We Are What We Eat - What is the best diet for gut microbiome health and the function of our immune system?

Scientifically Reviewed by
Dr Fathalla Ali, PhD Paediatrics

18/9/2021

In the last few decades diets have come in and out of fashion and different people propose different diets for different perceived real or unclear health benefits.  But what does the science say? The answer may most clearly be shown in the science of the gut microbiome. Current evidence-based science tells us that many factors affect our gut microbiome health such as seasonality, lifestyle, stress, antibiotic use and diet.  It also tells us that the balance and diversity of microorganisms, or bugs, in our gut strongly influences the function of our immune system and our ability to prevent and fight disease. It has been stated by many studies that diet is a strong influencing factor on the balance of microorganisms in our gut but what diet is the best for improving the diversity of our gut bugs?

 

A recent study reviewed the many scientific studies that have been undertaken in this area and looked at six types of common diets to determine what the studies showed about which diet was the most beneficial for our gut health. 

The diets that were compared were:

  • Vegan/vegetarian Diet
  • Gluten-free Diet
  • Ketogenic Diet
  • Low Fodmaps Diet
  • Western Diet
  • Mediterranean Diet

The study went into a lot of detail about the scientific findings of the multitude of studies that it looked at.  It then summarized its finding with regard to the prevalence and balance of particular microbiota, or gut bugs, resulting from each diet.  Amongst many it looked at, two beneficial bacteria were Bifidobacteria and Lactobacillus.

 

The study concluded that a Mediterranean Diet centred around fruits, vegetables, olive oil, nuts, legumes and whole grains was the best diet for creating a healthy gut with microbiota diversity and stability. It found that the Mediterranean Diet has been linked to a large number of health benefits including the prevention of many diseases. So by eating a predominantly plant based diet and reducing the consumption of red meat and animal fats, we can increase the number of beneficial bacteria in our gut microbiome.

 

Conversely, eating a diet high in animal protein and saturated fat, sugar and salt can stimulate the growth of pathogenic bacteria in our gut microbiome.

The study very clearly concluded that a Western style diet that included industrialized food and food additives was likely to lead to the increase incidence of chronic disease.

 

The Mediterranean diet was found to be the “evergreen solution” to optimizing gut health and immune function and preventing disease including many gastrointestinal disorders and neurological disorders.

The study also alluded to the fact that future study of the gut microbiome may lead us to the development of personalized diets that modulate and restore gut health.

 

 

Keywords: Bifidobacteria, Lactobacillus, Mediterranean Diet, Microbiome, Immune system.

Reference:

Rinninella, E. et al, “Food Components and Dietary Habits: Keys for a Healthy Gut Microbiota Composition, Nutrients 2019, 11 (10), 2393
https://www.mdpi.com/2072-6643/11/10/2393/pdf
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