Diet and Your Gut Bacteria: Specific and Consistent Relationships Found

News flash (NOT!):  eating unhealthy food is bad for you. While that is not exactly revolutionary, there is still a lot we don’t know, like exactly how diet affects different bacteria of the human biome.  Thus, I am reporting to you an interesting study published in the eminent journal, Gut, that was conducted by Dutch scientists.[i]  The study involved a large sample of people, 1425, and the results show that there is a consistent association between pro-inflammatory bacteria in the gut and diets that are high in processed foods, sugar, and animal products.

550 of the subjects suffered from inflammatory bowel disease or irritable bowel syndrome; the rest were healthy:  “We investigated the relation between 173 dietary factors and the microbiome of 1425 individuals spanning four cohorts: Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, irritable bowel syndrome and the general population.”  They found 38 associations between diet and microbial clusters, and 61 individual foods or nutrients that were associated with 61 species (and 249 metabolic pathways):  “Processed foods and animal-derived foods were consistently associated with higher abundances of Firmicutes, Ruminococcus species of the Blautia genus and endotoxin synthesis pathways.”  Not surprisingly, plant food and fish were associated with the production of anti-inflammatory short-chain fatty acids (SCFA) via probiotic species of bacteria.

A few interesting specifics for you:

  1. Breads, legumes, fish and nuts were negatively associated with several pro-inflammatory pathways.
  2. Nuts, oily fish, fruit, vegetables and cereals are linked to a higher abundance of SCFA producing bacteria.
  3. Red wine is associated with a higher abundance of acetate and butyrate (2 SCFA) producing bacteria; however, it is also associated with lower levels of probiotic Bidifobacteria. (Maybe swallow some probiotics with your wine? (That’s a joke folks!))
  4. Alcohol and sugar intake are associated with something called the quinone synthesis pathway, which is known to be enriched in people with inflammatory bowel diseases. Plant protein intake was negatively associated with this pathway.
  5. Fermented dairy is consistently associated with lactic acid producing bacteria, like Lactobacillus.
  6. Plant-based food consumption is associated with a greater synthesis of essential nutrients, like vitamin Bs, for example, which are produced by probiotic bacteria.
  7. Fast food consumption is associated with higher levels of inflammatory bacteria like Blautia, Lachnospiraceaebacteria, Ruminococcu and Clostridium bolteae.
  8. There was a significant positive association between fast food, high-fat meats, potatoes and gravy with high levels of intestinal inflammatory markers.

To sum up the findings of this study, “… habitual dietary choices can impact the human gut ecosystem and its inflammatory potential by studying the relations between unsupervised dietary patterns, intestinal inflammatory markers and gut microbial composition and function across four cohorts. We identified significant associations that replicate across patients with Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, irritable bowel syndrome and the general population, implying a potential for microbiome-targeted dietary strategies to alleviate and prevent intestinal inflammation.”

So for the millionth time…eat right!


[i] Bolte LA, Vich Vila A, Imhann F, et al. Long-term dietary patterns are associated with pro-inflammatory and anti-inflammatory features of the gut microbiome. Gut Published Online First: 02 April 2021. doi: 10.1136/gutjnl-2020-322670


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