A 16-Week Vegan Diet Can Do Wonders for Your Gut Microbiome
By Dan Gray
- 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."
What’s the Gut Microbiome?
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.
Plant-Based or Vegan: What’s Best?
While the study specifically looked at people who followed a vegan diet, dietitians say that while a plant-based diet is the healthy way to go, it isn't necessary to follow a strict vegan diet.
"When we're eating a more diverse plate of food that has different macronutrients, such as protein and fiber and complex carbs and healthy fat, we get to increase the diversity of the microbiome," Zarabi said.
"A vegan diet that promotes high-fiber foods that come from plants will improve the gut microbiome. But when we start to take out all animal protein, we tend to limit ourselves with where our protein is coming from. If you're [eating] from a vegan diet, it's mostly coming from beans and some vegetables. So it's really important to make sure you don't fall short on any nutrients," Zarabi said.
While it's hard to argue with some of the ethical reasons for embracing veganism — including animal welfare and reducing one's carbon footprint — it's still crucial to monitor one's nutrition.
"A vegan diet can be less advantageous if all your foods are frozen dinners and white grains," Kirkpatrick said. "Doing your research and meeting with your doctor or dietitian to help you get started is recommended."
You Are What You Eat
It might seem daunting to make the pivot from burgers and fries to lean protein and veggies. But it isn't impossible.
"I think the first step is familiarizing yourself with the different vegetables that are out there, specifically the vegetables that have the prebiotic fibers," Zarabi said. "These are the initial phase of what probiotics feed on: indigestible fibers that help encourage the growth and proliferation of the probiotics."
High-prebiotic foods include asparagus, onions, Jerusalem artichokes, cabbage, garlic, cashews, lentils, and chickpeas.
Zarabi cautions that when these foods are unfamiliar to the gut, initial side effects could include bloating and gas as the body learns to adapt.
"If you have those symptoms in the beginning, don't get turned off just yet," she said. "Give your body some time to adapt to the changes. If you're still feeling a lot of GI distress, you may want to work with a dietitian to figure out which vegetables or prebiotics are better for you."
When planning a meal, it's helpful to think in terms of thirds.
A third of the plate should be vegetables, a third should be lean protein sources, and a third should be complex carbs, such as sweet potatoes, beets, quinoa, bran, and oats.
There's also room for healthy fat, such as olive or avocado oil, because they help improve heart health.
Kirkpatrick recommends entirely cutting out red and processed meat, or at least limiting these products to twice a month.
"You are what you eat, so what goes into your body affects your health outcomes," Zarabi said.
"Eat as close to nature as possible," she said. "Think about what you're putting in your body. How many steps did it have to go through to get to you? Choose foods that are close to nature, the ones that include one ingredient. They're the best for you."
Reposted with permission from our media associate Healthline.
By Karen L. Smith-Janssen
Colette Pichon Battle gave a December 2019 TEDWomen Talk on the stark realities of climate change displacement, and people took notice. The video racked up a million views in about two weeks. The attorney, founder, and executive director of the Gulf Coast Center for Law & Policy (GCCLP) advocates for climate justice in communities of color. Confronted with evidence showing how her own South Louisiana coastal home of Bayou Liberty will be lost to flooding in coming years, the 2019 Obama Fellow dedicates herself to helping others still reeling from the impacts of Katrina face the heavy toll that climate change has taken—and will take—on their lives and homelands. Her work focuses on strengthening multiracial coalitions, advocating for federal, state, and local disaster mitigation measures, and redirecting resources toward Black communities across the Gulf South.
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"These are not just wildfires, they are climate fires," Jay Inslee, Governor of Washington State, said as he stood amid the charred remains of the town of Malden west of Seattle earlier this month. "This is not an act of God," he added. "This has happened because we have changed the climate of the state of Washington in dramatic ways."
