Simple changes made on a daily basis can have a transformative effect on your microbiome, which in turn can have a profound impact on your immunity and overall health.” - Michelle Schoffro Cook, Ph.D., DNM

In her latest book, Super-Powered Immunity Starts in the Gut (Healing Arts Press, 2024), Michelle Schoffro Cook, Ph.D., DNM, provides natural strategies to heal the gut, restore microbial balance, and fortify the immune system. Dr. Schoffro Cook also offers her Seven-Step Plan for a Great Gut and Super-Powered Immunity. The following is one of the steps, excerpted from the book with permission.

Eat a Gut-Supportive Diet

All gut bacteria and yeasts, good or bad, fight for space and nutrients in your intestines. In your bowels, that means they battle each other for attachment to your intestinal walls and for the nutrients you provide them with through the foods you eat. Eat a lousy diet and you’ll feed the harmful bacteria, but if you eat a diet full of fiber and natural prebiotics and a small amount of healthy sugars from fruit, you’ll feed the beneficial ones. We’ve all heard the old adage, “you are what you eat,” and when it comes to gut and immune health, the sentiment could not be truer. 

Research shows that the health of your gut is significantly influenced by what you eat. A study published in American Society for Microbiology (ASM) Journal evaluated 15,096 fecal samples provided by 11,336 people and found some interesting facts about gut health and the microbiome, including: 

  1. Plant-based diets produce the most diverse microbiomes. Diverse microbiomes seem to confer health benefits.
  2. Eating more than thirty types of plant foods weekly yields the most diverse microbiome. 
  3. There is a lower incidence of bacterial resistance in those who eat the greatest variety of plant foods weekly. 
  4. People who ate more than thirty types of plant foods weekly had less resistance to antibiotics. 
  5. A connection between gut health and mental health. 

Does that mean you need to swear off all poultry, eggs, fish, or meat? No, of course not. If you prefer a vegan or vegetarian diet, that’s your choice. Plant-based does not mean plant-exclusive; it means that the bulk of a person’s diet is plant foods like vegetables, fruits, nuts, grains, seeds, and legumes. There are many ways to boost the variety of plant-based foods you consume and to move your diet to a more plant-based choice. I’ve included some ways to help you get started in the text box that follows. 

Here are some suggestions to help you get started, but keep in mind that your choices should be whole foods, not heavily processed ones: 

  1. One day a week or more eat only plant foods. Start with Meatless Mondays but also be sure to make plant foods the focal part of your meals every day. 
  2. The next time you pass by that odd-looking fruit or vegetable in the produce section of your grocery store, add it to your cart. It’s easy enough to find recipes for lesser-known foods using a quick internet search. And, most importantly, add the food to your diet. 
  3. Instead of just snacking on almonds or another nut, branch out to try Brazil nuts, cashews, hazelnuts, pecans, pistachios, and of course, walnuts. Choose raw, unsalted varieties. 
  4. Rather than just adding a can of kidney beans to your soup, stew, or chili, opt for bean varieties you are less familiar with. That could include chickpeas, lentils, pinto beans, Romano beans, black beans, navy beans, and others. 
  5. The next time a snack attack strikes, choose a piece of fruit or a bowl of mixed berries, or some fermented pickles instead of chips or chemical-laden “buttery” popcorn. 

While this study didn’t specifically explore the effects of fiber, we already know that some fiber is used as food for beneficial microbes while other fiber assists in removing destroyed harmful microbes from the gut. Either way, a high-fiber diet helps boost great gut health. 

Of course, you’ll get lots of fiber if you follow the dietary guidelines we just discussed, but to help you make sure you’re getting 35 grams daily, here are some of the best fiber options. 

Give Your Gut a Microbial Boost 

It’s easy to give the gut a microbial boost, says Dr. Schoffro Cook. Here are a few of her preferred ways, as outlined in Super-Powered Immunity Starts in the Gut

  • Eat probiotic-rich fermented foods like sauerkraut (from the refrigerator section of your grocery or health food store), kimchi, vegan yogurt, or other foods with live cultures. 
  • Eat more plant-based foods since the natural fiber in these foods acts as food for beneficial bacteria and gives them a boost in your gut. 
  • Eat less sugar. Harmful bacteria and yeasts feed on sugar and cause the balance of good to harmful bacteria to shift in favor of the latter. 
  • Eat more fiber-rich foods like legumes, seeds, nuts, and whole grains. The fiber feeds beneficial microbes.