What’s the Best Diet for Gut Health?Tuesday May 24, 2022
There’s definitely no shortage of diets out there for you to try. Maybe you’re looking for a diet that will help with your leaky gut. Or perhaps you’re looking for something that can help you better manage your IBS symptoms.
So that begs the question: Which is the best diet for gut health?
Let’s take a look at four of the most popular diets on the market today and how they stack up:
- Low FODMAP
Keto is known as the low-carb, high-fat diet. When you cut back on carbs (which is your body’s primary energy source), your body has to get its energy from somewhere else, so it turns to burning your fat stores instead.
A lot of people assume that burning your fat stores will automatically lead to weight loss. But losing weight on the keto diet still comes down to calories in vs. calories out (meaning you must be burning more calories than you’re taking in).
Nonetheless, the keto diet still has positive benefits for weight loss, and has also been shown to improve cholesterol levels, help manage blood sugar, and be good for your brain health.
What Does Keto Do to Your Gut?
Research is split on the long-term effects of going keto. A keto diet is also low on fiber, which is a key nutrient for digestion. Some studies show that going keto can decrease inflammation and is helpful for managing digestive problems like IBS or ulcerative colitis. Other research suggests that keto may be bad for your gut microbiome and eliminates good bacteria, which can lead to bloating, constipation, diarrhea, or other GI problems.
For example, one 6-month study of over 200 people found that a high-fat diet caused many bad changes to the gut, including more inflammation and a decrease in beneficial fatty acids. On the flip side, another 6-month study of over 50 people found that following a keto diet reduced several indicators of inflammation compared to a low-fat diet.
Your cavemen ancestors would consider paleo as the best diet for gut health. On this diet, you focus on eating as they did back in the stone age over 10,000 years ago. Your diet would revolve around unprocessed foods that are low in natural sugar—lean meats, seafood, eggs, nuts or seeds, non-starchy vegetables. There’s no room for dairy on the paleo diet.
But even with the restrictions, that hasn’t stopped people from bragging about its weight loss benefits, or the fact that it can help with blood sugar control and improve heart health.
Paleo’s Impact on Your Gut
Going paleo can impact your gut in both positive and negative ways. But a lot of it depends on how long you plan on eating paleo. Short-term use of this diet may be healthy for your gut, as it can limit foods that cause inflammation and harm your GI tract. It’s also an easy diet to follow if you have food allergies or sensitivities like gluten, wheat, or dairy. However, staying on the paleo diet for too long can have negative implications for the gut microbiome and has been linked to bad bacteria and gut microbes, as well as micronutrient deficiencies like vitamin D and calcium.
When you go vegan, it means eliminating any food sources that come from animals. So you’ll have to give up things like dairy and eggs. Essentially, your diet will come from plant-based foods and include things like fruits, vegetables, legumes, and grains.
Weight loss is one benefit of going meatless. In one study, two groups (both with type 2 diabetes) ate in a calorie deficit. One group adopted a plant-based diet, while the other ate a traditional diabetes diet. Want to take a wild guess on which group lost more weight? That’s right—the group that ate a plant-based diet lost about twice as much weight (14 pounds) over the course of the 6-month study.
Going vegan can also decrease your risk of developing heart disease and type 2 diabetes, among other things.
Is Being a Vegan Good for Your Gut?
The American Gut Project, which is the largest published study to date on the gut microbiome with over 11,000 participants, found that the number one most important factor of a healthy gut can be traced back to different plant foods you eat in your diet. According to the study, the best diet for gut health consists of 30+ different plant foods each week.
Vegan diets tend to be low in saturated fat and high in fiber, which is good for digestion. However, you want to make sure you’re getting enough vitamin D, omega 3 fatty acids, calcium, zinc, and vitamin B12, as vegan diets can be low in these nutrients. You’ll also want to pay attention to your iron levels too.
Low FODMAP Diet
FODMAP is an acronym for fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols. Being on a low FODMAP diet means your diet is low in fermented carbs.
Who Benefits From Low FODMAP?
If you need help managing symptoms with digestive conditions like IBS or SIBO, then a low FODMAP diet could be the right move for you. In one study, 75% of people reported relief from their IBS symptoms after eating a low FODMAP diet.
Unfortunately, a low FODMAP diet may not be suitable for you long-term. A lot of the items on the “avoid” list of a low FODMAP diet are important for your gut health. For example, cruciferous vegetables help maintain optimal levels of Faecalibacterium, a bacteria that’s key for supporting gut health. A low FODMAP diet also restricts garlic and onion intake, which can decrease probiotic species in the gut that give you energy, such as Akkermansia muciniphila.
So Which Diet Is Best for Your Gut?
Now that you have a rundown on some of the more popular diets out there, which one is actually best for maintaining a healthy gut?
That answer is a little complex but here’s what is recommended here at Sun Genomics:
- The best way to restore a healthy gut flora is by eating a well-balanced diet and getting enough fiber makes for the right combination of bacteria in your gut. Research shows that diets high in fat can have an unfavorable impact on your gut microbiota. They’ve been shown to reduce A. muciniphila and Lactobacillus, two “good bacteria” species that have been linked to being metabolically healthy. For that reason, we recommend a vegan or plant-based diet as the best diet for gut health.
- Some of the best foods for gut health include cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts. You can increase the good bacteria in your gut by consuming unsaturated fats in foods like walnuts or olive oil. Omega 3, 6, and 9 fatty acids are also good sources of unsaturated fats. Also, you’ll want to find a place for superfoods (low-calorie foods that pack a lot of nutrients) like kombucha or chia seeds in your diet.
- Some of the worst foods for gut health include artificial sweeteners, red meat, highly-processed foods, and alcohol.
- Research shows that probiotics are some of the best products for gut health. So consider supplementing with customized probiotics like what we offer here at Sun Genomics.
About the Author
Chad Richardson is a freelance writer from Cincinnati, OH who also enjoys going to the gym and doing his best Arnold Schwarzenegger impersonation, scrolling through Netflix trying to find a new binge-worthy show, and catching a game to root on his hometown sports teams.