June 01, 2021

Plant-based diet promotes health-boosting gut bacteria

Inside your body, a vast number of microorganisms — including bacteria — coexist peacefully and constructively. The largest number of these bacteria resides in the gastrointestinal tract. Researchers have identified many of them as contributing positively to your health, associating them with a reduced risk of some types of cancer, diabetes, obesity and other conditions. Others put you at higher risk of chronic disease.

A recent study published in Nature Medicine found that what you eat dramatically affects the makeup of those bacteria — as much or more so than do genetic factors. In the study, about 1,100 people kept detailed food diaries and had samples of their blood and stool analyzed. Those who ate mostly plant and animal-based foods that were minimally processed — spinach, seeds, tomatoes, eggs and fish, for example — were more likely to have a diverse mix of clusters containing health-promoting microbes in the gut. These microbes are associated with better results on measures of cardiovascular health, such as lower levels of LDL cholesterol, triglycerides and blood sugar (glucose). Those whose diets included higher levels of processed foods, such as fruit juices, bacon and other highly processed meats, showed higher levels of "bad" microbes.

Mayo Clinic experts say that the study gives further evidence of the health benefits of eating more whole, minimally processed foods and fewer highly processed foods.