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Since I took a prolonged course of heavy-duty antibiotics several years ago, my gut has never been the same. Acid reflux, IBS — I’ve had all sorts of stuff happening. And it’s prevented me from living my life the way I want to.
A second glass of wine when I’m out with friends? Probably not a good idea. Greasy pizza at a family party? It’s a gamble.
I know a lot of people have similar stories. Antibiotics, prescription medications, stress, diet or other factors ruined their gut health. And now they don’t know how to make things right again.
I can tell you from personal experience that reclaiming your gut health once it’s off the rails is hard work. If you search for solutions online, most gut health gurus will tell you to cut out sugar, dairy, grains, legumes, alcohol, and even certain fruits and vegetables. This approach probably does work. But I wouldn’t know, because I’ve never been able to stick to it long enough to find out.
I’d like to restore my gut health without eating a diet so restrictive that I have to bring my own steamed vegetables in a sorry little Tupperware container to holiday parties. If you feel the same way, I have good news for you…
A recent study revealed a diet that can improve gut health… even after it’s gone seriously awry.
And guess what? You can still eat bread!
A few foods that will (finally) get your gut healthy again
Researchers from the University Medical Center Groningen in the Netherlands just revealed a number of gut-friendly foods that restore healthy bacteria and (hopefully) get your gut health back on the track.
The study included data from four groups of people: the general population, people with Crohn’s disease, people with ulcerative colitis and people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Researchers looked at stool samples to see what kind of microbes were in study participants’ guts. They also looked at the results of a food frequency survey participants completed. Here were their big takeaways:
- Eating lots of bread, legumes, fish, and nuts decreased the number of harmful bacteria in the gut and decreased markers for intestinal inflammation.
- Eating lots of meat, fast foods or refined sugar decreased beneficial bacteria in the gut and increased markers for intestinal inflammation.
- Red wine, legumes, vegetables, fruit, cereals, fish and nuts were all tied to a higher abundance of bacteria with anti-inflammatory functions.
- Plant-based diets were tied to bacteria that produced more short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs), the main source of energy for cells lining the colon.
- Plant-based protein had a positive impact on gut health, while animal protein had a negative impact.
I know that’s a lot to take in. So, here’s the cliff notes:
“A diet characterized by nuts, fruits, greater vegetable and legume intake than animal protein, combined with moderate consumption of animal-derived foods like fish, lean meat, poultry, fermented low-fat dairy, and red wine, and a lower intake of red meat, processed meat, and sweets, is beneficially associated with the gut ecosystem in our study,” said lead researcher Laura Bolte.
Go Mediterranean for a healthier gut
You may have noticed that the gut-friendly foods in this study are all staples of one particular diet: the Mediterranean diet. The Mediterranean diet is one of the safest, most scientifically proven diets you can choose when you’re trying to improve any aspect of your health, including gut health.
You got a pretty good idea of what you should eat based on the results of the study. But here are the official Mediterranean diet guidelines in case you want to go a bit more in-depth:
- Go heavy on fruits and veggies. Aim for five to ten servings of fruits and veggies per day. A serving is about half a cup cooked or a whole cup raw.
- Pick your animal protein carefully. The Mediterranean diet focuses on lean protein, like fish and poultry. Although, red meat is allowed in moderation. You can also eat eggs.
- Get plenty of plant-based protein. Nuts, seeds, and legumes are all an important part of a Mediterranean diet.
- Go whole grain or go home. You’ll have to ditch refined grains in favor of whole grains if you want to reap the benefits of a Mediterranean diet. But bread is not off-limits.
- Heap on the healthy fats. Fatty foods like olive oil, avocado, walnuts, and almonds play a huge part in the Mediterranean diet’s health benefits, so eat a lot of them.
- Do dairy in moderation. Some dairy is allowed on the Mediterranean diet. But choose healthier options like probiotic-rich yogurt, cottage cheese (here are 3 big benefits of this old school superfood) or kefir.
- Have an occasional drink. A lot of research ties drinking to health problems, like cancer. But traditionally, the Mediterranean diet includes a dash of alcohol. A glass of red wine with dinner should do the trick without harming your health.