- Research shows that 16 weeks of a vegan diet can boost the gut microbiome, helping with weight loss and overall health.
- A healthy microbiome is a diverse microbiome. A plant-based diet is the best way to achieve this.
- It isn’t necessary to opt for a strictly vegan diet, but it’s beneficial to limit meat intake.
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.
“We expected to see changes in the gut microbiome on a plant-based diet,” Kahleova told Healthline. “However, it was surprising to see how fast the changes occurred and how profound they were.”
When asked what the biggest takeaway of the research is, Kahleova was unequivocal.
“Eat more plants,” she said. “They contain fiber that boosts the gut microbiome and metabolic health.”
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.
But when the microbiome is unbalanced, things can get out of whack.
“What’s happened is we’ve moved to a more Western diet that includes such highly processed foods like bread, rice, pasta, and a lot of animal meat,” explained Sharon Zarabi, RD, CDN, CPT, bariatric program director at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York.
“That has changed the harmony of the microbiome,” Zarabi told Healthline. “A lot of the gut bacteria are imbalanced, and that can lead to exacerbated symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome, decreased immune system, and even proliferation of cancer cells.”
Kristin Kirkpatrick, MS, RDN, manages wellness nutrition services at the Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute in Ohio. She says the researchers’ findings aren’t surprising.
“Multiple studies show benefits to a plant-based diet. One of the greatest predictors of good gut health is a variety of antioxidant-, phytonutrient- and fiber-rich foods. Plants provide the bulk of these,” Kirkpatrick told Healthline.