The relative abundance of food in the world today, especially in the United States, has allowed for a shift in the diet of Americans to what is known as the Western Diet. A 'westernized' diet consists of foods very rich in refined carbohydrates, animal protein, saturated fat, and sugar. This diet is associated with many health risks like heart disease, cancer, loss of microbiome diversity, chronic inflammation, and other metabolic disorders.
However, the good news is most of these diseases and conditions are very preventable and may be reversible by eating healthy foods and improvement in your gut health.
The key to maintaining a healthy gut is to find foods that promote healthy gut bacterial growth and to find the right diet that suits your lifestyle. Below are three diets to consider if you're looking to improve your gut and manage your weight.
The Traditional Rural Diet
The traditional rural diet consists of foods high in plant-based proteins like tofu or beans and cruciferous veggies like cabbage, cauliflower, and kale. A traditional rural diet also includes foods rich in polyphenols like green tea or berries. You can also consume more unrefined versus refined grains such as oats or brown rice.
All of these elements together are considered a more traditional rural diet. Studies have shown that when people have increased their consumption of fruits and vegetables, they begin to see changes in their gut microbiome in as little as five days.
A traditional rural diet is great for fostering good gut health because it incorporates foods that promote the production of good bacteria in the gut. Individuals who want to explore this diet should be open to including a wide variety of fruits and veggies in their meals each day. Doing so increases the diversity of gut microbes, which results in a healthy gut.
Another way to take the traditional rural diet and boost your gut microbiome is to include probiotic and prebiotic supplements or foods. Fermented foods like kimchi or yogurt have a good source of probiotic properties to help diversify your gut microbiome.
The focus of the paleo diet is to return your diet from the westernized diet to the way early humans ate– foods that were obtained while hunting and gathering approximately 2.5 million to 10,000 years ago.
This diet helps avoid specific inflammatory foods commonly found in the western diet. A paleo diet plan typically includes lean meats, fish, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds; foods typically consumed during the paleolithic era– hence its namesake.
This diet limits the consumption of dairy products, legumes, and grains. The belief in limiting these types of foods is that farming had rapidly changed the way people ate and began to establish dairy, legumes, and grains as staples in their diets. These staples are now known to be contributors to diabetes, obesity, and heart disease.
Overall, the paleo diet has all the elements of a healthy diet– rich in vegetables, fruits, and nuts. But the primary difference is the lack of whole grains and dairy products which provide a good source of fiber, protein, calcium, and other essential nutrients.
Although the paleo diet eliminates foods that can trigger chronic inflammation, it’s important to note that these limitations can drastically change your gut microbiome and decrease your intake of resistant starch, which is also needed to produce good bacteria in your gut. Therefore, if you want to start this type of diet, it is highly recommended that you speak with your health care provider to create a diet plan specific to your needs and unique gut health.
Intermittent fasting involves cycling between fixed periods of eating and not eating. There are multiple ways to practice intermittent fasting, but one of the most popular ways is the “16:8 Diet.” This method involves limiting your eating period to 8 hours out of the day, followed by 16 hours of fasting. For example, some celebrities stick to an eating regimen of only eating between the hours of 10A.M. and 6 P.M., and fasting the rest of the day and night.
The science behind intermittent fasting can be explained through the role of brown and white fat cells. White fat cells are the typical “fat” that can build up around your hips, belly, and thighs. Whereas brown fat cells contain a high density of mitochondria that convert the cell’s lipids into heat to burn calories.
Researchers found that your microbiome and intermittent fasting could aid in “beiging” white fat cells to burn white fat cells faster than normal. In 2017, researchers found that in the study of intermittent fasting in mice, the fast mice had more Firmicutes bacteria in their gut, which stimulates the production of short-chain fatty acids like acetate, and lactate that helps regulate your gut.
An advantage to intermittent fasting is that there are other variations of fast that you can do like:
- Simply skipping breakfast
- Eating less than 500 calories a couple of days per week
- Or commit to fasting on alternating days of the week
It’s important to note that this type of diet should be practiced in moderation. In addition, eating periods should include foods filled with nutritional value. Individuals who struggle with eating disorders, body image issues, or anxiety may not want to steer clear of fasting entirely. Intermittent fasting is considered a drastic change to your diet; if you are interested in intermittent fasting, talk to your doctor or a health care professional before you begin.
What’s a good starting point to begin a gut-friendly diet?
Try mindful eating.
Change your relationship with food through mindful eating. Mindful eating is eating with the intention to nourish your body by selecting healthy foods and taking time to prepare your meals
To eat more mindfully, try these practices to start:
- Be selective in the foods you eat. Determine if the food you are eating is dense in nutritional value and weigh your options. Make sure those foods align with your health goals.
- Prepare your body and your food. Set your body in motion to accept the food you’re about to eat by preparing it. Activating your senses—like smelling your food, can help with the digestive process.
- Eat without distractions. Find an environment that supports your eating process and is distant from any stress that may be present. For example, avoid eating at your desk at work or even in front of the television.
- Before eating, pause and breathe for a moment. Think about the food in front of your and the time it took to grow, harvest, and prepare it. Showing gratitude and being present with your food allows you to appreciate its nourishment.
- Relax while you eat. Gorging food in a rush is not the ideal way to approach a meal. Take smaller bites and chew your food. Slowing down will allow the hunger signals in your brain to catch up with what you’re eating.
Still not sure where to begin? Take a gut microbiome test.
Kean Health’s Gut+ Microbiome Testing Kit is the perfect tool to give you the inside scoop of what’s happening in your gut, all from the comfort of your home.
Kean Health will give you a complete analysis of the health of your gut microbiome and how it may be affecting your overall health and wellness. Gut+ will also give insight into your probiotic, prebiotic, and vitamin needs. so you can stop guessing and start testing.