Strict Vegetarian Diet Improves Gut Function in Metabolically Challenged People
It’s All About the Science, Not Mantra
Foremost, you may find it odd that the Paleo Doctor, who so strongly advocates the Paleo Diet, is getting behind the benefits of a strict vegetarian diet. To that point, ideology is not important, but the facts derived from science are. As it relates to gut function, science suggests that vegetarians have a hand up on the typical Paleo Diet mantra of high protein and high fat. While often applied as high protein and high fat, the Paleo diet is not in fact meant to be high protein or high fat. Rather it is a diet founded in the consumption of unrefined foods that remain in their natural living forms with high nutrient density.
What the Vegetarian Can Teach the Paleo Diet Person
Let me be clear from the outset here, I am not recommending a vegetarian diet. However, there are some things that people that follow, or that are just learning to follow, the Paleo Diet,could take away from a proper vegetarian diet that is high in living plant based foods. When consumed as it was intended, a vegetarian diet supplies high quantities of the food group that should predominately be the diet. Vegetarians have it right by consuming vegetables and fruits. These should be the greatest percentage of the diet. However, where they have it wrong is that it should not be the only part of the diet. Key micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) and macronutrients (protein) are absent from the diet.
The Importance of the Gastrointestinal Tract
The gastrointestinal tract is the fundamental system of the body. Through it we are able to begin to turn food into the necessary components that our body needs to stay functional. Likewise it also acts a regulator of the immune system, helps manage cholesterol and glucose to help control body weight and fat, and helps control inflammation. Most of this is done through the action of the beneficial bacteria of the gut, the probiotics. When probiotic colonies are supported they flourish and keep chronic low-grade inflammation suppressed. However, when they do not get the nutrition that they need, glucose is not as well controlled, cholesterol and triglyceride levels increase and inflammation goes up, just to name a few things.
Vegetarian Diet Keeps Gastrointestinal Tract Healthy
The key to keeping the probiotics of the gastrointestinal tract functional and viable is related to the type of food consumed. This is where we champion the vegetarian diet. According to Environmental Microbiology Reports (2013 Oct;5(5):765-75), a strict vegetarian diet improves the risk factors associated with metabolic disease by altering the microorganisms in the gut and lowering intestinal inflammation. The reason that the vegetarian diet excels in this function is that it is full of high fiber foods. The higher the fiber content of the diet, the greater the availability of short chain fatty acids, the fuel source of the probiotics. The probiotics in turn grow and positive change is made in the intestinal environment. As the probiotics increase their colonies to support our health, they reduce the growth of bad bacteria that harm our health.
How to Support Gut Function, the Vegetarian Way
Not to be redundant, but because it is important enough to repeat, the Paleo Diet when properly applied should borrow some key concepts from a strict vegetarian diet. The strict vegetarian diet provides ample quantities of plants, most notably fruits and vegetables. These foods offer benefits unparalleled by other food groups that affect the health of the probiotics in the intestines. If the probiotics are growing and producing healthy populations, our bodies will be healthy and at less risk of chronic disease. Therefore as a Paleo Diet eater, you still want to maintain a diet that is mostly plant based focusing on vegetables and fruits.