The benefits of a plant-based diet in gut fortitude and overall wellness just might be what makes you make the change in your diet!
Evolution has taught us that our bodies are adaptive, not only to the presence of predators and changing natural external environments but also to the foods we eat. Unfortunately, sometimes our body’s adaptation to certain foods pave the way for negative responses, as is the case when looking at how many Western, meat-based diets fair against parts of the world where cruciferous diets are still the primary source of caloric intake. This is not to say that eating meat is detrimental, but rather, the types of meat we have come to consume have challenged our gut microbiomes to evolve, for better or for worse. Much of the meat consumed today includes detrimental amounts and variations of processing, which reduce not only the nutritional integrity of beef, pork, poultry, and even seafood, but also increases their caloric content. Most importantly, however, within the realm of healthy weight management, is how a negative microbial environment within the gut can inhibit weight loss, and even influence weight gain. As our gut flora varies from diet to diet, one thing has become abundantly certain over the last few years: harmful gut bacteria trigger a stressful biological response which can trigger high blood pressure, diabetes, metabolic syndrome, inflammatory bowel disease, and even atherosclerosis (5, 4). In contrast, primarily plant-based diets have been associated with reduced gut pathogens and harmful gut flora, which in turn are associated with a reduced risk for diabetes (9), cardiovascular disease, cancer (5), high body fat, BMI, obesity (8), and rheumatoid arthritis (RA)(3).
Equally as important is the link between a healthy gut and psychological benefits, acting as protective factors against depression, anxiety, stress tolerance, and dementia. Unfortunately, other popular diets obscure much of the information which ought to be considered relevant, with potentially false promises of immediate fat loss. For example, Ketogenic diets have been backed by research in their neuroprotective effects on the brain, as well as ability to promote weight loss. Unfortunately, much of the information of Ketogenic dieting involves the deception that eating primarily animal fat, all of the time, along with an abundance of dairy, is rooted in human evolution, and therefore healthy. This couldn’t be farther from the truth; I saw this as a huge proponent of Ketogenic dieting myself. While our ancestors did eat a significant amount of meat, as well as fat for fuel, they were not always privileged to such foods. Animal migration, weather, geographical location, and available hunting resources often limited them to a diet in the form of plants and seeds. While we wouldn’t consider them vegan or even vegetarian, they certainly were not consuming as much animal fat as we might be led to believe, let along so much dairy.
So now the real question, how does a plant-based diet positively contribute to the growth of beneficial gut bacteria, which promotes physical and psychological health? Researchers believe it has to do with the relationship between a high plant food intake and an abundance of beneficial gut bacteria known as F. praunsnitzii (6, 7). In addition, vegetarian and vegan diets have been linked to a reduction in negative gut bacteria known as pathobionts, namely Enterobacteriaceae (2, 10). F. prausnitzii is a commensal bacterium, meaning it benefits from its relationship with its biological environment, as much as its biological environment benefits from it. Low elevations of this type of bacteria have been associated with diets which emphasize meat intake. Clinically, it’s been associated with Crohn’s disease, Major Depressive Disorder, and high rates of obesity. It is widely known as the most important known gut bacteria for its ability to influence to production of short chain fatty acids (SCFAs) through the fermentation of dietary fiber. In contrast, Enterobacteriaceae is known as a Gram-negative strain bacterium, which ferments sugars into harmful lactic acid in the stomach. This constant fermentation of sugar produces a state of gut dysbiosis (1); a disease implicated state which destroys in an intestinal ecosystem with prolonged malnutrition. To place this into a more dire perspective, E. Coli and Salmonella are types of Enterobacteriaceae. In addition, many types of Enterobacteriaceae are resistant to antibiotics, presenting concerns to physicians and pharmacists often tasked with counteracting their harmful effects. For this reason, ensuring an abundance of commensal bacterium is vital, such as those potentiated by primarily plant-based diets.
