Can’t avoid filling up your cart with those deliciously sugary, processed foods lining the aisles of your grocery store? Here’s some food for thought: Junk food kills the bugs in our gut that keep us healthy, according to scientists in the Netherlands.
According to a study out of the University of Groningen, processed food, alcohol and sugary drinks, and red meat trigger inflammation and drive “good bacteria” from the intestine’s microbiome. This increases the risk of a host of potentially deadly conditions ranging from obesity, diabetes, heart disease and cancer to Alzheimer’s disease.
The findings are based on a food frequency survey of 1,425 people.
Processed products were associated with harmful bacteria across all participants including meats, chips, mayonnaise and soft drinks.
Eating plenty of fruit, vegetables and oily fish like salmon and mackerel had the opposite effect. A Mediterranean diet dampens inflammation, say the Dutch team.
Processed and animal-derived foods were consistently linked with species of bacteria that increase inflammation. Nuts, oily fish, fruit, vegetables and cereals on the other hand boosted “friendly” types that combat it.
“These bacteria are known for their anti-inflammatory effects in the intestine through fermentation of fiber,” the study says. “A dietary pattern that is traditionally high in these foods is the Mediterranean diet which has been linked to a lower IBD-risk.”
They are rich in healthy fats that protect the gut lining. Red wine, coffee, buttermilk and yogurt had a similar affect. Red wine has been been shown in previous studies to reduce inflammation and cholesterol levels in healthy and obese individuals.
“Accumulating literature demonstrates an anti-inflammatory role of polyphenol-rich foods such as coffee, tea, red wine and fruit,” the authors say. “In contrast, total alcohol intake and spirits were associated with pro-inflammatory pathways in our study.”
The study adds to evidence that moderate consumption of red wine can improve gut health.
The body’s ecosystem, known as the microbiome, directly affects immunity. An imbalance is implicated in a growing number of inflammatory conditions.
In the study, 331 participants had the inflammatory bowel diseases Crohn’s or ulcerative colitis, 223 were diagnosed with IBS (irritable bowel syndrome). The other 871 had a normal gut. Stool samples were also provided for analysis.
Specific foods were aggregated into 25 groups measured in grams per day.
“The findings suggest shared responses of the gut microbiota to the diet across patients with Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, irritable bowel syndrome and the general population that may be relevant to other disease contexts in which inflammation, gut microbial changes and nutrition are a common thread,” the paper explains. “Long-term diets enriched in legumes, vegetables, fruits and nuts; a higher intake of plant over animal foods with a preference for low-fat fermented dairy and fish; while avoiding strong alcoholic drinks, processed high-fat meat and soft drinks, have a potential to prevent intestinal inflammatory processes via the gut microbiome.”
South West News Service writer Mark Waghorn contributed to this report.