University College Cork is always at the cutting edge when it comes to research and discovery. This university was the place of teaching for Lincolnshire born George Boole, a mostly self-taught mathematics genius who became the first Professor of Mathematics at UCC in 1849. It was during his time in Cork that George Boole developed his most important piece of work, An Investigation of the Laws of Thought. His invention of Boolean algebra and symbolic logic brought forth a new mathematics era. On the George Boole website linked to UCC, George Boole is credited with being the ‘father of the information age’ – as the website tells us, his mathematics  legacy appears in computers, information storage and retrieval, and electronic circuits that make up 21st century communications.  University College Cork  has this year been celebrating George Boole’s Bicentenary anniversary, 1815-2015, and events in his honour are set to continue until the end of this year. 

But what has all this got to do with food, you’re probably wondering. Well, UCC remains at the top of its game in pioneering research and learning in all areas of study. Leading researchers at the APC Microbiome Institute at UCC have joined forces with the University of Naples Frederico II, to show the scientific benefits of the Mediterranean diet, which is rich in fruit and vegetables,  is linked to a rise in health promoting short chain fatty acids,  and the bacteria in the gut that make these compounds. The  results of this complex bioinformatic analysis are just published in the presitigious journal ‘Gut’. 

To put it as simply as possible, Cork researchers took samples from the excretions of 153 adults living in four geographically distant Italian cities. The number of adults was equally divided into groups of omnivores, vegetarians and vegans. From here,  samples were assessed to establish the gut bacteria ‘chemical fingerprints’ of each.  Researchers found that levels of SCFAs were strongly associated with the quantity of fruit, vegetables, legumes, and fibre habitually consumed, irrespective of whether the person was vegan, vegetarian or omnivorous.  SCFAs have been linked to health promoting effects, including a reduced risk of inflammatory diseases, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.

Vegetarian and vegans were found to have gut bacterial compositions associated with long-term fibre intake. Specifically, Prevotella and Lachnospira, known as good fibre-degrading organisms leading to the production of SCFA, were more linked to plant-based foods, which may explain the higher levels of SCFA found in vegans, vegetarians and in individuals with high-level adherence to the Mediterranean diet.  As well as this, levels of trimethylamine oxide (TMAO)—a compound that has been linked to cardiovascular disease—were significantly lower in the urine samples of vegetarians and vegans, than they were those of the omnivores. However the analysis showed that the more omnivores followed a Mediterranean diet, the lower were their TMAO levels.

 “We provide here tangible evidence of the impact of a healthy diet and a Mediterranean dietary pattern on gut microbiota,  and on the beneficial regulation of microbial metabolism towards health maintenance” said Professor Danilo Ercolino, University of Naples Frederico II, lead author of the study. 

Professor Paul O’Toole, APC Microbiome Institute, Cork, added “You don’t have to be a vegetarian or vegan to reap some of the benefits of healthy eating. Western omnivore diets can be made more healthy when a threshhold consumption level of plant foods is also included.”

Phew! So basiclly, to simplify,this research really shows the more fruit, fibre, and vegetables you include in your diet, the more health promoting your gut bacteria is, even for meat eaters.  And that reduces the risk of many life threatening diseases.  It can only be good!

A Mediterranean style diet is easy to replicate on a daily basis. It includes a variety of fresh fruit and vegetables, nuts, cereals, and fish, with  moderate amounts of meat, plus lots of olive oil. We have our own high quality culinary oils here in Ireland – Donegal Irish Rapeseed oil, and Harnett’s Oils,  which are  very beneficial to health and super tasty too – a rival to olive oil.  Great for roasting and dressing any veggies – from traditional Irish root veggies and potatoes,  to Mediterranean peppers, courgettes and aubergines. Use it also for dressing colourful mixed salads – the more variety you include the better your salad will taste and look  – and throw in some healthy seeds and nuts for extra fibre and nutrients.  Even in rainy old Ireland in autumn, you can still eat like a Mediterranean –  and be as healthy as one too!