods and beverages.

This new and emerging research field has shed additional light on the fact that eating more fruits and vegetables is important for positive health outcomes. While this connection may not be surprising, it is troublesome when we consider that most people do not consume the recommended amount of fruit and vegetables.

The International Food Information Council (IFIC) Expert Webinar, “An Apple A Day? Emerging Research On The Impact Of Fruits, Vegetables & Fiber On The Gut Microbiome,” explored how fiber-rich foods, including fruits and vegetables, impact the gut microbiome, as well as new research on the diverse makeup of prebiotic and probiotic availability in fruits and vegetables and potential positive health impacts.

Here are the top takeaways from the webinar, featuring Dr. Katrine Whiteson and Dr. Wisnu Wicaksono (of the Dr. Gabriele Berg laboratory):

1. Fiber is important for gut health, and we need more of it.

A healthy eating pattern includes adequate amounts of fiber from diverse sources. However, a large majority of people are not consuming the recommended amount, mainly due to chronically low fruit, vegetable, and whole-grain consumption. Fortunately, most high-fiber foods contain a mix of fiber types, so it’s relatively easy to get diverse varieties in meals or snacks if you focus on increasing your overall fiber intake.

2. Consuming a diversity of fiber sources from plants and fermented foods can improve diet quality and gut health.

A wealth of scientific evidence demonstrates that adequate dietary fiber intake from carbohydrate-containing plant foods has several health benefits, including maintenance of a healthy gastrointestinal tract and reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and some types of cancers. The major food sources of dietary fiber, accounting for 85% of the fiber in the U.S. food supply, are grain products, vegetables, legumes, nuts, soy, and fruits. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends eating a mixture of these foods.

3. The soil’s biodiversity impacts plant microbiomes and your microbiome, too!

Soil comprises its own microbiome. Maintaining soil health and biodiversity supports crop diversity in the food system along with the related nutrients and beneficial microbes found in crops. Thus, the soil microbiome impacts the availability of foods that can improve the profiles of our gut microbiome and our health. The work of farmers to continually evaluate and enhance farming practices to supports soil health and increases biodiversity.

4. Probiotic and prebiotics found in fruits, vegetables, and fermented foods offer a host of health benefits.

Two parts of our diet that are uniquely able to affect the microbiome are probiotics and prebiotics consumption. According to the International Scientific Association for Probiotics and Prebiotics, ”probiotics are live microorganisms that, when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit [for humans].”Probiotic bacteria process prebiotics as fuel, and together, this relationship could enhance the health of our gut microbiome. And while we don’t yet know what the “ideal” amount of daily prebiotic or probiotic intake is, plant-associated microbes provide a potential unique source of beneficial microbes to add to our gut microbiome.

5. Consumers care about how their food is grown, and many avoid fruits and vegetables due to concerns about pesticide use in food production.

The IFIC Spotlight Survey: Public Perceptions of Pesticides & Produce Consumption research found that 91% of people consider how food is grown when making food and beverage decisions. Of this group, 60% note the use of pesticides as a concern with growing food. When asked if they have ever decided not to consume or purchase food because of pesticide concerns, nearly 60% said, “yes”; nearly 3 % said “no”; and others were “not sure.” Vegetables and fruits are the top food groups avoided due to pesticide concerns. Therefore, informing consumers about the safety of our food system and the regulation of crop protection techniques should remain top of mind for food science, food safety, and nutrition communicators as they formulate public outreach plans that encourage fruit and vegetable consumption.