Gut health diets aren’t all that special

There are many gut health diets out there, but you might have the feeling they seem like just another bunch of diets that want you to prepare meals. 

So what are these health diets based on? The principle is that what you eat daily determines whether your gut feeds good bacteria or bad bacteria. With 100 trillion bacteria living in your gut, it is important to distinguish the good from the bad [1].

All about the gut health diets

If the 100 trillion bacteria consisting of good and bad in the gut are part of the so-called gut microbiome, which influences your digestion, metabolism and immune function?

When the number of bad bacteria is higher, it gives the opportunity for them to thrive and kill off helpful, good bacteria.

This results in an imbalance in the gut microbiome. Having an imbalanced gut microbiome can cause disruption to gut functions, such as gastrointestinal upset, obesity and mood disorders. 

Consuming foods that are heavy in sugar, artificial sweeteners, chemical preservatives and refined carbohydrates may nourish bad bacteria. This can cause inflammation and weight gain.

Also, limiting your diet to a few kinds of foods may also lower the diversity of your microbes. These are the microorganisms in the gut–which may throw you off balance. Hence, following a gut health diet can restore or maintain microbial balance, resulting in optimal gut health [2]. 

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In short, gut health diets require you to feed the good bacteria so you can get good digestion and metabolism and prevent any gut problems. In fact, gut microbes respond fast when you change your diet.

The lifespan of a single microbe is only around 20 minutes. This means the composition of your gut microbiome can be modified quickly just by eating foods that allow healthy bacteria to thrive. 

What to eat?

In gut health diets, you must prioritize foods that diversify your gut microbes and positively impact the gut microbiota. The primary goal is to help you bring back the balance. Here are the major types of food to eat when following a gut-health diet: 

1. Prebiotics

Number one on the list to eat are the prebiotics. These are non-digestible foods that can boost the growth or activity of good bacteria in the intestines. Also, prebiotics provides the food that the probiotics need to thrive. 

Some prebiotic foods are artichokes, asparagus, bananas, garlic, honey, oats, leeks, legumes, lentils and onions. These foods are not easily digested or absorbed in a good way.

Prebiotic foods bypass the small intestine and beeline into the colon and feed the good gut bacteria. Consequently, this may result in the production of short-chain fatty acids [3]. 

Gut health diets - What to eat?

2. Probiotics

Have you seen yogurts or yogurt drinks on the market shelves? Those are popular and accessible examples of probiotics.

As described as a good gut bacteria, probiotics positively thrive along with prebiotics in the gut.

Probiotics are live cultures and yeasts that boost the population and variety of good bacteria in the colon, helping your digestive system and possibly overall health. 

Some other examples of probiotics are fermented vegetables like kimchi, sauerkraut and miso and fermented milk like kefir that you must add to your diet when following a gut health diet.

Research suggests that probiotic-containing and fermented foods are associated with an overall healthy diet and lifestyle and promote good gut health [4].

Both prebiotics and probiotics are considered the building blocks of the microbiome diet. In a gut health diet, you must incorporate these two in your diet, with at least one to three servings of these foods in your everyday diet that can feed and nurture your microbiome.

3. Polyphenols

Aside from probiotics and prebiotics, your gut microbes love to consume polyphenols as well.

Polyphenols refer to a type of plant chemical that can be naturally found in apples, artichokes, berries, red onions, tea, dark chocolate and other fruits and vegetables; these polyphenols can also increase the amount of helpful Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus bacteria in the gut.

Gut microbes feed on polyphenols and release beneficial substances that can positively influence certain medical conditions, like cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and aging [5]. 

4. Diverse plant foods 

It is also suggested to eat a wide variety of plant foods when following the gut health diet. Dietitians recommend eating at least 30 different plants every week, with a combination of fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes and herbs—or as many varieties as you possibly can. 

