What is the connection between inflammatory responses and the gut? There’s a rather important connection between not only inflammation and the gut, but also plant-based foods.
Let’s start the year off right and figure out how it’s all connected and why a plant-based diet may play an essential role in the health of your gut microbiome!
We also highly recommend downloading the Food Monster App — with over 15,000 delicious recipes it is the largest meatless, vegan, plant-based and allergy-friendly recipe resource to help you get healthy!
What is Gut Microbiome?
Microbiota is the term used to identify the “collection of microbes that live in and on the human body,” while the microbiome “refers to the complete set of genes within these microbes. Simply put, “one refers to the entirety and the other refers to the individual or more detailed version of the former.”
On the other hand, the microbiome is a broader term. In the article Understanding the Gut-Hormone Connection, there’s a quick 101 on microbiome:
“The microbiome is very similar to a ‘mini-ecosystem’ in which microscopic organisms thrive. These microscopic organisms, also called microorganisms, create a symbiotic environment called the microbiome and they include ‘bacteria, pathogens — infections agents, — archaea — prokaryote microorganisms, which lack a nucleus, — and eukaryotic microbes — microorganisms that have a nucleus.’ Your microbiome is built from your personal environment and lifestyle, such as ‘geography, health status, stress, diet, age, gender, and everything you touch,’ therefore every human’s microbiome is special and unique to them.”
What is Inflammation?
We hear a lot of negative news about inflammation, such as how it’s been linked to a variety of chronic diseases, digestive issues, and even mental disorders.
Of course, before putting all the blame on inflammation it’s important to understand what it is.
To begin, an inflammatory response is a crucial part of your body’s ability to protect itself and is an essential part of your “immune system’s response to injury and infection.” Not only does inflammation play an external visual role, but it’s also how the body signals “the immune system to heal and repair damaged tissue, as well as defend itself against foreign invaders, such as viruses and bacteria.”
Alright, if inflammation is so important, why is it getting such a bad rap?
Too much of anything can be a bad thing and when inflammation turns chronic, that’s when you start running into health issues. Chronic inflammation — also referred to as persistent, low-grade inflammation — has “been linked to certain diseases such as heart disease or stroke, and may also lead to autoimmune disorders, such as rheumatoid arthritis and lupus,” and has even been linked to increased risk of certain cancers.
So, what causes chronic inflammation?
Along with other chronic conditions that may cause chronic inflammation, this type of inflammation can also be instigated by lifestyle habits, environmental exposures, and, the most controversial, diet.
The Connection Between Plant-Based Diet, Anti-Inflammation, and Gut Health
Recent research has uncovered startling links between certain foods — such as high and ultra-processed foods, refined carbohydrates, and, well basically, sugar — and chronic diseases, rapidly growing health conditions, and even states of mental health.
So diet is becoming a hugely important part of overall medical health. This is especially true when looking to decrease unnecessary or chronic inflammation in the body. In particular, it’s been found that a diet rich in plant-based foods is linked to reduced inflammation. In particular, one study looked at the effects of a vegan diet on the gut microbiome and, subsequently, inflammation and the results were inspiring!
One study, in particular, was centered around diabetes, which is an interesting place to start when looking at plant-based diets and inflammation.
In the European Cardiology Review, a few causal factors were looked at in relationship to diabetes, including the “emerging role of inflammation in both type 1 and type 2 diabetes (T1D and T1D) pathophysiology and associated metabolic disorders,” which has pushed for increasing “interest in targeting inflammation to improve prevention and control of the disease.”
When it comes to the effects of plant-based foods on the body in regards to inflammation, it’s all got to do with the gut.
Turns out that the health of your gut microbiome — the individualized “mini-ecosystem in which microscopic organisms thrive” within your body — is directly linked with chronic inflammation. For example, leaky gut syndrome — “a digestive condition where bacteria and toxins pass through intestinal walls” linked to an unhealthy microbiome — may also be a cause of chronic inflammation.
Alright, now the science.
This specific vegan-gut study, led by “Dr. Hana Kahleova, MD, Ph.D., of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine … studied 147 participants, randomized into two groups.” The first group followed a low-fat vegan diet, while the other group continued with their usual, normal diet. The entire study was conducted in 16 weeks, after which “researchers reported the vegan group saw their body weight, fat mass, and visceral fat levels go down,” plus they noted how surprised they were “to see how fast [gut microbiome] changes occurred and how profound they were.”
How Plant-Based Foods Affect Gut Health and Inflammation
The science has spoken and it’s obvious that a diet based around plants reduces inflammation, increases gut health, and promotes a healthier body.
Plant-based diets — such as vegetarianism and veganism — are incredibly high in a variety of gut-sustaining nutrients such as dietary fiber, antioxidants, healthy fats, and a diverse range of all the vitamins and minerals.
Yet, if you’re looking for the main culprit, it’s fiber.
A well-rounded vegan diet is generally high in fiber, which “promotes healthful and stable gut bacteria.” How does this work? More fiber actually increases “the growth of beneficial bacteria that reduce inflammation and cardiovascular disease risk,” as well as “increases short-chain fatty acids linked to improved immunity and improved intestinal function.”
As you see, it’s not really just one thing, but a well-rounded inclusion of nutrients, plus a higher intake of that wonderful dietary fiber!
Gut Health Benefits of a Plant-Based Diet
A plant-based diet may have extraordinary effects on your gut microbiome and reducing inflammation, but that’s not all that this type of lifestyle offers. Along with these incredibly important health benefits, it’s a path to help our Earth, climate, and actively take part in animal activism. On top of these amazing byproducts, it has also been linked to a variety of other health benefits.
