What Diet Is Best for Gut Health?   

What Diet Is Best for Gut Health?

Table of food of the Mediterranean diet - salmon, nuts, avocado
Clinical Contributors to this story:
Rosario Ligresti, M.D.

The gut microbiome is made up of trillions of microorganisms or bacteria that live in our intestines and throughout our bodies. That may sound gross, but it plays an important role in your overall health and risk for developing serious medical conditions like heart disease, diabetes, stroke, irritable bowel syndrome and cancer.

Your gut microbiome is shaped by what you eat, as well as your lifestyle, environment, stress and other factors. Since nutritional intake is critical to a healthy gut, what diet might be best to feed it? Rosario Ligresti, M.D., chief of the gastroenterology division at Hackensack University Medical Center, weighs in on the latest diet trends and grades each on how safe and healthy it is for gut health.

Intermittent Fasting

What Is It? Intermittent fasting is a pattern of eating where you withhold food for a certain amount of time and allow your body to use energy more efficiently. Instead of using energy from intake, such as carbs, you are breaking down fats.

Grade: B

“Giving your digestive system a break by restricting your eating to a certain period each day can be helpful in losing excess weight, controlling blood sugar and reducing inflammation,” says Dr. Ligresti. While there isn’t yet enough research to definitively say whether intermittent fasting is good for gut health, stopping eating a few hours before going to sleep at night can help you sleep better and avoid heartburn and indigestion. 

Keto Diet 

What Is It? A ketogenic diet involves eating very few carbohydrates so your body produces more ketones, chemicals made by your liver that turn fat into energy. Since you’re not eating many carbs, there isn’t enough glucose or sugar to turn into energy, so your body turns to fat as its energy source. This puts your body into a state of ketosis. “While it originally was used as a treatment for epilepsy, the keto diet has gained popularity in recent years as a potential treatment for obesity and metabolic disorders,” says Dr. Ligresti.

Grade: C

Studies are conflicted on whether the keto diet is good for gut health. “Keto naturally restricts foods rich in FODMAPS, which are types of sugar that some people have trouble digesting, so it may lower irritable bowel syndrome for these people,” says Dr. Ligresti. But keto limits foods that are high in fiber, which aids in digestion, so proceed with caution. 

Mediterranean Diet

What Is It? The Mediterranean-style diet includes eating veggies and fruits, whole grains, potatoes, beans, nuts and seeds, as well as low to moderate amounts of dairy, eggs, fish and poultry. It prioritizes olive oil as a primary fat source and limits red meat, added sugars, high processed foods, refined carbs and saturated fats.

Grade: A+ 

“The Mediterranean diet is superior because it’s high in fiber and encourages eating a variety of nutrient-dense foods,” says Dr. Ligresti. “It is easier for most people to follow because it’s not as restrictive about what foods you can eat.” In addition, studies have shown that a Mediterranean diet can reshape the gut microbiota of obese people by increasing good bacteria that protect against inflammation and disease. 

Vegan Diet

What Is It? A plant-based diet that contains no meat or animal byproducts and has been thought  to help people lose weight.  

Grade: A   

“Like the Mediterranean diet, a vegan diet emphasizes nutrient-dense foods and is high in fiber, which is great for gut health,” says Dr. Ligresti. “With that said, a vegan diet is more restrictive about what types of foods you can eat.” It may require more planning ahead to make sure you’re getting the nutrients your body needs to keep healthy. 

If you’re concerned about your gut health, talk with a doctor or nutrition coach to help you learn what tweaks you might make in your diet to feel better.

Next Steps & Resources:

The material provided through HealthU is intended to be used as general information only and should not replace the advice of your physician. Always consult your physician for individual care.



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