Just like in our external environment, our internal environment – aka the gut microbiome – changes with the seasons. The human gut microbiome becomes populated around 1 year of age and continues being established through factors such as diet, environment, lifestyle, antibiotics and ageing. Obviously, due to the microbiome being located in the gut, diet is the major variable of gut microbiome composition.
The gut microbiome is responsible for regulation of many biological functions such as immune system response and preventing inflammatory diseases like inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). Keeping a healthy microbiota that contains a balance of higher beneficial and lower harmful bacteria strains can also support human metabolic homeostasis – how we process energy.
Research suggests that there is a strong interrelation between gut microbiome composition changing seasonally according to the seasonality of our food. Eating seasonally – or Ritucharya in Ayurveda – is effective in providing a favourable environment for prevention of seasonal or chronic infections due to bacterial imbalances in the microbiome. During seasons of higher fresh produce consumption more abundant levels of Bacteroidetes, the good guys, are found. This correlates to the presence of more fibre and complex carbohydrates in the diet; fresh salads and fruit during warmer months which is favourable for Bacteroidetes population.
The switch from comforting foods in winter to fresh foods in summer and vice versa is not only energising but beneficial for the diversity of your gut bacteria too! Plus who wants to eat the same thing all year anyway? Here are some tips for seasonal eating and diversifying your microbiome.
Buy Seasonal Produce
Although it might seem like an inconvenience that we can’t enjoy a mango all year round – sigh – your microbiome will thank you for it. Variety is the spice of life, and this is true to your microbiome health. For example, using root vegetables in a warming salad during winter can be an easy shift from the fresh and cooling vegetables we opt for in the summer, ultimately diversifying the way we feed our gut flora.
Not to mention that seasonal produce is more often than not cheaper than trying to stick to the same old vegetables – so it’s a win for your pocket too!
Don’t Forget Fibre
We all love a big bowl of warming pasta during colder months but let’s not forget about our microbiome’s favourite food, fibre. Luckily, there are ways to add a bulk of vegetables and fruits to your diet without even really noticing it. Grating vegetables into winter meals, blitzing them into soups or cooking apples and pears into warming breakfasts like porridge is a super simple and easy way of adding in seasonal fibres.
Shop at the Markets
Farmer’s markets are your best bet for finding and buying what’s in season. Unlike large supermarkets, farmer’s markets celebrate fresh seasonal produce and only sell what is available at the time. Which also dodges food nutrient loss that is seen in large supermarkets due to transportation, storage and ripening techniques. Markets are a great place to talk to growers about what is in season and trying produce that you wouldn’t usually buy or eat. Aim to try one different vegetable or fruit every time you go to add in some extra diversity.
A healthy diet diverse and rich in seasonal vegetables and fruits, alongside fermented foods and wholegrains, will support a healthy gut microbiome that cycles with the seasons.
Deepthi., R., Vandana, R. M., Robin, D. T., & Dileep, A. (2021). Adopting seasonal regimen (Ritucharya) to modulate the seasonal variation in gut microbiome. Journal of Ethnic Foods, 8, 1-9. https://doi.org/10.1186/s42779-021-00078-4
Zhang, P. (2022). Influence of foods and nutrition on the gut microbiome and implications for intestinal health. International Journal of Molecular Sciences, 23(17), 9588. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijms23179588
Davenport, E. R., Mizrahi-Man, O., Michelini, K., Barreiro, L. B., Ober, C., & Gilad, Y. (2014). Seasonal variation in human gut microbiome composition. PLoS One, 9(3)https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0090731