1. Higher Intake of Certain Nutrients
When you cut out the animal products, that leaves you with the plant-based products such as “whole grains, fruits, vegetables, beans, peas, nuts, and seeds.” Due to the fact that most plant-based foods are incredibly rich in a variety of vitamins and minerals, this means you’ll be boosting your intake with a splash of diversity! Certain studies have actually found that “vegan diets tend to provide more fiber, antioxidants, and beneficial plant compounds,” as well as being richer in “potassium, magnesium, folate and vitamins A, C, and E.”
With that said, it’s incredibly important to be vigilant about educating yourself on a well-rounded vegan diet, as plant-based foods don’t offer all the necessary vitamins. For instance, without educating yourself on what foods offer which nutrients, some vegan diets are found to be insufficient in “essential fatty acids, vitamin B12, iron, calcium, iodine or zinc.”
2. Lower Blood Sugar Levels
Blood sugar “is the main sugar found in blood,” which is sourced from your diet and plays an integral role in energy and nutritional support to your “organs, muscles, and nervous system.” Yet, it’s important to provide your body with steady and even dumps of glucose (sugar) — around “80 to 99 milligrams of sugar per deciliter before a meal and 80 to 140 mg/dl after a meal” — which helps you avoid conditions such as Type 2 Diabetes.
Turns out a vegan diet is actually pretty good at giving your body the right amount of glucose!
Studies have found that “vegans tend to have lower blood sugar levels, higher insulin sensitivity and up to a 50–78% lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes.” Plus, one study delved deeper and discovered that “43% of participants following a vegan diet were able to reduce their dosage of blood-sugar-lowering medication, compared to only 26% in the group that followed an ADA-recommended diet.”
3. Manage Healthy Weight
Even though choosing a diet should be more about the impact on planet Earth, your personal medical needs, and how the diet fits into your personal lifestyle, let’s face it, diet is also sometimes about weight management.
If you’re looking to manage your weight better, eating plant-based may be a super healthy way to go about it.
A variety of studies have been conducted on the effects of a vegan diet on either losing or maintaining a healthy weight. Many of these have shown that “vegans tend to be thinner and have lower body mass indexes (BMIs) than non-vegans” as well as discovering that “vegan diets are more effective for weight loss than the diets they are compared to” such as calorie-restricted diets.
Alright, we now know all about plant-based diets and their positive effects on our gut microbiome and inflammation. What if you’re still a meat-eater — whether it’s just a bit or an everyday occurrence — and you want to try that whole vegan thing? How do you even start? Is it easy to wean yourself off of your animal product favorites? Turns out, there are lots of options for ya! Here are a few recipes to get you started!
The easiest place to start is with the meat replacement recipes! These are 100 percent plant-derived recipes that mimic your favorite meat dishes such as this Seitan Meatballs With Homemade Tomato Sauce, this Lentil Loaf With Carrots, Onions, and Portobello Mushrooms, these Crispy Seitan Fingers, this Smoky Paprika Beet Burgers With Spicy Tahini Sauce, this Easy-Peasy ‘Hamburger’ Soup, or these Homemade Andouille Sausages.
Another great way to transition into a plant-based diet is to incorporate a handful of high healthy carbohydrate-filled staples. Healthy carbs keep you satiated, increase energy, are rife with nutrients, and are generally just soothing and comforting.
Healthy carbs include whole wheat products, oats, grains, and pseudocereals, along with a slew of hearty veggies. Plus, you can make your favorite staples, — like this Chili Cornbread Casserole or this Whole Wheat Sourdough Pizza Crust — take a step out of the box — such as this Purple Sweet Potato Gnocchi or this Whole Wheat Lemon Marmalade Cake — or go with a spin-on-traditional — like this Spicy Vegetables and Chickpea Pasta or this Cheesy Tofu Breakfast Bagel.
Last, but not least, baking! You may think that giving up butter, milk, and cheese also means forfeiting your favorite baked goods. Turns out there are more options in the vegan world when it comes to creating puffed pastries, moist cakes, and chewy cookies. These recipes will restore your faith in your new plant-based diet!
Try this Sugar-Free Dark Chocolate and Blackberry Cake With Saffron Frosting, Cacao Mousse and Raspberry Parfaits, Chocolate Coconut Cream Puffs With Coconut Whipped Cream, Rustic Apple Tart, Funfetti Sprinkle Cookies, All Natural Fruit-Colored Jelly Candy, or these Fudgy Coconut Glazed Mini Doughnuts.
Learn How to Cook Plant-Based Meals at Home!
Reducing your meat intake and eating more plant-based foods is known to help with chronic inflammation, heart health, mental wellbeing, fitness goals, nutritional needs, allergies, gut health and more! Dairy consumption also has been linked many health problems, including acne, hormonal imbalance, cancer, prostate cancer and has many side effects.
For those of you interested in eating more plant-based, we highly recommend downloading the Food Monster App — with over 15,000 delicious recipes it is the largest plant-based recipe resource to help reduce your environmental footprint, save animals and get healthy! And, while you are at it, we encourage you to also learn about the environmental and health benefits of a plant-based diet.
Here are some great resources to get you started:
- Weekly Vegan Meal Plans
- Plant-Based Health Resources
- Plant-Based Food & Recipes
- Plant-Based Nutrition Resources
- The Ultimate Guide to Plant-Based Nutrition
- Budget-Friendly Plant-Based Recipes
- High Protein Plant-Based Recipes
- Plant-Based Meal Prep
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