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Our gut health is incredibly important to our overall health and well-being. It can affect our chronic disease risk, mental health and even help us maintain a healthy weight. Although we already know that certain foods can help – or harm – our gut microbiomes, a recent study published in American Journal of Clinical Nutrition provides further evidence of how our eating patterns are related to our gut health.
The study was led by the team at Danone Nutricia Research (part of Groupe Danone, which sells many brands of yogurt in the United States) and followed 1,800 men and women aged 18 and older. The researchers tracked participants’ eating patterns through a food frequency questionnaire to determine which diets were most associated with the gut microbiome. The researchers also performed a retrospective analysis of data from the American Gut Project, the largest bowel health study in the United States to date.
The study divided participants based on their five different eating patterns:
Plant-based: Primarily vegetarians and vegans who ate little or no meat and large amounts of high-fiber products and whole grains. Through their FFQs, researchers calculated that people in this group had about 55% of the calories from carbohydrates, 13% from protein, and 28% from fat.
Flexible: People who ate some meat and lots of high-fiber, plant-based foods. This group had 44% of the calories from carbohydrates, 15% from protein and 36% from fat.
Health-conscious American diet: A dietary pattern rich in nuts, whole grains and dairy products, but also high in added sugar and refined grains and low in vegetables. This group had 43% of the calories from carbohydrates, 15% from protein and 37% from fat.
Standard American diet: This eating pattern is high in sugar-sweetened beverages and processed foods and has low diversity in plant-based foods and is low in fiber. This group had 43% of the calories from carbohydrates, 16% from protein and 37% from fat.
Exclusion diet: This restrictive diet was the lowest in carbohydrates and highest in fats and animal products. This group had the most fatty diet of any of the groups, having about 50% of the calories, with 28% of the calories coming from carbohydrates and 18% from protein. This type of diet will include very little starchy foods or sugars (think: keto or paleo).
Researchers found from the five eating patterns that those who followed a diet low in carbohydrates and high in fat had the lowest amount of Bifidobacterium, a beneficial type of intestinal bacteria. This is probably because these diets exclude high-fiber carbohydrates such as whole grains, fruits and potatoes, which help feed “good” gut bacteria. Conversely, those who followed a flexible diet had the greatest intestinal microbiome diversity – especially compared to the standard American diet.
So what does it all mean? Basically, this research shows that certain diets are better for your gut than others. Miguel Freitas, Ph.D., Vice President of Health and Scientific Affairs at Danone North America, says: “This study showed that the flexitaristic eating pattern, which includes larger amounts of plant foods but does not completely eliminate animal foods, was associated with better overall dietary quality. and one of the approaches that results in the most nourished gut. “
And it’s about balance, Freitas adds: “This study, along with previous research, strengthens that a healthy gut microbiota is supported by a balance between all food groups, without limiting high-fiber cereals or animal products, such as fermented dairy products, completely.”
If you want to nourish your gut, there are a few things you can do. First, eat plenty of high-fiber foods such as fruits, vegetables and whole grains. If you eat meat, try to cut back a bit – we have lots of delicious and audience-friendly recipes without meat (you can learn more about the flexitaristic diet approach here). Finally, do not follow a meal plan that eliminates an entire food group (unless it has been prescribed by your doctor). Your diet should have plenty of room for nutritious foods such as brown rice, whole grain pasta, fruits, vegetables and potatoes – they are not only delicious, but your gut will thank you too.