What Does a Healthy Gut Eat? Here’s the Answer

shutterstock_51917494It turns out that a Mediterranean-style diet isn’t just good for your heart; it’s also good for your gut. How do we know? Because findings from a new study—published appropriately in the journal Gut—tell us just that.

Researchers from the University of Naples in Italy recently looked at the eating habits of more than 150 adults over a single week, taking regular stool and urine samples to analyze the participants’ gut bacteria in response to the foods they ate. What they found is pretty interesting.

Individuals who followed a Mediterranean diet—one rich in healthy fats, protein, and especially fiber from non-starchy veggies, low-sugar fruits, and legumes—had higher levels of beneficial short-chain fatty acids in their guts. SCFAs are formed when fiber from plant foods breaks down in the large intestine (or colon), and they provide countless health benefits for the body.

It was noted that different dietary patterns were linked to different microbial compositions, and the more healthy foods an individual consumed, the more his or her gut bacteria worked to produce SCFAs—which in turn helped regulate microbial metabolism and support overall health.

In addition to their role in healthy metabolic function, past research shows SCFAs support bowel health and promote a healthy inflammatory response in the body. They have been linked to a reduced risk of heart disease, diabetes, and related conditions.


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Study: Healthy Aging Begins with a Balanced Gut

shutterstock_290950880Early in life—and quite possibly starting in the womb—each of us begins to develop a unique population of bacteria inside our bodies called our microbiome. Those bacteria reside mainly in the gut and play an important role in overall well-being from birth to adulthood, but with age we often experience a decline in the “friendly” microbes known to support digestive and immune health.

With this in mind, scientists wonder if keeping the gut bacteria in balance could improve intestinal function and help ward off age-related disease. With the help of colleagues from the Scripps Research Institute in Florida, a team of researchers from the University of California Los Angeles recently conducted a study using fruit flies, in which they altered the gut bacteria of the flies to see if it would result in a longer lifespan.

Fruit flies were chosen because of their relatively short lifespan, which makes them ideal for a study like this one. As it turns out, changing the microbial population of the flies helped prevent a breakdown in the gut lining which typically occurs shortly before their death. According to the study findings, the flies’ health was significantly improved, and they were able to live about one and a half times longer than their normal lifespan.

“Age-onset decline is very tightly linked to changes within the community of gut microbes,” said David Walker, PhD, senior study author and a professor of integrative biology and physiology at UCLA. He and his team believe applying the same techniques in humans may one day help prevent diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, heart disease, and more.

One of the most important ways we can support a balanced gut is by eating plenty of non-starchy vegetables, low-sugar fruits, fermented foods, healthy fats, and protein. Try to limit or avoid sugar, starchy foods, artificial sweeteners, and unhealthy fats.


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