Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Research Round-Up: Mediterranean diet and gut microbiota

I've been reading a lot of research lately: research for my second book, research on heart health for a consulting contract I have coming up at Microsoft, and just general interesting tidbits here and there because I think it's fun.  Yes, you heard me. Fun. I love keeping up on current research trends and assessing study construction to see if the author's interpretation of the results is a true assessment of the data.

Since I'm preparing for Microsoft, which is counseling for mainly cholesterol and weight loss, I've been focusing on dietary trends that affect those two topics, and this study popped onto my radar.

It's no secret that I'm a huge fan of the Mediterranean diet. If I had to pick one diet to rule them all, one diet to recommend to clients, this would be it.  In fact, this is the diet I recommend to clients. It's also how we model our eating at home. (For a quick Mediterranean diet starter guide from the University of Wisconsin click here).  I'm always on the lookout for any new research about the diet and to be honest, I haven't seen anything negative.

This latest piece of work, examining how the Mediterranean diet impacts the gut microbiota seems really basic: you eat more vegetables and fiber and your have healthier gut flora because all the little bacteria in your gut eat it (check out this informative infographic from Scientific American), but I think it's worth talking about because so much emerging research is examining the impact of the microbiota on our health. It effects everything--our weight, our mood, our nerves and of course, our gut. For a quick article on the microbiome's impact on our overall health, click here.

So how was this study designed? The took a group of Italians and broke them down by eating pattern: vegan, vegetarian and omnivore. Most of the vegans and vegetarians and about 30% of the omnivores followed a Mediterranean-style eating pattern. They then assessed the health of the gut flora and determined that the more vegetables and fiber you eat, the healthier your microbiome. If you follow a vegan Mediterranean diet, your intestinal bacteria will be the healthiest, but if you follow an omnivore Mediterranean diet, you won't be doing too badly. And of course, the more meat you eat, especially red meat, the worse off your gut flora will be.

What are the practical implications? Eat vegetables at lunch and dinner, and snack on fruits and nuts. Eat beans most days, whether it's refried beans with tacos, hummus with carrot sticks or a garbanzo beans in a curry chicken stew. And eat whole grains like whole wheat bread, quinoa, millet, brown rice and bulgur. I know this all seems like old hat, but changing this one thing can drastically improve your mental and physical health.  You could have more energy, suffer less depression and have an easier time losing weight (if that's one of your goals). An apple a day really can keep the doctor away.

Want more science? Check out my posts on non-celiac gluten sensitivity and FODMAPs here and here.

Want more Mediterranean diet-style recipes? Before Baby has a fantastic balance of vegetable-rich recipes, plus a little meat.


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  2. Love the med diet but its expensive getting all the ingredients in the UK!!

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