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 United States.
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,” wrote Alexis Baldeon, doctoral student in the Division of Nutritional Sciences, part of the College of Agricultural, Consumer & Environmental Sciences at the U of I.
“Understanding how diet may influence the structure of the gut microbiota is important so we can make recommendations on dietary approaches.”
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, the 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.
Q: How do I become healthier?
A: While there isn’t a “diet” per se, your chances of living longer may go up by 19% if you eat a diet high in fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes and nuts and choose fewer processed foods.
People who followed a plan like the Mediterranean diet, which is based on those foods, were less likely to die of heart disease, cancer and respiratory ailments.
Add exercise, and you’ve got a winning plan. Try to get 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise per week and two strength-training sessions a week. The key is consistency.
I use my air fryer a lot. It’s a mini convection oven that saves time (and calories), yet browns a dish. It’s my favorite way to prepare Brussels sprouts, asparagus and fish. Try this recipe for crab cakes in your air fryer. It’s from Cooking Light’s air fryer recipes.
- 2 tablespoons mayonnaise
- 2 teaspoons Sriracha chile sauce
- ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
- ⅛ teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 large egg, lightly beaten
- 1 pound lump crabmeat, drained and picked through
- ½ cup whole-wheat panko
- ¼ cup chopped scallions
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
- Cooking spray
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
- 4 cups baby arugula
In medium bowl, combine mayonnaise, Sriracha, cayenne pepper, salt and egg; whisk to blend. Add crabmeat, panko, scallions and parsley; mix gently to combine. Let mixture stand 5 minutes.
Pressing lightly with your hands, shape crabmeat mixture into four 3-inch wide cakes, about ¾ cup each. Let cakes stand 5 minutes.
Meanwhile, preheat air fryer to 400 degrees for 5 minutes. Lightly spray air fryer basket with cooking spray. Lightly spray crab cakes with cooking spray and add crab cakes to basket. Cook at 400 degrees until lightly browned and a thermometer registers 160 degrees, about 15 minutes, flipping cakes halfway through.
In medium bowl, whisk together olive oil and lemon juice. Add arugula and toss to coat. Place arugula mixture on plates and top with crab cakes.
Per serving: 276 calories, 31 g protein, 10 g carbohydrates, 12 g fat (2 g saturated), 2 g fiber, 2 g sugars (0 added), 585 mg sodium
(Recipe from Cooking Light’s air fryer recipes