High Fat Diets and Your Microbiome

What it is:

Recently, high-fat diets have been popular in the media. Many talk about the ability of these diets to offer sustained weight loss and benefit various health conditions.

Some common high-fat diets:

  • Ketogenic Diet: is one of the most well-known low-carb, high-fat diets where the body shifts from using glucose as energy to ketones. Most commonly, the keto diet consists of the individual consuming no more than 5-10% of their total calories from carbohydrates.

  • Carnivore Diet: The carnivore diet consists of consuming meat and animal byproducts while excluding other food types such as grains, beans, fruits, vegetables, and nuts/seeds. The diet does include dairy, however, most recommend limiting dairy products to those low in lactose, such as butter and hard cheeses. The carnivore diet differs from the keto diet.

  • Whereas the keto diet is low carb, the carnivore diet aims for no carbs. In addition, the carnivore diet encourages eating fatty pieces of meat, as well as eating the whole animal “nose to tail”.

  • Atkins Diet: is a high fat, high protein diet that consists of 4 phases; starting with lower carbohydrates and then phases into eating more carbohydrates over time.

  • Paleo Diet: not as high fat as the above, the paleo diet emphasizes eating similar to cave-men; enjoying lean protein, and avoiding processed foods, dairy, legumes, and sugar.

Purported claims:

Many proponents of high-fat diets claim that they can help treat a variety of health issues; including migraines, digestive issues, depression, and anxiety. Another claim is that the diet may be beneficial in weight loss, weight maintenance, and muscle gains.

What the science says:

Most research on the health claims of high-fat diets is focused on the keto diet, with few studies focusing on the more restrictive carnivore diet. This diet is high in fat and may be excessive in sodium depending on what individuals consume. The carnivore diet does not allow for variety in consumption and may lead to inadequate amounts of vitamins and minerals found in plant products.

In regards to the microbiome, most research is limited to the keto diet. One literature review suggests that one’s microbiome’s response to a keto or carnivore diet is largely individualized and dependent on their past diet. Additionally, they concluded that prebiotic and probiotic supplements with a focus on high-quality unsaturated fats might be beneficial in maintaining a flourishing healthy microbiome. Another study found that a pro-inflammatory compound in the intestines was reduced with the onset of the ketogenic diet.

Some studies suggest that when going keto or high fat, the diversity of your gut bacteria lessens. Recent research suggests that the more diverse your microbiome is, the better off it is for long-term health. A study following the health of the African hunter-gatherer group, the Hadzas, who follow a diet most similarly related to the Paleo diet. The study found that their microbiomes were diverse and healthy, largely in part to their foraging lifestyle and variety of plant foods they consume (which is slightly higher carb than the modern Paleo diet).

Overall, more research is needed to study the mechanism of high-fat diets' effects on the gut microbiome.

The Apeiron Life Perspective:

At this time, quality matters most, as we’ve mentioned before. The quality of your foods have the greatest impact on your long-term health and lifespan. There is promising research out there showcasing a low-carb diet and management of diabetes and prevention of cardiovascular disease, but right now the research is showing that low carbohydrate diets can cause a lack of diversity in the gut microbiome.

Will this benefit you?

It depends, but as far as your microbiome health goes, probably not.

Still curious to try it?

If you do, here’s what to keep an eye on:

  • Blood lipid panel: keep an eye on your cholesterol and blood pressure

  • Digestive system: keep an eye on your bowel movements and maintaining regularity

  • Fatigue: oftentimes a drastic change in diet can result in low energy and brain fog

References and additional reading: