The Important Connection Between Food and Gut Health
WITH DR. ROBYNNE CHUTKAN, INTEGRATIVE GASTROENTEROLOGIST
As a leading expert, bestselling author, and Integrative Gastroenterologist, there’s no better source to explore the crucial link between diet and our microbiome —the ecosystem of bacteria that lives in our digestive system — than Dr. Robynne Chutkan. She’s been sharing her integrative, commonsense approach to digestive health cultivated over 25 years of medical practice.
Like everyone at Sakara, Dr. Chutkan believes health begins in the gut. To help us understand our digestive system better and reveal what plants can do to live a vibrant, healthy life, we sat down with her to pick her scientific mind.
Why do you personally eat plants?
As an integrative gastroenterologist, I know plants are good for me, but the real reason I eat them is because I feel great when I do. Eating plants - and getting sweaty every day - are my insurance policy for staying healthy. I don’t take any medications or supplements, and I feel like as long as I keep eating lots of plants, I won't need any.
How does plant-based eating work with your microbiome?
Eating lots of indigestible plant fiber provides food for your microbes! Gut bacteria in the colon ferment the fiber and produce short chain fatty acids (SCFAs) like butyrate, which cells lining the gut wall use as a source of energy to keep the gut healthy.
Do calories really matter?
It’s the nutrient and microbial density of food we should be paying attention to, not the calories. Calories are an artificial construct that can push us towards low-calorie nutritionally-empty junk food, instead of opting for higher calorie whole food that can actually provide our body with important nutrients, and help us maintain a healthy weight. I never pay attention to the calories on a package. In fact, I try to avoid packaged food that even has the nutritional information listed, and opt instead for unprocessed fruits and vegetables straight from the ground at the farmer’s market - no packaging or calorie count required! Diet sodas are a great example of why calories are misleading. Most are zero calories but can still raise insulin levels and increase your risk of weight gain and diabetes.
How does plant fiber help our guts?
Eating lots of plant fiber helps to create a healthy, balanced microbiome by increasing the prevalence of species like Faecalibacterium Prausnitzii, one of the most abundant species in plant eaters. F. Prausnitzii boosts our immune system, and helps protect against lots of different diseases. Plant fiber moves the products of digestion more efficiently through the digestive tract. A high-fiber plant-based diet can decrease your risk of developing colon cancer, diverticulosis, gallstones, hemorrhoids, constipation, bloating, acid reflux, irritable bowel syndrome, fatty liver disease, and virtually every other gastrointestinal disorder.
What was the biggest change you've seen in your life when you made nutrition the highest priority?
An enhanced sense of physical, mental and emotional well-being.
What is your hope for the American diet?
I’d love to see more people moving away from processed food, especially processed animal products like deli meat and hot dogs, which are huge risk factors for stomach cancer, and moving towards simple vegetable dishes, which are inexpensive, delicious, easy to prepare, and make you feel great.
What's the biggest myth about eating plant-based you'd love to bust?
That you don’t get enough protein. Plants have plenty of protein - 100 calories of broccoli has more protein than 100 calories of steak! Plus, so many of the diseases people suffer from being associated with a diet too high in animal protein, like cardiovascular disease, and many forms of cancer. People should be worried that they're not getting enough plant fiber, instead of worrying about getting enough animal protein.
What do you always have in your pantry/ fridge?
Fresh ingredients for my favorite Gutbliss green smoothie - kale, collards, spinach, parsley, mint, lemons, mango, and some coconut water.
What are you favorite plant-based dishes/ ingredients and why?
Sautéed callaloo - a hearty green that’s popular in Jamaica, where I’m from. I chop the whole plant up - stems and all, and sauté it with garlic, onion, habañero pepper, and a little olive oil. So good. And 5 grams of protein in just 1 cup!