- Researchers have found that people who follow a 16-week vegan diet improve their health, lose weight in a healthy way, and boost their gut microbiome
- The best way to achieve a healthy and diverse microbiome is by following a plant-based diet
- You don’t need to follow a strict vegan diet, but you should avoid eating meat
New research shows that people who follow a vegan diet, get improvements in blood sugar management and body weight as a result of an improved gut microbiome.
It doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll have to renounce eating meat and dairy. But sticking to a vegan diet is most definitely a healthier choice.
The new research, led by Dr. Hana Kahleova, MD, Ph.D., of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, was presented this week at the annual meeting of the European Association for the Study of Diabetes in Barcelona, Spain.
147 participants were randomized into two groups and studied by researchers. One group didn’t make any changes in their diet, while the other one followed a low-fat vegan diet.
After 16 weeks have passed, the study was completed, and researchers reported that the vegan group saw their fat mass, body weight, and visceral fat levels go down.
“Changes in the gut microbiome was something we predicted in people who followed a plant-based diet,’’ said Kahleova for Healthline. “But still the results came faster and astonishingly better than we expected.”
Kahleova was unequivocal when answering about what the biggest takeaway of the research is.
“Consume more plants,’’ she said. “They boost the gut microbiome and metabolic health, because they contain fiber.
What actually is the gut microbiome?
It is worth knowing what’s the microbiome, because this research deals with how a plant-based diet boosts the gut microbiome.
When properly balanced, the microorganisms that live in the digestive tract are promoting a healthy digestive tract, along with the immune system, bowel movements, hormones and metabolism that keep regulating appetite.
Things can get out of order when the microbiome is unbalanced.
“We’ve accepted the Western diet that includes highly processed foods such as rice, pasta, bread and a lot of animal meat,’’ explained Sharon Zrabi, RD, CDN, CPT, bariatic program director at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York.
“As a result, the harmony of the microbiome has changed,’’ Zarabi told Healthline. “The immune system is decreased, cancer cells are proliferated and symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome are exacerbated because most of the gut bacteria are imbalanced.
“Plant-based diets are shown to be beneficial according to several studies. Plants are working wonders for the gut health because they are rich in fiber, phytonutrients and antioxidants,’’ said Kirkpatrick for Healthline.
Is vegan or plant-based diet better?
According to dietitians, it’s more healthy to follow a plant-based diet rather than following a strict vegan diet.
“We increase the diversity of the microbiome when we eat more diverse food which contains different macronutrients such as fiber, protein, healthy fat and complex carbs,’’ said Zarabi.
“The vegan diet is rich in fiber and people who follow it will improve the gut microbiome. But when we consume less meat, we are also limiting the income of animal protein. So if you’re following a vegan diet make sure to eat beans and other vegetables which provide protein. It’s very important not to fall short on any nutrients,’’ said Zarabi.
Even though veganism has undeniable ethical reasons – including the welfare of animals and reduction of one’s carbon footprint, it’s very important to monitor one’s nutrition.
“If your foods are frozen dinner and white grains, the vegan diet you follow can be less advantageous,’’ said Kirkpatrick. “Make sure to do your research and get recommendations from your dietitian or doctor.’’
What you eat is what you are
It is very difficult to stop eating burgers and fries, and to start eating veggies and lean protein but it is not an impossible mission either.
“I believe that you should first familiarize with different vegetables and especially vegetables rich in prebiotic fibers,’’ said Zarabi. “Probiotics initially feed on indigestible fibers that encourage the proliferation and growth of the probiotics.’’
High-prebiotic foods include garlic, onions, asparagus, cashews, lentils Jerusalem artichokes and chickpeas.
Zarabi cautions that bloating and gas are the initial effects that happen to the body as it adapts to these foods if they are unfamiliar to the gut.
“Give your body the time to adapt to these changes instead of panicking right away,’’ she said. “You should also consider working with a dietitian in order to figure out which vegetables or prebiotics are better for you if you experience GI distress.
It’s helpful to think in terms of thirds when you plan meals.
For example – A third of the plate should be lean protein sources, a third should be vegetables and a third should be complex carbs, such as sweet potatoes, bran, beets, oats and quinoa.
You can also add healthy fat such as avocado oil or olive, because they can improve the health of your heart.
Kirkpatrick recommends to stop eating red and processed meat, or to limit these products to twice a month.
“Your health is affected by what goes into your body, because you are basically what you eat,’’ Zarabi said.
“Always think about what you eat, and try to eat foods close to nature as much as possible, they are the best for you.’’
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