Lastly, consumption if diets which consist primarily of meat have been known to increase levels of L-Carnitine in the bloodstream. From a physiological perspective, L-Carnitine is essential in energy production by stimulating fat release and distribution to the mitochondria. This is the basic premise behind a Ketogenic Diet. By stimulating the mitochondria to burn fat as fuel, the body is then able to release stored fat deposits for energy. However, many high-fat diets emphasize extremely low carbohydrate intakes, which simultaneously reduce the amount of dietary fiber intake. A reduction in dietary fiber greatly reduces the intestinal environment’s ability to produce SCFAs; if you recall SCFAs are critical in ensuring beneficial amounts of F. prausnitzii. In the absence of F. prausnitzii, combined with a presence of negative bacterium such as Enterobacteriaceae, the intestinal ecosystem begins to metabolize carnitine as opposed to absorbing it, which creates the harmful effect of hardening and narrowing of the arteries; also known as atherosclerosis (4). This occurs because the metabolizing of carnitine produces trimethylamine-N-oxide (TMAO), which can alter harmful cholesterol levels, induce thrombosis, and increase blood pressure.
Perhaps this article did not change your mind about becoming vegan or vegetarian at that, and rightfully so. Its purpose was not to do so, but rather to encourage a diet rich in beneficial plant fiber intake. Although meat intake can be beneficial in moderation, the vast majority of meat consumption is now the product of overly processed, harmful additives used to ensure product longevity. Our ancestors would never place 4lbs, let alone 4oz of bison, chicken, or mackerel on the shelf and wait until the weekend to eat it. For one, it would decompose, and two, other predators would smell this from miles away. As I mentioned earlier, I’m a huge proponent of Ketogenic Dieting, but also value the importance of ensuring most of my calories are actually from vegetables and seeds. Flax seeds, chia seed, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, and my favorite, hemp seeds, are a great way to get protein and giver, while ensuring another beneficial additive to your diet: Omega 3s. But that’s a whole different article for a later time!
Remember, food is fuel; strengthen the body, enrich the mind, cleanse the soul. Boomshakalaka!
- Clemente, J.C.; Ursell, L.K.; Parfrey, L.W.; Knight, R. The impact of the gut microbiota on human health: An integrative view. Cell 2012, 148, 1258–1270.
- Kim, M.-S.; Hwang, S.-S.; Park, E.-J.; Bae, J.-W. Strict vegetarian diet improves the risk factors associated with metabolic diseases by modulating gut microbiota and reducing intestinal inflammation. Environ. Microbiol. Rep. 2013, 5, 765–775.
- Kjeldsen-Kragh, J. Rheumatoid arthritis treated with vegetarian diets. Am. J. Clin. Nutr. 1999, 70, 594S–600S.
- Koeth, R.A.; Wang, Z.; Levison, B.S.; Buffa, J.A.; Org, E.; Sheehy, B.T.; Britt, E.B.; Fu, X.; Wu, Y.; Li, L. Intestinal microbiota metabolism of l-carnitine, a nutrient in red meat, promotes atherosclerosis. Nat. Med. 2013, 19, 576–585
- Le, L.T.; Sabaté, J. Beyond meatless, the health effects of vegan diets: Findings from the Adventist cohorts. Nutrients 2014, 6, 2131–2147.
- Matijašić, B.B.; Obermajer, T.; Lipoglavšek, L.; Grabnar, I.; Avguštin, G.; Rogelj, I. Association of dietary type with fecal microbiota in vegetarians and omnivores in slovenia. Eur. J. Nutr. 2014, 53, 1051–1064.
- Miquel, S.; Martín, R.; Rossi, O.; Bermúdez-Humarán, L.G.; Chatel, J.M.; Sokol, H.; Thomas, M.; Wells, J.M.; Langella, P. Faecalibacterium prausnitzii and human intestinal health. Curr. Opin. Microbiol. 2013, 16, 255–261.
- Rizzo, N.S.; Jaceldo-Siegl, K.; Sabate, J.; Fraser, G.E. Nutrient profiles of vegetarian an nonvegetarian dietary patterns. J. Acad. Nutr. Diet. 2013, 113, 1610–1619.
- Tonstad, S.; Stewart, K.; Oda, K.; Batech, M.; Herring, R.P.; Fraser, G.E. Vegetarian diets and the incidence of diabetes in the Adventist health styudy-2. Nutr. Metab. Cardiovasc. Dis. 2013, 23, 292–299.
- Zimmer, J.; Lange, B.; Frick, J.-S.; Sauer, H.; Zimmermann, K.; Schwiertz, A.; Rusch, K.; Klosterhalhalfen, S.; Enck, P. A vegan or vegetarian diet substantially alters the human colonic faecal microbiota. Eur. J. Clin. Nutr. 2012, 66, 53–60.
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