The recommendation mentioned came from the health experts at the American Gut Project. They discovered that people who consumed more than 30 different plant foods every week had a more diverse gut microbiome compared with those who only ate 10 or lesser. 

Practicing mindful eating

Properly chewing your food can greatly impact a healthy gut; this is what gut health diets generally promote. There are significant enzymes in the saliva that can stimulate the digestion process. 

Limiting your intake of food triggers can be beneficial as well. One good example of food triggers is foods with heavy sugar content.

They can feed bad bugs and make your gut microbiome imbalanced. The gut health diet plan includes not eating processed foods, artificial sweeteners, gluten-containing grains and dairy products. 

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Are gut health diets that special?

As you fully understand gut health diets above, we could go back to the main question: are they really special? The answer simply depends on your health goals. 

If you aim to lose weight, doing gut health diets may not be that effective. You still need to pair them with exercise to see results.

Following a fasting-mimicking diet, calorie-restriction diet and intermittent fasting can be of help. On the other hand, if you aim to establish a healthy eating pattern and healthy gut function, gut health diets may help. 

As mentioned in our previous articles about the gut, the research studies behind gut microbiome can be that promising but still are new and lack different research angles.

Gut health diets offer a new perspective to help you have a healthy digestive system, but this does not mean that they are above any other types of diets. It only focuses on diversifying your food intake to build a well-balanced microbiome. 

Some health experts that are still skeptical about gut health diets stated that eating enough fiber and limiting processed foods are healthy eating practices (as promoted in gut health diets); however, many of them are cutting off multiple food groups without strong scientific backing. 

What does the research say?

Following a gut health diet can benefit the gut microbiome–this for sure is scientifically backed up.

Consequently, having a healthy gut affects overall health positively. Many research studies show that the gut microbiome contributes to immunity and inflammation [6], which can result in reduced risks of certain fatal diseases [7], primarily inflammatory bowel disease [8], type 2 diabetes [9], cardiovascular disease [10] and cancer [11].

Scientific research about gut health diets

Nevertheless, scientists need to research more about the effects of particular foods and bacterial species on the makeup of the microbiome.

For instance, in a 2019 study, the researchers found that similar foods could affect people’s gut flora in various ways, which depend on an individual’s gut microbiome.

The findings suggest that a certain diet individually influences the microbiome of a person–not all have the same impacts [12]. 

Following the previous research on the gut microbiome, you may refer to the fact that genetics play a significant role in the composition of a person’s microbiome.

It strongly backed up the claim of the mentioned research above that the effects of gut health diets are individualized [13]. Hence, we still can’t generally claim that a certain gut health diet is effective for all. 

Takeaways

Yes, the plant-based foods that gut health diets promote can aid in losing weight. Also, people can gain health advantages by following gut health diets, as their eating plan involves fruits, vegetables, healthy fats and lean proteins.

Take note, though, that side effects may occur to some people as there are certain restrictions and supplements a gut health diet recommends.

For example, some dieters experience bloating and stomach gas when taking probiotics and having a sudden increase in fiber from their diets.

The side effects typically die down over time as the body gets used to a higher amount of fiber intake. Meanwhile, probiotic treatments are recommended to be individualized, as not everyone can benefit from the same strains.

Before shifting to any gut health diet, it is advisable to consult first with a doctor, especially if you are pregnant, breastfeeding, taking medications and have chronic health conditions.

Also, using gut health supplements may be unnecessary for some people, so talking to your doctor is also recommended. 

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[1] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3667473/
[2] https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/microbiome/ 
[3] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28793992
[4] https://www.nccih.nih.gov/health/probiotics-what-you-need-to-know
[5] https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/pdfdirect/10.1002/fft2.25 
[6] https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0092867414003456
[7] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5385025/
[8] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31910984/#
[9] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8747253/
[10] https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fcimb.2022.903570/full 
[11] https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fimmu.2021.622064/full 
[12] https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1931312819302501 
[13] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5385025/ 

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