Admit: at this point in your life, nobody needs to tell you to eat more chocolate and drink more wine. But, then again, it's always comforting when another scientific study comes along and claims stuffing your face with such foods (aka Tuesday night) might come with actual health benefits. This time, new research suggests consuming things you already love like chocolate, red wine, and coffee could be great for your gut.
As explained in a report by The Washington Post, researchers in Belgium and the Netherlands have published two new studies that offer a comprehensive look at the microbiome of the human gut, or rather, the microorganisms that live in your digestive system. Interestingly, after studying the poop of thousands of volunteers, the scientists found links between certain bacteria and lifestyle factors, but especially what the people eat. Eating certain foods, they said, results in a more diverse population of bacteria in your gut, which ultimately makes you healthier.
Researchers led by Jeroen Raes of the Flanders Institute for Biotechnology analyzed more than 1,000 poop samples collected from volunteers living in the region of about 6 million people, per the report. Then the team compared their findings to data on the microbiomes of people in the Netherlands and found that the gut bacteria found in the Belgian people versus the Dutch people almost perfectly reflected their respective diets. "In Belgium we found associations with beer and chocolate, while in the Dutch population we saw associations with dairy products," Raes told WaPo. "We were very excited to see that, because that's a very important dietary distinction -- we like our chocolate. They like their milk."
Both the Flanders Institute study and another one from researchers at the University of Groningen suggest that small changes to what you eat could have a significant impact on your gut bacteria. Specifically, red wine, coffee, and some dairy products like yogurt and buttermilk boosted the diversity of the bacteria. On the other hand, diets loaded with full-fat foods, lots of calories, and tons of carbs decreased the microbiome diversity. The researchers found at least 60 dietary factors that impact the diversity and suggest the findings could be applicable or translated to people in other countries like the US, according to the report.
However, Raes said the findings don't necessarily mean you should start guzzling red wine and stuffing your face with chocolate (more than you already do). And while the scientists don't know if there's such thing as a perfect diverse microbiome, what they do know is that diversity in your gut is linked to better health.
This is all to say that when you polish off a box of chocolates or find yourself staring into an empty bottle of wine, you can take comfort in knowing there's at least a chance it's not completely terrible for you.
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Tony Merevick is Cities News Editor at Thrillist and must have an exceptionally diverse gut bacterial population. Send news tips to email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @tonymerevick.