These Popular Diets Could Actually Be the Worst for Your Gut Health, According to a Recent Study

A young woman makes a heart shape with her hands on her stomach.

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Gut health is extremely important to our overall health and well-being. It can affect chronic disease risk, mental health, and even help us maintain a healthy weight. While we already know that some foods can help – or harm – the gut microbiome, a recent study published in American Journal of Clinical Nutrition It provides more clues about how our eating patterns relate to gut health.

The study was led by the team at Danone Nutricia Research (part of Groupe Danone, which sells several brands of yogurt in the United States) and followed 1,800 men and women ages 18 and older. The researchers tracked participants’ eating patterns with a food frequency questionnaire to determine which diets were most closely related to the gut microbiome. The researchers also performed a retrospective analysis of data from the American Gut Project, the largest study of gut health to date in the United States.

The study divided participants based on five different eating patterns:

  • vegetarianPrimarily vegetarians who eat little or no meat eat large amounts of high-fiber products and whole grains. Through their FFQs, the researchers estimated that people in this group had about 55% of their calories from carbohydrates, 13% from protein, and 28% from fat.

  • Flexibility: Individuals who ate some meat and a lot of high-fiber, plant-based foods. This group contains 44% of calories from carbohydrates, 15% from protein and 36% from fat.

  • The health conscious american dietA diet rich in nuts, whole grains, and dairy, but also high in added sugar, refined grains, and fewer vegetables. This group contains 43% of calories from carbohydrates, 15% from protein, and 37% from fat.

  • Standard American DietThis eating pattern is high in sugar-sweetened beverages and processed foods and has a low variety in plant-based foods and low in fiber. This group contains 43% of 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 highest fat diet of any group, scoring about 50% of calories, 28% of calories coming from carbohydrates and 18% from protein. This type of diet might include very little starchy foods or sugar (think: keto or paleo).

The researchers found that of the five eating patterns, those following a low-carb, high-fat elimination diet had the least amount of BifidobacteriumIt is a beneficial type of gut bacteria. This is likely because these diets exclude high-fiber carbohydrates like whole grains, fruits and potatoes, which help feed “good” gut bacteria. Conversely, those following a flexible diet had the greatest diversity in the gut microbiome—especially when compared to the standard American diet.

So what does it all mean? This research basically shows that some diets are better for your gut than others. “This study demonstrated that a flexible eating pattern that includes greater amounts of plant foods, yet does not completely exclude animal foods, was associated with better overall diet quality and one Methods that lead to a more nutritious gut.”

It’s all about balance, Freitas adds: “This study combined with previous research reinforces that a healthy gut microbiota is supported by a balance of all food groups, without completely restricting high-fiber foods or animal products, such as fermented dairy.”

If you want to feed your gut, there are a few things you can do. First, eat plenty of high-fiber foods like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. If you eat meat, try cutting back a bit—we have plenty of meatless recipes that are delicious and fun for the crowd (you can learn more about the flexible diet approach here). Finally, don’t follow an eating plan that excludes an entire food group (unless your doctor prescribes it). Your diet should have plenty of room for nutritious foods like brown rice, whole-grain pasta, fruits, vegetables, and potatoes — not only are they delicious, but your gut will thank you.

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