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Eating a Wider Variety of Food Can Improve Diabetes Symptoms

Jul 31, 2015

Gut microbiome plays a role in a variety of diseases including diabetes…

Humans have a symbiotic relationship with the trillions of bacteria living in the GI tract, relying on them for numerous metabolic functions. Changes in agricultural practices and climate in the last 50 years have resulted in a lack of diversity in most people’s diets, and has altered intestinal flora composition.


In a recent lecture at IFT15: Where Science Feeds Innovation, hosted by the Institute of Food Technologies in Chicago, Dr. Mark Heiman states that 75 percent of the world’s population consumes only five animal species and 12 plant species. Of those plants, rice, maize, and wheat contribute 60 percent of total calories. Diet is the principal contributor to the composition and health of the intestinal microbiome, and a lack of diversity in diet leads to a lack of diversity in intestinal flora.

“Like any ecosystem, the one that is most diverse in species is the one that is going to be the healthiest,” Heiman says. “In almost every disease state that has been studied so far, the microbiome has lost diversity. There are just a few species that seem to dominate.”

Heiman’s research showed that the composition of the microbiome of people with diabetes and prediabetes was markedly different from those without insulin resistance. The population and health of the bacterial flora is so important because the microbiota actually communicate with the individual’s metabolic and GI regulatory system through the synthesis of signaling molecules. Bacteria help regulate GI motility, glucose metabolism, and satiety.

To test the effects of diet on the microbiome, Heiman created a formulation of inulin, beta glucan, and antioxidants, and had a group of 30 individuals consume it twice daily while a control group received a placebo formulation. Those taking the formulation, labeled NM504, experienced a shift in the composition of their microbiome, as well as better glucose control, earlier satiety, and relief from constipation. Studies on mice using another formulation, labelled MT303, showed that shifting the microbiome of the mice led to less weight gain and protection from colon inflammation.

Heiman said that while the formulations he is developing lead to improved health, simply diversifying the diet could result in similar benefits. Consumption of a wide variety of foods, including “heirloom” foods that are no longer widely eaten, leads to a more diverse probiotic population and improved metabolic health. This is valuable to consider when a number of people attempting to lose weight and improve glycemic control opt for “fad” diets that often exclude whole groups of food and reduce dietary variety.

Practice Pearls:

  • Less diversity in the bacterial population of the intestines negatively affects glucose metabolism, GI motility, and satiety.
  • Eating a wide variety of foods results in better variety of the intestinal bacteria population.
  • Increasing the diversity of the diet, instead of eliminating foods, can lead to weight loss, better glycemic control and other health benefits.

Presented at MicroBiome Therapeutics, at IFT15: Where Science Feeds Innovation hosted by the Institute of Food Technologists (IFT) in Chicago. July 2015.