Do you love cheeseburgers, bacon, and cheese? If you do, you may want to think twice before indulging in these foods too often. A new study has found that switching to a diet rich in meat and cheese alters the trillions of microbes living in your gut within two days. And this change may have negative effects on your health.
The study, published in the journal Nature, involved nine volunteers who went on two extreme diets for five days each. The first diet was all about meat and cheese: eggs and bacon for breakfast, ribs and briskets for lunch, and salami and prosciutto with an assortment of cheeses for dinner. The second diet was completely plant-based: granola cereal for breakfast, rice and vegetables for lunch, and more vegetables and legumes for dinner.
The researchers analyzed the genetic material of the gut bacteria of the volunteers before and after each diet. They found that the meat-based diet increased the abundance of a type of bacteria that has been linked to inflammation and intestinal diseases in mice. The plant-based diet, on the other hand, supported more diverse and balanced gut bacteria.
Why does this matter? Well, the gut bacteria, or microbiome, influence many aspects of our health, including weight, immunity and perhaps even behavior. Scientists do not fully understand how the microbiome factors into the risk of developing chronic diseases, such as heart disease, obesity, and type 2 diabetes. But a previous study, published in Nature Medicine, found that specific gut microbes were associated with specific nutrients, foods, food groups, and overall diet composition. And less healthy dietary patterns (dairy desserts, unhealthy meats, processed foods) supported gut species that were associated with higher risk of cardiac events, strokes, and type 2 diabetes.
So what can you do to keep your gut bacteria happy and healthy? One way is to eat more probiotics, which are good bacteria that can contribute to gut and overall health. Probiotics can be found in some types of cheese as well as in dietary supplements, fermented foods, and yogurt. But not all cheeses are created equal: probiotics are in cheeses that have been aged but not heated afterward. This includes both soft and hard cheeses, such as Swiss, provolone, Gouda, cheddar.
Another way is to eat more fiber-rich foods, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes. Fiber can help feed the beneficial bacteria in your gut and promote a more diverse and balanced microbiome.
Of course, this does not mean that you have to give up meat and cheese altogether. As one of the researchers of the study said: “I mean, I love meat. But I will say that I definitely feel a lot more guilty ordering a hamburger … since doing this work.” The key is to enjoy these foods in moderation and balance them with more plant-based foods.
So next time you crave a cheeseburger, why not try a veggie burger with some cheese instead? Your gut bacteria will thank you.
– Chowing Down On Meat, Dairy Alters Gut Bacteria A Lot, And Quickly, NPR, December 11, 2013
– Diet, disease, and the microbiome, Harvard Health, April 21, 2021
– List Of Healthy Foods For Gut Bacteria Expands To Include Cheese, Medical Daily, April 14, 2015