Research Finds These Mediterranean Diet Foods Protect The Gut Microbiome

mbg Editorial Assistant By Jamie Schneider
mbg Editorial Assistant
Jamie Schneider is the Editorial Assistant at mindbodygreen with a B.A. in Organizational Studies and English from the University of Michigan. She's previously written for Coveteur, The Chill Times, and Wyld Skincare.
Research Finds These Mediterranean Diet Foods Protect The Gut Microbiome

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In terms of doctor-recommended eating plans, you can expect to find the Mediterranean diet at the top of most expert-approved lists. From delaying the onset of Alzheimer's to promoting heart health to even protecting against certain types of cancer, the health benefits of eating a Mediterranean diet are numerous. 

In case you still aren't convinced by the gut-healing, metabolism-boosting eating plan that is the Mediterranean diet, let this new research from the University Medical Center of Groningen convince you of its magic. 

Previous studies have already found that this antioxidant-rich diet can benefit our gut microbiome. However, a new experiment presented at United European Gastroenterology Week 2019 highlighted which specific foods, all of which make up the beloved Mediterranean diet, can actually protect the gut microbiome. Notably, these foods allow anti-inflammatory bacteria to thrive in the gut—an exciting notion for people who suffer from inflammatory intestinal conditions like Crohn's and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

To make these associations, researchers analyzed stool samples from four groups: individuals from the general population, individuals with Crohn's disease, people with ulcerative colitis, and people with IBS. They compared each of these groups' dietary patterns with their stool samples and were able to find significant correlations between their microbiota and food patterns. 

What they found was that the consumption of vegetables, fruit, cereals, bread, legumes, fish, nuts, and wine (yes, wine) were associated with specific beneficial gut bacteria that help produce short-chain fatty acids, which are essential for cells to line the colon. A high intake of legumes, bread, fish, and nuts, in particular, also showed lower levels of inflammatory markers that tend to rise during bouts of intestinal discomfort. 

Of course, all of these foods fall under one anti-inflammatory umbrella: the Mediterranean diet. While this diet has already been studied for its role in relieving inflammation, it's exciting to know that there's yet another study that associates these specific foods with protecting our gut health

What also makes this study a little different is the distinction it makes between plant-based and animal-based diets. The study found that a higher consumption of fast foods and refined sugar actually increased inflammatory markers in the gut—and eating meat had this same effect. Animal-derived and plant-derived protein showed opposite associations on this beneficial gut bacteria, as plant protein increased the production of short-chain fatty acids. Animal protein, on the other hand, had the opposite effect. 

That's not to say we shouldn't consume any animal-based protein at all, as eating animal products can have beneficial properties of their own (the Mediterranean diet does include fish, after all). What there should be, according to this study, is a balance between animal- and plant-derived foods. 

Lead researcher Laura Bolte explains: "A diet characterized by nuts, fruits, greater vegetable and legume intake than animal protein, combined with moderate consumption of animal derived foods like fish, lean meat, poultry, fermented low fat dairy, and red wine, and a lower intake of red meat, processed meat and sweets, is beneficially associated with the gut ecosystem in our study." 

Although this is a very specific association, there is a diet out there that encompasses virtually all of these components. And, according to Bolte, monitoring the way we eat can become an important step in preventing and treating intestinal diseases. 

"Connecting the diet to the gut microbiome gives us more insight into the relation between diet and intestinal disease. The results indicate that diet is likely to become a significant and serious line of treatment or disease management for diseases of the gut—by modulating the gut microbiome," she says. 

While sipping red wine with friends and munching on nuts might not sound like a significant improvement to your health (although, studies have shown that just spending time with friends can boost mental health), keep in mind that the Mediterranean way of eating does so much more for your body on a cellular level.

Ready to learn how to fight inflammation and address autoimmune disease through the power of food? Join our 5-Day Inflammation Video Summit with mindbodygreen’s top doctors.

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