'These Aren't Wildfires'<p>Sam Ricketts, who led climate policy and strategy for Governor Jay Inslee's 2020 presidential campaign, tweeted on September 11 that "These aren't wildfires. These are #climatefires, driven by fossil fuel pollution."</p><p>"The rate and the strength and the devastation wrought by these disasters are fueled by climate change," Ricketts told DW of fires that have burnt well over 5 million acres across California, Oregon, Washington State, and into neighboring Idaho. </p><p>In a two-day period in early September, Ricketts notes that more of Washington State burned than in almost any entire fire season until now, apart from 2015. </p><p>California, meanwhile, was a tinderbox after its hottest summer on record, with temperatures in Death Valley reaching nearly 130 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the U.S. National Weather Service. It has been reported as the hottest temperature ever measured on Earth.</p>
<div id="29ad9" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="8346fe7350e1371d400097cd48bf45a2"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1306969603180879872" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Drought-parched wetlands in South America have been burning for weeks. https://t.co/pjAKdFcKPg #Pantanal https://t.co/ImN2C5vwcp</div> — NASA Earth (@NASA Earth)<a href="https://twitter.com/NASAEarth/statuses/1306969603180879872">1600440810.0</a></blockquote></div><p>As evidenced by Australia's apocalyptic Black Summer of 2019-2020, fires are burning bigger and for longer, with new records set year-on-year. Right now, Brazil's vast and highly biodiverse Pantanal wetlands are suffering from catastrophic fires.</p>
#climatefires Started in Australia<p>Governor Inslee this month invoked the phrase climate fires for arguably the first time in the U.S., according to Ricketts.</p><p>But the term was also used as fires burnt out of control in Australia in late 2019. In the face of a 2000km (more than 1,200 miles) fire front, and government officials and media who <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/trump-climate-change-denial-emissions-environment-germany-fake-heartland-seibt/a-52688933" target="_blank">played down the link to climate change</a>, Greens Party Senator Sarah Hanson-Young and a friend decided that reference to bushfires was inadequate. </p><p>"We both just said, we've got to start calling them climate fires, that's what they are," the Australian Senator told DW.</p><p>Hanson-Young says scientists have been warning for decades that these would be the effects of global heating. "We've been told these kinds of extreme weather events and destruction is what climate change would look like, and it's right here on our doorstep," she said from her home state of South Australia — where by early September fire warnings had already been issued.</p><p>"Calling them climate fires was making it absolutely crystal clear. It is essential that there's no ambiguity," she said </p><p>Having deliberately invoked the term, Hanson-Young soon started to push it on social media via a #climatefires hashtag. </p>
How to Talk About the Urgency of Global Heating<p>The need to use more explicit language when talking about extreme weather events linked to climate change is part of a broader push to express the urgency of global heating. In 2019, activist Greta Thunberg tweeted that the term "climate change" did not reflect the seriousness of the situation. </p><p>"Can we all now please stop saying 'climate change' and instead call it what it is: climate breakdown, climate crisis, climate emergency, ecological breakdown, ecological crisis and ecological emergency?" she wrote. </p><p>"Climate change has for a long time been talked about as something that is a danger in the future," said Hansen-Young. "But the consequences are already here. When people hear the word crisis, they understand that something has to happen, that action has to be taken."</p><p><span></span>Some terms are now used in public policy, with state and national governments, and indeed the EU Parliament, declaring an official climate emergency in the last year. </p>
Words That Reflect the Science<p>But while the West Coast governors all fervently link the fires to an unfolding climate crisis, U.S. President Donald Trump continues to avoid any reference to climate. In a briefing about the fires, he responded to overtures by Wade Crowfoot, California's Natural Resources Secretary, to work with the states on the climate crisis by stating: "It'll start getting cooler. You just watch." Crowfoot replied by saying that scientists disagreed. Trump rejoined with "I don't think science knows, actually." </p><p>It was reminiscent of the anti-science approach to the coronavirus pandemic within the Trump administration, <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/donald-trump-admits-playing-down-coronavirus-risks/a-54874350" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">at least publicly</a>. Fossil fuel companies are also benefiting from his disavowal of climate science, with the Trump administration having <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/opinion-trumps-paris-climate-accord-exit-isnt-really-a-problem/a-51124958" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">pulled out of the Paris Agreement</a> and reopened fossil fuel infrastructure like the Keystone XL pipeline. </p><p>But the science community has responded, with Scientific American magazine endorsing Trump's Democratic presidential challenger Joe Biden, the first presidential endorsement in its 175-year history. </p><p>Hanson-Young says the use of explicit language like climate fires has also been important in Australia due to the climate denialism of politicians and the press, especially in publications owned by Rupert Murdoch. As fires burnt out much of Australia's southeast coast, they were commonly blamed on arson — a tactic also recently used in the U.S.</p>
Climate Rhetoric Could Help Decide Election<p>The language of climate has begun to influence the U.S. presidential election campaign, with Democratic nominee Joe Biden labelling President Trump a "climate arsonist."</p><p>Biden is touting a robust climate plan that includes a 2050 zero emissions target and a return to the Paris Agreement. Though lacking the ambition of The New Green Deal, it has been front and center of his policy platform in recent days, at a time when five hurricanes are battering the U.S. Gulf Coast while smoke blanketing the West Coast spreads all the way to the East. </p><p>People are experiencing the climate crisis in a visceral way and almost universally relate to the language of an emergency, says Ricketts. "They know something is wrong."</p>
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