Keto. Paleo. Low Carb. Low Calorie. Intermittent Fasting. Plant-Based. The world of diets and styles of eating seems to get more and more complex with each year. Depending on your health goals, different dietary approaches have other unique benefits. If gut health is your goal, you’re in the right place! We’re simplifying the trending diets to help figure out which might be best for you.
The ketogenic diet has become popularized due to its benefits for balancing blood sugar and assisting in weight loss. However, keto is more of a short-term diet due to its rigid structure and need for regular monitoring of ketones in the body (typically measured via finger prick or urine).
While keto can be great for balancing blood sugar and weight loss in the short term, it’s definitely not my go-to eating style to benefit the gut. This is due to the considerable restriction on carbs, which often means less fiber to feed our healthy gut bacteria and help with bowel regularity. While some research shows that short-term keto diets can change the diversity in the microbiome and possibly reduce inflammatory markers, more research is needed to understand how this eating style impacts different populations.
The Paleo Diet follows the eating styles of our paleolithic ancestors – think meat, veggies, fruit, nuts, and seeds. In this eating style, foods like gluten and grains, soy, dairy, and legumes are all excluded. Therefore, Paleo can be an excellent diet for gut health, as it leans heavily into veggies, nuts, and seeds and shies away from refined carbs, sugar, and processed foods which can create an imbalance in your gut microbiome.
Plant-based is another diet that provides high levels of fiber-rich foods like veggies, beans, nuts, seeds, and whole grains. One review discussed the increase in microbial diversity with both vegan and vegetarian diets. However, be wary that plant-based diets can skew very high in carbohydrates, which can create gut imbalances. Focus on ensuring you consume enough protein and healthy fats to balance out carbs throughout your day.
Intermittent fasting, or IF, may benefit your gut due to the “rest” period on your digestive system. Fasting is most commonly followed in a 16:8 pattern – 16 hours of fasting, followed by an 8-hour eating window. For example, you’d eat between 12 pm-8 pm and fast overnight.
One study showed that IF eating patterns showed improvement in the gut flora associated with promoting a healthy body weight. However, it’s critical to consider what you're consuming in your eating window! If you’re still consuming high amounts of sugar and carbohydrates, you may be sacrificing the positive effects of fasting.
Similar to the keto diet, eating low carb can have some of the benefits of balancing the gut microbiome while still presenting the challenge of possibly not consuming enough fiber. However, it does still have the benefit of less refined carbs and sugar. If you’re eating low carb, you want to make sure that most of the carbs you consume are high fiber veggies or fruits.
Calorie restrictive diets have long been touted for weight loss; however, they place a large focus on the number of calories and little focus on the quality of the calories being consumed. For example, a 1,500 calorie diet can consist of processed and packaged foods or be rich in lean protein, veggies, and healthy fats. It’s important that regardless of the number of calories consumed, it's what is being consumed that matters.
At the end of the day, choosing the best diet for you should encompass your health goals. If gut health is your goal, taking a probiotic can also help improve the balance of your microbiome, in addition to choosing one of the eating patterns that work best for you!
About the Author
Dr. Brooke Scheller, DCN, CNS, is a Doctor of Clinical Nutrition, Board Certified Nutrition Specialist, and expert in functional nutrition and personalized health. She specializes in gut health, mental health, and nutrition for reducing alcohol intake. Learn more at brookescheller.com or follow Dr. Brooke on Instagram.