A Diverse Diet Rich in Fiber Can Help Reduce Antibiotic Resistance

Today it’s common knowledge that the foods we eat have a profound impact on our health and wellness, but understanding the scope of that impact isn’t always so intuitive. Nutrition science is complex, and a person’s health is often a mix of genetic, biological, socioeconomic, and environmental factors. But research is constantly trying to cut through the clutter and deliver practical information that individuals can use to reduce their risk of chronic disease and have a better quality of life.

A new study, published in the journal mBio, addresses ways to prevent disease and improve health, highlighting the importance of dietary fiber in combating antimicrobial resistance in healthy adults. Pulling data from the USDA Nutritional Phenotyping Study, researchers analyzed the metagenomic sequencing of 290 participants from a range of ages and backgrounds and found that a high-fiber diet with lower levels of protein, especially from beef and pork, was correlated with lower levels of antimicrobial-resistance genes (ARG) among their gut microbes. Participants with the lowest levels of ARG in their gut microbiomes also had a greater abundance of strict anaerobic microbes—a hallmark of a healthy gut with low inflammation.

Connection between diet and antibiotic resistanceAntimicrobial resistance occurs when bacteria, viruses, fungi, and parasites change over time and no longer respond to medicines, making infections harder to treat and increasing the risk of disease spread and severe illness. In other words, germs develop the ability to defend against the drugs designed to kill them. And while antimicrobial resistance may not seem like an immediate health risk, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) attributes more than 2.8 million infections and 35,000 deaths to antibiotic-resistant infections.

The study’s conclusion reinforces existing evidence that diet is influential in shaping the human gut microbiome and may be a way to lessen antibiotic resistance. Danielle Lemay, Ph.D., a research molecular biologist with the Western Human Nutrition Research Center and the study’s lead author told the USDA Agricultural Research Service News that, “Surprisingly, the most important predictor of low levels of ARG, even more than fiber, was the diversity of the diet…suggesting that we may want to eat from diverse sources of foods that tend to be higher in soluble fiber for maximum benefit.”

But what’s the best way to add diversity to your diet? First, it’s important to resist the urge to make abrupt, dramatic changes to your weekly eating routine, and instead slowly incorporate more minimally-processed plant-based ingredients into meals. The Meatless Monday Challenge is an easy way to reduce meat consumption, and start introducing more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes, which are typically more nutritious than processed packaged foods. The Meatless Monday Beans Resource Center is another useful tool that offers information and recipes on how to cook with beans and pulses, like chickpeas, black beans, lentils and split peas, which are all excellent sources of fiber. For more information on how Meatless Monday can help improve gut health and reduce the risk of other chronic diseases, check out our Meatless Monday research page, which highlights the many benefits of plant-based eating.