The effect of the Mediterranean diet on intestinal health

The Mediterranean diet has become popular as a model for healthy eating. New studies also link this type of diet to better gut health. What does the evidence say? Learn all about the Mediterranean diet in this article!

In recent years, researchers have studied the effect of the Mediterranean diet on gut health. Although they have not yet done a more in-depth investigation of the connection, they have discovered some benefits, especially with regard to the state of the intestinal flora.

This group of bacteria and microorganisms live in the digestive system and play an important role in your health. In fact, they are positively associated with a strong immune system and proper metabolism of food, among other benefits.

What does your diet have to do with gut health? Why do we especially recommend the Mediterranean diet?

In this article, we will answer these and many other questions about the benefits of this diet.

The diet and intestinal flora

One of the organs most affected by the quality of our diet and lifestyle is undoubtedly the gut. Microorganisms that participate in various vital functions such as digestion, immune system, inflammatory responses, and vitamin synthesis live in this organ.

When the intestinal flora is healthy, balanced, and ready to perform these functions, its characteristics are as follows:

  • It has the right amount of beneficial microorganisms.
  • There is no overgrowth of harmful microorganisms.
  • It has sufficient microbial diversity.

Regarding food and microbiota, we should note that certain foods improve the activity of bacteria by exerting anti-inflammatory functions and favoring the production of short-chain fatty acids. In fact, fatty acids are one of the most important sources of energy for cells and can help keep the intestinal lining in good condition.

Laura Bolte is a leading researcher and she writes in a scientific study on diet and the gut microbiome, “. .. the results show that diet is likely to become a significant and serious line of treatment or management for gut diseases by regulating the gut microbiome.”

The effect of the Mediterranean diet on intestinal health

The Mediterranean diet in particular is one of the most studied in terms of diet and health. Broadly speaking, we can say that the eating pattern in the Mediterranean area is associated with a lower risk of suffering from chronic diseases, such as cardiovascular diseases and diabetes.

Now a scientific study also links this dietary model with better gut health. Published in the scientific journal  Gut, it concludes that following a Mediterranean diet for a year can contribute to:

  • Increase in gut bacteria linked to slowing frailty and cognitive degeneration.
  • Reduction of bacteria associated with an inflammatory condition.
  • To prevent loss of bacterial diversity.
  • To reduce the presence of pro-inflammatory substances that have harmful health effects.

In this regard, it is important to mention that although the results are positive and that they open up new research, the researchers admitted that the health status of the gut bacteria cannot be linked only to the diet. Therefore, when we talk about gut health, we should also consider other factors that affect it.

What is the positive effect of the Mediterranean diet on gut health?

Although the Mediterranean diet can vary slightly depending on which region you are in, it generally has a number of basic components. In its traditional form, it is based on the regular intake of certain food groups. In particular, it has the following properties:

  • Extra virgin olive oil is the most important source of fat, both for cooking and dressings.
  • The abundant daily intake of vegetables, especially leafy greens.
  • Regular consumption of fruit and whole grain products.
  • Nuts and legumes are included in moderation.
  • Intake of fish (especially oily fish).
  • Very moderate intake of meat and dairy products.
  • Very small amounts of red meat and saturated fat.

According to the evidence, some of these foods are more beneficial when it comes to gut health. Who are they and why are they important?

We take a detailed look at this below.

1. Fatty acids

In this case, the optimal intake of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids is important, accompanied by a low intake of saturated fat. This lipid profile is beneficial because it is associated with very low inflammatory markers.

2. Microbiotically available carbohydrates

Eating this type of fiber is also important. These carbohydrates cannot be metabolized because the body does not have the enzymes needed to do so. For that reason, they reach the large intestine intact where they are fermented by bacteria.

From there you can derive a number of compounds that are very beneficial for the health of the colon. In addition, they act as food for the microorganisms there. In general, studies have found higher levels of short-chain fatty acids in the stools of people who regularly ate a Mediterranean diet.

3. Polyphenols

Polyphenols are found in this type of diet, as it contains a lot of fruit, vegetables, olive oil, and aromatic herbs. These compounds are included in the group of prebiotic foods, i.e. those that nourish the intestinal bacteria. Phenols have a positive effect for two reasons:

  1. They increase the diversity of gut microbes.
  2. They help prevent the growth of pathogenic bacteria.

Other healthy habits for gut flora

Diet is one of the most important factors in determining the composition of intestinal flora, but it is not the only one. Certain environmental and lifestyle aspects also affect the state of your intestinal flora.

We know, for example, that stress affects the gut negatively. Similarly, insufficient rest and lack of physical exercise can have similar effects.

Also, when we talk about food, not only what you eat affects your gut health but also how you eat it. Therefore, it is better to eat slowly and ensure optimal fluid balance. Finally, to avoid changes in these bacteria, it is best to avoid harmful habits such as consuming alcohol and tobacco.

The Mediterranean diet is also good for gut health

A well-planned Mediterranean diet with traditional, fresh and uncooked food is one of the best choices you can make for your health. In addition to the well-known benefits at the vascular and cerebral level, we can now also add benefits at the intestinal level, as it contains foods and nutrients that are ideal for the intestinal flora.

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