A 16-Week Vegan Diet Can Do Wonders for Your Gut Microbiome

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New research shows that following a vegan diet for about 4 months can boost your gut microbiome. In turn, that can lead to improvements in body weight and blood sugar management.

But it doesn’t mean you need to swear off the meat and dairy entirely.

It’s significant, however, that moving toward a more plant-based diet is probably the healthiest choice.

The research, led by Dr. Hana Kahleova, MD, PhD, 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.

Researchers studied 147 participants, randomized into two groups. One followed a low-fat vegan diet. The other made no changes to their diet.

After the 16-week study was completed, researchers reported the vegan group saw their body weight, fat mass, and visceral fat levels go down.

What’s the gut microbiome?

Because this research deals with how a vegan diet boosts the gut microbiome, it’s worth knowing what the gut microbiome actually is.

The microorganisms that live in the digestive tract, when properly balanced, promote a healthy digestive tract, along with the immune system, bowel movements, metabolism, and hormones that help with appetite regulation.

Plant-based or vegan: What’s best?

While the study specifically looked at people who followed a vegan diet, dietitians say that while a plant-based diet is the healthy way to go, it isn’t necessary to follow a strict vegan diet.

“When we’re eating a more diverse plate of food that has different macronutrients, such as protein and fiber and complex carbs and healthy fat, we get to increase the diversity of the microbiome,” Zarabi said.

You are what you eat

It might seem daunting to make the pivot from burgers and fries to lean protein and veggies. But it isn’t impossible.

“I think the first step is familiarizing yourself with the different vegetables that are out there, specifically the vegetables that have the prebiotic fibers,” Zarabi said. “These are the initial phase of what probiotics feed on: indigestible fibers that help encourage the growth and proliferation of the probiotics.”

High-prebiotic foods include asparagus, onions, Jerusalem artichokes, cabbage, garlic, cashews, lentils, and chickpeas.

Zarabi cautions that when these foods are unfamiliar to the gut, initial side effects could include bloating and gas as the body learns to adapt.

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