The Holy Grail of Gut Health

Will a plant-based diet give you the results you want?

Gut Health
Illustration: Russ Tudor

Ah yes, the ever elusive healthy gut, something that so many of us are in search of.

A resilient digestive system is valuable for a plethora of reasons, including the fact that it absolutely sucks dealing with pain, gas, diarrhea and/or constipation on a regular basis.

From the bigger picture perspective, the state of a person’s gut is increasingly linked, in research, to a wide array of conditions ranging from depression to diabetes.

But what does it even mean to have a healthy gut?

It’s not a simple question and has a lot to do with the diversity and quality of the trillions of bacteria in your digestive tract, also known as the gut microbiota.

Veganism AND Your Gut

There are a number of reasons why someone might move towards a more plant-based style of eating, including ethical concerns, environmental considerations and improved personal health.

In 2019, it is well established that vegetarians and vegans are at a reduced risk of a number of health conditions including heart disease and certain types of cancer. Does this style of eating also play a role in maintaining gut health?

A recently published study out of the Frontiers in Nutrition medical journal found that vegan and vegetarian diets were particularly effective at promoting diversity in the type of bacteria we want in our guts.

The study found specifically that plant-based eaters have higher amounts of the favourable Bacteroidetes family of bacteria compared to omnivores.

Vegans and vegetarians with well-balanced diets also tend to consume a much higher amount of fiber and anti-oxidants than the average person, which promotes the growth of specific types of other favourable bacteria. This works to restrict the growth of less favourable types, which simply can’t compete for resources and therefore shrink in numbers.

When it comes to gut health, the importance of a favourable microbiota profile in your digestive tract cannot be understated.

Many of these more favourable bacteria have anti-inflammatory effects on the digestive tract, which perhaps makes it unsurprising that a group of Japanese researchers [M. Chiba et al.] has recently promoted strictly plant-based diets as an effective treatment modality for inflammatory bowel disease – including both Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.

While it is certainly possible to achieve good gut health with an omnivore diet, recent research continues to point to the fact that vegan and vegetarian diets offer an edge.