Nutrition News: Dietary Guidelines and Good Gut Health
Good gut health may be as simple as following the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, updated every five years by the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Health and Human Services. A new study by researchers at the University of Illinois finds a strong connection between good gut health and adhering to the Dietary Guidelines.
Researchers at the U of I analyzed data from the American Gut Project, a large database that includes fecal samples from thousands of individuals across the U.S. The study, published in The Journal of Nutrition, focused on data from a subset of 432 healthy individuals divided into three groups according to how closely they followed the Healthy Eating Index, based on the Dietary Guidelines.
"Currently, there is no definition of a 'healthy' microbiome. Understanding how diet may influence the structure of the gut microbiota is important so we can make recommendations on dietary approaches," wrote Alexis Baldeon, doctoral student in the Division of Nutritional Sciences, part of the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences at the U of I.
The microbiota consists of trillions of microorganisms that live in the gastrointestinal tract. They contribute to many physiological processes, and a diverse gut microbiota may promote resilience to disruptions that could contribute to disease.
The group with the highest total Healthy Eating Index score, indicating the strongest compliance with the Dietary Guidelines, had the highest gut microbiota diversity, as well as a larger presence of bacteria that contribute beneficial functions such as fiber fermentation, according to Baldeon, lead researcher.
The gut microbiota is really good at breaking down fiber, which is important because humans cannot digest fiber. Study participants with a higher diet quality had a greater abundance of bacteria involved in fiber metabolism.
In the past, dietary guidelines and nutrient recommendations haven't included considerations for the microbiota.
The research provides clues for specific microbes that may be relevant for monitoring the health of the microbiota and overall health, according to the researchers. Eventually, dietary recommendations may be made based on beneficial gut microbes, just like recommendations currently made to reduce sodium to lower blood pressure or reduce saturated fat to lower LDL (harmful) cholesterol.
The current Dietary Guidelines recommend a diet rich in fruits, vegetables and fiber. Following those guidelines is still the best strategy for overall health and nourishing your gut microbes.
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