The Mediterranean diet is considered by many people as one of the most healthful diets around, with countless studies claiming that it is good for the heart. New research, however, suggests that the diet could be good for the gut, too.
Led by Hariom Yadav, Ph.D., of the Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, NC, the research found that a Mediterranean diet significantly increased the abundance of "good" bacteria in the guts of monkeys, compared with a Western diet.
Yadav and his team recently published their findings in the journal Frontiers in Nutrition.
The Mediterranean diet primarily consists of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, fish, and poultry. It also limits red meat, but the occasional glass of red wine is allowed.
A number of studies have hailed the heath benefits of a Mediterranean diet. A recent study that was reported by Medical News Today, for example, linked the diet to a lower risk of prostate cancer, while other research claims that a Mediterranean diet can protect heart health.
The Mediterranean diet was also ranked as the top diet for diabetes by a panel of health experts earlier this year, and it came in just behind the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) for heart health.
But the benefits of this Mediterranean eating plan do not stop there; the new research from Yadav and colleagues suggests that the Mediterranean diet may also be good for the gut.
Lactobacillus increased in the gut
The researchers came to their conclusion by studying a group of 20 monkeys. For 30 months, the monkeys were randomized to one of two diets: a Mediterranean diet or a Western diet. Both of these diets contained the same number of calories.
The Mediterranean diet included fish oil, olive oil, butter, egg, fish meal, wheat flour, black and garbanzo bean flour, fruit puree, vegetable juice, and sucrose.
The Western diet was made up of lard, butter, cholesterol, eggs, beef tallow, high-fructose corn syrup, and sucrose.
In order to determine how each diet affected the gut bacteria of the monkeys, the researchers assessed fecal samples from the animals at the end of the 30-month dietary interventions.
While the monkeys fed the Western diet experienced a 0.5 percent increase in the abundance of "good" bacteria in their gut, the beneficial gut bacteria of monkeys fed the Mediterranean diet increased by up to 7 percent.
"We have about 2 billion good and bad bacteria living in our gut," says Yadav. "If the bacteria are of a certain type and not properly balanced, our health can suffer."
"Our study showed that the good bacteria, primarily Lactobacillus, most of which are probiotic, were significantly increased in the Mediterranean diet group."
Hariom Yadav, Ph.D.
Lactobacillus is a friendly bacteria that prevents and treats diarrhea and other digestive conditions. As well as residing in the gut, the bacteria can also be found in fermented foods, such as yogurt, and in some dietary supplements.
According to Yadav and colleagues, these findings pave the way for future studies to investigate how the Mediterranean diet impacts the gut health of humans.